I remember riding in a taxi in Peru on my way to Machu Picchu for a hike. As we drove, I saw a man plowing a field and asked if we could pull over so I could talk to him. In broken Spanish, I asked the worker if I could take a shot at driving the plow.
My first try ended in disaster — I fell off and got dragged across the field. The farmer teaching me couldn’t contain his laughter (and tears) as I continued to struggle.
But he kept saying “despacio” and “suavamente”: slowly and softly. After that encouragement, and a few more tries, I learned to guide the ox forward. The secret then wasn’t to drive the ox where I wanted to go; it was to align the plow with the furrows and put the ox on the path of least resistance.
This experience helped me realize one thing: I had been trying to force my business one direction, when I should have been guiding with a gentler hand. It represented an “aha” moment for me as an entrepreneur, too. The more growth my business experienced, the more I realized the best way to manage my team is to nudge them toward the successful path and let them take over from there.
Common Team-Building Mistakes
For Millennials looking to be better leaders, first make sure you’re building your team the right way, and avoid the mistakes that many startup founders make.
For starters, don’t hire carbon copies of yourself. Your team needs different people with different skills and personalities to run an effective operation. When you bring those people on, learn to trust them. The solution to a bad hire is not taking on more personal responsibility and working longer hours — the solution is being more deliberate about hiring not from desperation, but from a more thoughtful, tactical mindset.
When you bring someone on board, temper your expectations a bit. If you hire someone to work in support, don’t expect that person to have the same drive and personal investment in the success of the company that you do. Hold him accountable, but recognize that not everyone wants to work 100 hours a week to build a business.
Many leaders fail to provide a clear vision to their teams, causing them to lurch clumsily from one challenge to the next without a defined objective. Hold open and honest conversations with your team so everyone knows exactly what you want to accomplish and when to do it.
Get Your Team to Its Peak
I traveled with a group of 15 people to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. After a grueling yet successful trek to the summit, I reflected on the journey. And it occurred to me that climbing a mountain isn’t all that different from running a business — to succeed as a group, the key is to invest in the success of the people around you.
- Put people in the right roles.To win championships, surround yourself with champions doing what they do best. A great navigator shouldn’t be chief of supplies, and a great inventory person shouldn’t get stuck holding the map.
Delegating these responsibilities starts with a leader tuned into the strengths of his or her team. For the trip up Mount Kilimanjaro, that was our designated trip leader. It was that person’s focus and vision that kept the goals and momentum of the trip moving forward. Be the one that keeps your team on task, or find someone who will.
- Emphasize preparation and accountability.In preparation for our trip, our team talked about how we readied ourselves. From workouts to gear purchases, we all made sure the whole team would be ready to go.
Our trip leader organized regular conference calls and gave us reading materials so we encountered as few surprises as possible. There are always unforeseen challenges in climbing and in business, but with a well-prepared and accountable team, they don’t seem as daunting.
- Focus on the journey.The summit was the goal, but what I remember most about the climb is the journey we shared. That group that scaled the mountain got rained on, ran low on water, shared food, and got to know one another on a pretty deep level. The apex was the goal, but I’ll never forget how we got there and what we all went through.
Business works a lot like that. If you sacrifice everything to meet a sales goal, you might miss other opportunities along the way — especially if you don’t listen to the talented people around you. Never let ambition in one area blind you from the reality of the present.
In every part of life, relationships are key. Good ones drive things forward, while the stale variety hold you back. Invest in your team and share your struggles and successes, so that when you reach your summit, you reach it at the end of a fulfilling journey together.