Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua papua) marching in line, Falkland Islands
Marco Simoni Getty Images/Cultura RF
By brunchwork.com
May 29, 2016

This piece was originally published on brunchwork

“You’ll never hear me use the word entrepreneur to describe myself,” Social Tables founder and CEO Dan Berger said at the latest brunchwork at MakeOffices.

“That word is really thrown around. I think we are all entrepreneurial. I am no different than any of my 130 employees,” he said.

Founded in 2011, Social Tables is a collaborative web-based event planning platform. The company has grown to 4,000 customers in over 100 countries, and raised a $8M Series A. Dan shared leadership advice for fellow founders.

1. Leadership is a journey.

Becoming a leader doesn’t just happen in one moment. “When I think about my journey as a CEO, I think about the many roads that led to this path,” Dan said.

“There’s a leadership thread throughout your whole life that will eventually get you where you are.”

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Sometimes, the journey can be a lonely one, especially for solo founders. “There is nobody who has your back like another founder does. It’s the sibling relationship we long for,” Dan said.

2. CEOs are not invincible.

“The number one dysfunction [of CEOs] is thinking that they are invincible,” according to Dan.“My job is just at risk as anybody else’s. At any point, I could lose it.”

Founders should view themselves as “employee zero.” Once you realize you are replaceable, you will start investing in yourself.

3. Integrate learning into your daily routine.

Find your own learning framework. According to Dan, a learning frameworking can include, “a combination of people that you follow on Twitter, a book that you read every so often, [or] articles online.”

Use your learning framework as the foundation for a “wheel of wellness.” Dan’s wheel includes five points: learning, working out, meditating, coaching, and meeting with a group of peers to discuss challenges.

“Imagine a wheel and all the points around it that make it a wheel. Every one of those points is something in your life. If all of those dots around the wheel aren’t aligned, your wheel is not going to turn.”

4. Value honesty and feedback.

Giving and receiving feedback is crucial for company leaders. “It’s not just about performance reviews once a year. It is about honest conversations all the time,” Dan said.

Lunch and learns and office hours are a few ways that leaders can incorporate honesty and feedback into their companies.

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At Social Tables, Dan said, “I collect anonymous feedback every Friday from my team and 95% of the time, it’s probably negative and usually offensive. But, if you are able to separate the who from the what you’re able to grow from it.”

5. Invest in your employees.

Dan describes Social Tables as a Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO). “What DDO actually means is that we have a contractual obligation to our employees. It says that if you come to work at Social Tables, we won’t just make you a better professional, we’ll make you a better person,” he said.

“If you are yourself, then you are vulnerable, and that’s when growth really happens: outside your comfort zone.”

“When people go to work, they oftentimes try to hide who they are,” Dan said. Instead, “be yourself” is a motto that company leaders should encourage in employees.

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