The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: How do you embrace imperfection as part of professional development? is by Art Papas, founder and CEO of Bullhorn.
Having cofounded Bullhorn in 1999, I still struggle to embrace the idea of “imperfection.” As a founder, you’re an expert in your business, and you’ve already created something of value. That initial validation, alongside the need to be “hands-on” in order to be successful, can very often cloud your judgment and make you believe that you have no flaws. I call this handicap “founder’s goggles,” and removing them is a necessary step in taking your company’s growth and maturity to the next level. Here’s my advice for leaders struggling to embrace imperfection as a means of professional progress:
Don’t let your title cloud your judgment, vision, or self
It’s easy to judge your sales team harshly and compare yourself to them. And it’s true: You can probably sell your products and services more effectively and more successfully than even your hungriest sales rep. Is that because you’re Don Draper from Mad Men? Chances are, no. Head to head, your personal sales performance is superior to that of anyone on your sales team because your business card says “founder” on it. People listen to you when you talk and people pay attention when you walk into a room because you’ve earned that right by originating the company. It’s not fair to judge your sales team’s performance by your own ability to commandeer attention in a room. If you really want to determine if prospects are actually responding to your products and your messaging vs. just being enamored of who you are, take “founder” off of your business card and replace it with “account executive.” Does your message still resonate as strongly then? If not, you need to tweak it.
See also: Proof Even the Best Employees Fail
If no one likes your Kool-Aid, stop serving it
Your role as a founder has as many internal implications as external ones. No one at your company wants to tell you that your ideas are terrible, even when that’s what you desperately need to hear. Years ago, I created our company’s mission unilaterally. I was reluctant to solicit ideas from my employees because I thought I knew the business best, having founded it. But in the end, the mission I created and pushed upon my team was unmemorable. People shortened it to “global domination,” a far cry from the customer-focused spirit I was hoping to capture. Part of being an effective leader is being open to other people’s ideas—even when you think they’re not going to be helpful. Interestingly, it was only when someone pointed out that the phrase, “incredible customer experience” had latched on with employees that I realized it would be easier to harness my employees’ ideas and energy rather than try to manufacture momentum myself. In turn, people became passionate about the new mission as it permeated the groundwater of our culture. Ultimately, if you want to inspire your people, they need to see their own ideas taking root and creating impact.
Start delegating important projects
This is probably the hardest concept for founders to accept. Successful founders have grown their companies by nature of being hands-on in every element of running their businesses. That means that they’ve become jacks-of-all-trades, but not necessarily masters of those trades. As companies grow, most founders delegate. However, they retain the most visible and important projects for themselves—strategic sales campaigns, speaking engagements, major product initiatives, etc. It’s hard to let these things go because they feel so important. However, if you only delegate the smaller, meaningless projects, you’ll never create a culture where people innovate and win on their own because your most talented people will leave to find an environment where their skills are put to the test. Part of being a mature and effective leader is learning to share the spotlight by delegating critical projects and initiatives.
Ultimately, as the founder of an organization, you are a powerful force. You are truly irreplaceable. But in order for you to unlock sustained, long-term growth, you have to take off the founder’s goggles and see the need for your role to evolve.