Founding, operating, and growing a company is incredibly difficult. For every one that succeeds, 500 fail, and for every one that fails, 10,000 more never make it out of someone’s head and into the real world. If simply founding a company is so difficult, growing a successful one can feel all but impossible.
In my experience, the most effective and most reliable way to grow a strong business is to hire and empower the right people. Contrary to popular belief, an egalitarian empowerment approach will only stall a business. If you are interested in managing for growth, you have to choose your internal leaders wisely.
I have founded, grown, and sold several successful businesses. Below is a guide to how I empower my employees.
1. Identify Holistic Thinkers
Running a company requires big thinking. As a founder, you have to maintain a complete vision for what your company is, how it will most successfully grow, and what it will look like in the future. I often say that a good entrepreneur has to think 18 steps ahead. A huge part of growing a successful company is keeping your eye on the horizon and avoiding upcoming obstacles early. It is difficult, mentally taxing, and simply not something that everyone can do. I do not say that to disparage anyone—everyone excels in their own areas and big thinking just doesn’t come naturally to most. The tricky part is that big thinking can exist anywhere in an organization. I have known CEOs who failed at big thinking and interns who immediately comprehended a vision. As a founder, it is vital to identify the big thinkers within your organization, and empower them to lead. When it comes to growing a strong business, alignment is key. If everyone is rowing in different directions, your boat will not go anywhere. By identifying your big thinkers early and putting them in leadership positions throughout your organization, you are driving alignment without having to micromanage every aspect of your business. It isn’t about empowering everyone, it is about empowering the right people.
2. Let Your Vision Become a Mantra
Despite what I said above about empowering only the big thinkers, it is equally important not to keep the rest of your employees in the dark. Every employee in your organization should be able to repeat your vision back to you. Not everyone will be able to see 18 steps ahead like your big thinkers will, but everyone should be unified under a singular mission and vision. As a founder, it is your job to define your company’s vision. Too many entrepreneurs stop there. The next step is sharing that vision far and wide. When I founded Byte, a direct-to-consumer dental aligner company, my vision was to provide high-quality orthodontics to a segment of the market that had previously gone underserved. I wanted to make great smiles accessible to everyone—and everyone at that company knew it. The marketing team, the product team, the dentists we partnered with—everyone knew that we were working to improve smiles and build confidence. Only my big thinkers understood how we planned to achieve that goal, but everyone in the organization knew what the goal was.
3. Keep Communication Open
This is a natural extension of making your vision a mantra. It is incredibly important to keep communication between leadership and employees open and flowing. This does not mean that 100% employee buy-in is required before decisions are made. Incredibly, people do not need to agree with a decision to get behind it, they just need to feel as if they were seen and respected enough to be informed. As a business leader, I share each company vision freely and widely, and I foster an approachable environment. Does that mean I will entertain every idea that is presented to me or that I expect to see eye to eye with everyone in my organization? Absolutely not. But I will communicate which ideas and growth initiatives we are undertaking so that everyone can be on the same page. Not everyone needs to know why certain business decisions are made, but they certainly need to know which decisions were made. It is the only way to keep everyone rowing in the same direction.
Too many business leaders assume that empowering employees means turning an organization into a democracy. On the other end of the spectrum, authoritative business leaders keep their employees in the dark. The inconvenient reality is that the sweet spot lies somewhere in the middle. If you can identify your big thinkers and marry strong decision making with open communication, your employees will be both satisfied with their jobs and effective in their positions. It can be a difficult needle to thread, but if you follow the guidelines above, it is something any business leader can achieve.
Blake Johnson is a Los Angeles based entrepreneur who has successfully founded and sold a variety of businesses. Read more of Blake Johnson’s Thought Leadership here.