I'm the CEO of a small but extremely fast-growing startup, and here lately I've noticed something that troubles me: The majority of my employees are fairly thoughtless. I'm not saying they're stupid. I'm not saying they are lazy. Neither is true. If they have a clearly defined process, and they've been trained on how to handle it, they can execute with precision and excellence. They'll also do everything in their power to do a good job. But it's a start up. Almost none of our processes are defined. We are also growing so quickly that I don't have time to train everyone. What I really want is to give someone an objective or a problem, and they take all of the data and complexity and compose an elegant solution. I want them to think, problem solve, and be creative. But that's not happening. Pretty much every employee is coming to me with every problem and asking me to think through it and tell them what to do. I've tried asking questions and providing gentle guidance instead of telling them what to do, but they act like I'm punishing them. They sulk and tinker with the problem halfheartedly until I tell them what to do. Part of the problem is me, I think. I have trained them to let me think for them. Whenever they develop a solution, I also have a tendency to very calmly and nicely rip it apart and rebuild something better in front of them. But I also wonder if I'm hiring the wrong people. This is horribly politically incorrect, but sometimes they remind me of a bunch of kids with down syndrome working together to build a sandcastle. They are happy and motivated and hard-working, and they might even create something at least somewhat resembling a sandcastle, but at the end of the day, nobody is going to care when the waves wash it away. Instead, I feel like I need architects, people with such stunning insight and intelligence they can construct a sandcastle like the world has never seen. People will weep when the waves wash it away. But where do I find those people? And how do I convince them to work for me?
Ouch. This is certainly a painful situation you are in. I think Peter may be on to something here, and that is that you are at the core of what is happening. Ok, so that was the bad news. The good news (there is a lot of good news, in fact) is that:
- You are not a unique case. This happens to a lot of startups, companies and other organizations. It happens everywhere because the truth is that most leaders do not know how to lead properly. Trust me, I hack into leaders' lives for a living, and this is everywhere.
- This is not your fault. Sadly, when you were at University or at any job prior to this, you did not get any training on leadership, communication, emotional intel, management, etc...
- There is help! There are books ("Good to Great" by Jim Collins is a good start), talks, trainings, workshops, groups you can join, and individual coaching you can get in order to learn these skills that you never learned to actually lead a group of human beings. Yes, leadership is a skill, an art and a science sometimes.
- You (and only you) have the power to turn that ship around. And it can be done rather quickly. I've seen miracles. IF, and only if, you are willing to get to work on leading your people powerfully. It will be the most intense work you've ever done, but it is worth it.
There you have it, plenty of good news for you to get started. Go, get the support you need, and go be the leader your people need you to be. It's not a nice gesture to do. It's your responsibility and you owe it to them. And to yourself.