How Good Leadership Sometimes Means Following Your Team

We all fall into this trap as entrepreneurs at some point. We get into the habit of thinking we have all the answers. We built the business…we’re the authority, right?


Sometimes a good leader needs to listen to others…especially when those “others” are the people out in the field every day representing your company and delivering the services that build your reputation. In the case of Creative Roots, some of them are owners, too.

If you’ve built a culture of communication that isn’t “top-down” and “need to know only” your team will have great insight to share.

You’ll discover that it’s possible to lead and follow at the same time…

Silos are for grain, not information.

It took me a few years, but I learned that my team engaged when I engaged them. It hit me when I started reading about The Great Game of Business and the principles behind the Open Book Management system. 

It took time, but I started to make a deliberate effort to educate my team. We implemented a program of regular staff meetings – we call them “huddles” and you can read about them here.

The education isn’t just about onsite job performance. It’s about how onsite job performance impacts our bottom line. It’s about reviewing and refining our Core Values, making sure that every member of our team understands them. 

During our huddles we look back at successes – and the odd failure – from past jobs and look ahead to the work we have to do that week, that month and that year to reach our financial targets. Some of our huddles include tutorials on financial literacy…both personal and corporate.

Because we’re actively teaching the whole team the language of our business, everyone is on the same page of the Creative Roots playbook. So when our team of 18-plus employees are scattered at multiple job sites around the city, I know they’re all playing by the same rules. The information we’ve shared empowers them to make informed decisions…because our leadership team can’t (and shouldn’t) be watching over them all the time.

Rules weren’t made to be broken.

My leadership team and my site staff have taught me so many great lessons over our 25-plus years. Sometimes they sting a bit…until I remind myself to be proud of them.

Here’s an example. 

Our Core Values aren’t some nice inspirational poster up on the wall in my office. They’re the guiding principles for how every member of our team – whether they’re an owner or an employee – conduct themselves. Our team has developed and refined them together over the years…I’m really proud of that.

We had a situation a couple years ago – an employee who was a good kid, great worker onsite, who had a habit of “tuning out” every six week or so. And that “tune out” would impact the whole crew…everybody was frustrated.

I knew the pattern and had quietly accommodated it which, in hindsight, was a mistake. But I felt like “I knew best” how to handle the situation. Here’s the thing, though: the rest of the team didn’t have the information I had…and resentment was building up.

One member of our leadership team finally snapped and called me on the carpet. Basically, he waved the Core Values in my face and said, “What the heck, Ryan?!”

Fair question. I was holding my team accountable…was I holding myself accountable, too?

Unfortunately, my first reaction was a bit condescending: “Trust me, you don’t know what I know, I’ve got this.” That went over like a lead balloon.

My second – better – reaction was to engage my leadership team and ask them for input. And then…engage the employee. I realized that my leadership team, and all the other employees, were simply upholding our Core Values. 

They were so invested in the success of the company they were willing to fight (me) for it.

We turned a corner with this guy…and I was reminded that if I was going to set standards for our team I’d damn well better uphold them myself.

You can’t have all the answers.

I heard a great saying recently: You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk.

As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to know about every aspect of your company. That includes surrounding yourself with trustworthy people who hold the knowledge you need to make a profit, while not working yourself into the ground.

If you take the time to educate your team, tear down the information silos and really engage your greatest asset – your employees – you’ll realize you can put down the shovel and build your business. Sometimes, you just have to shut up and listen.

Whether you’re looking ahead to retirement and want to pass along a thriving company, or just want to feel good going to work in the morning, I’ve got the tools and resources that can help you.