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The heroic boss narrative
In Silicon Valley lore, the great boss is a visionary able to foresee and to a large extent create tomorrow’s world. Yet at the same time, the lore also says that the great boss is crucial to a company’s day-to-day operations. For example, stories about how Steve Jobs was personally involved in the smallest details of all Apple products abound, such as his investment in getting the right shade of yellow to appear in the second “o” in the Google app logo on the iPhone; in an August 2018 interview with the New York Times, Tesla’s Elon Musk shared that he has not taken more than a week off since 2001 and that he sometimes stays in his factory three or four days in a row. He honestly believes he has no other option than to work so hard.
This narrative is toxic because it leads many startup founders and team leaders astray, trying to emulate this leadership style rather than focus on their first step in becoming a great boss: building great teams.
Great bosses start by building great teams
You can easily identify a great boss by looking at the quality of their team. This is certainly the case at Apple and Tesla as these companies are not one-person shows. These teams are measurably great despite the fact that their bosses have felt the need to get involved in the details or operations, not because of it. Undoubtedly, the passing of Steve Jobs was hard for the entire team at Apple; but Tim Cook’s management style is almost the polar opposite of what Jobs was doing and the company continues to thrive.
Indeed, if you are running a company as large as Apple or Tesla and you still feel the need to get involved in the day-to-day operational details, it is not necessarily proof of how incredible your insights are. It is more likely a sign that you have failed to build a team that you can trust to deliver without your involvement.
What is true for these large companies is true for any team. Figuring out whether or not you are a great team leader is pretty simple: can your team deliver great results autonomously? If not, then you still have work to do.
Once your team is great, what should you do?
If you are successful as a great boss, then your team should deliver superbly without your involvement. But this should not leave you with nothing to do but sit on a beach soaking up the sun and a few cocktails while your marvelously autonomous team does all of the work.
Great bosses and great team leaders always have at least three things to do:
Secure funding. Being a CEO means making sure there is always cash in the bank and securing the next round of investments. Being a team leader means that you understand the company’s budget cycle and can get the funding you need for your team to perform and grow.
Attract and retain talent. Building great teams is an infinite process. Teams evolve, with new arrivals and departures, and a culture that needs constant attention. The culture piece is by far the trickiest one to get right, with the main challenge hinging on navigating the tension between the values by which the team currently lives and those that would stem from a better version of the team. It is the role of the leader to help define these aspirational values, share them with the team and embody them .
(Re)Define the vision. There is always a new direction to take the team in. This becomes evident when you find yourself with some time on your hands because the team you have created is performing autonomously: the team is ready to take on its next challenge. It turns out that finding this new challenge is a full-time job. Some challenges include:
- Raising the next round of funding – finding the right investors is immensely time-consuming.
- Making a big acquisition, which will completely redefine the company.
- Rethinking the whole business model to enter another market with different regulations.
The great boss knows when the team itself is great enough to be autonomous, then steps away to focus on those aspects that are beyond the details, that bring the company’s vision to life and that inspire others to take the necessary steps to address future challenges. Are you that great boss?
December 19, 2018 at 06:43AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs