Leadership is about building something great together

Leadership is about building something together

Let’s say you had the chance to take advice from a guy who had a 12-employee, $95,000 company and grew it into a 6,000-employee, $1.5 billion company? You probably would listen, no?

That guy is Mark Leslie, and he recently spoke to Stanford Business School about a couple of organization-related aspects. 

Here’s maybe the most interesting part:

Managers who want to build trust with their employee need to demonstrate trust first, Leslie says. “In a company, that means sharing information and decision-making with people beyond what is normally expected.” Leslie himself once initiated a thoughtful discussion with his engineers about the pros and cons of reverse-splitting the company’s stock — and then left the decision up to them. In the end, “they made exactly the right decision, for exactly the same reasons that we would have,” he recalls. “There’s no doubt that had we said, ‘We’re reverse-splitting the stock,’ and then given them exactly the same information, some of those people would have walked away feeling like somebody had picked their pocket.”

I write about leadership a lot on this blog — potentially too much, right? — and one of the concepts that always amazes me is that most leaders end up thinking tough or big decisions can only be made at their level. It’s like they concoct a world where only the people with their title, experience, or hierarchal power are even remotely possible of deciding anything for the company. That’s a very fraught attitude — first off, there’s absolutely no connection between formal power and knowledge in most organizations, organizational breakthroughs can come from anywhere, and in reality, leaders should be involved in as few decisions as possible — not as many decisions as possible.

I think the big aspect here is that work is often a pretty fraught emotional place — even if you make a lot of money and have a lot of power, you probably don’t always 100 percent know where you stand and/or fear being viewed as incompetent — and because of that, people like to cling to their “areas” or parts they control. And most people up a chain probably fear that if they let decision-making become a company-wide thing, someone down the chain will have better ideas and usurp them. Remember: we want work to be logical (which is why we value process) but work is inherently emotional. That’s a huge disconnect.

In reality, though … shouldn’t leadership be about building something together with other people, and seeing that grow, flourish, and deliver financial rewards to everyone involved — as opposed to just the top dogs? You’d think. But oftentimes it’s not like that at all.


Ted Bauer