Our Experts | Aaron Grossman, CEO
I started my company in 2001 at the very experienced age of 27. My qualifications as a leader consisted of being the captain of my high school wrestling team, and being a division director of a staffing agency in Cincinnati & Columbus for almost a year. I don’t think I had ever taken any focused classes geared towards leadership.
As I chose to build my business, I began to hire others to join the company to help it grow. On the fly, I had to learn how to lead others with little to no direction on how to do it. All I knew at the time was that I was forced to balance my own personal production while working to develop and lead others.
I knew that if I put the foot off the gas on my own personal production, the company would suffer and my ability to financially support my investment in additional staff would no longer be available. I believe the balance that I was forced to maintain helped me develop my leadership skills. My ability to communicate and paint pictures improved, along with my need to manage expectations. Most importantly, I was forced to learn how to trust. I didn’t have time to babysit as I had my own business to protect and grow.
Another important attribute emerged as I went through my progression on learning how to become a leader. I built a perspective that if someone wasn’t doing what I thought they were capable of, I didn’t blame them first. I taught myself to be reflective around these moments. What was I not giving them to help them be successful? Did I train them right? Did I paint great pictures? Did they have the tools and resources available to create success? If the answer was NO to any one of these, I worked to improve upon them with that particular person. As a leader, I am there to set a vision for where we want to go, and then support the team as we work to get there … together.
Beginning in the earliest days of my company, I was (and continue to be) passionate about my desire to educate the world on who we are. In the first few years, I tended to wear my passion on my sleeves a little too much. It was my passion that built an intuitive accountability into our culture. We didn’t have all the bells and whistles and reporting systems available to build a system around accountability. It was me showing my passion for the successes— and my anger and disappointment with our failures. With the failures, I led the charge on how to be resilient and to get right back up after we had fallen.
My passion didn’t come without consequences. I think I brought out emotional responses in almost every person in our company at the time. Their emotions were probably twofold: FEAR and GUILT. I know I probably scared a few people in the early days of my company, as my passion was intense. I also know my mom taught me well, and I did a good job of helping people feel really guilty when they weren’t hitting the goals they had set out for themselves.
While these moments happened with everyone in my company at the time, almost none of them chose to leave. Instead, they put their heads down and continued to strive to do better. Why? Well, I have always been told that I am a pretty open person, and others have told me that I appear to be very genuine. I truly believe it was this trait that allowed me to express my passion in both positive, and not so positive ways, while not scaring people away from working at our company. Instead, I think it brought us all closer, as trust was built with the genuine nature of my leadership style.
As the years progressed, I was able to grow as a leader. I learned how to temper my passions and express myself in more tactful ways. Through the years, we have been able to create systems that build transparency and accountability into our environment. Over time, we had hired so many people into our business that I moved out of production and started to spend all my time helping others work to maximize their potential and build successful careers within our organization.
One last lesson I learned as this transition was occurring. I began to see some of our people that I had trained start to model how I worked with others. I started to see them start to become leaders in our company. It was at this time, I knew I could step out of production to take on a bigger role within our organization. I had others I could hand the baton off to help me build this company the right way. Today, we have an amazing culture that is built off a true entrepreneurial spirit. We have over 140 employees, and we are expanding our reach every year.
I’ve certainly learned a lot over the years. I want to end this blog post by trying to simplify some of the takeaways that helped me to become a leader in my life and organization. Please note that in this article, I didn’t used the term manager … until now. I would much rather have leaders in my organization that inspire, influence, and support others to help them realize a vision or an objective rather than have someone manage a process by directing and telling people what they need to do. With that here are some keys to becoming a leader:
VISION: You must have one and/or you must support one. A vision can be defined as a goal or an objective.
ALIGNMENT: Everyone must be aligned to the vision. A Leader does not have to have a commensurate title to be considered a leader. Anyone and everyone can be a leader. All leaders are able to gain alignment, and great leaders know that everyone must be aligned in order for success to be achieved. COMMUNICATION is critical to establish alignment. (For leaders who have other leaders above you within the company, it means you must be connected to the vision that is being passed down. And if you don’t agree with it, a good leader will challenge the vision openly and in a positive manner to work towards changing it). A great leader NEVER becomes the bottleneck to success. They are ALWAYS the catalyst for it, and alignment is the key
SUPPORTIVE: A great leader is one who genuinely wants to see and help others succeed. They will do everything in their power to provide the best resources and environment to help their people maximize their potential.
LISTENER: A leader must be able to listen and HEAR what their peers or staff members are saying. A great leader knows that just because they help to drive the vision or the objective, doesn’t mean they are the smartest person in the room. If you or your company has hired right, and let’s assume that is the case, then it would make sense to poll the audience to gain and share perspectives to work towards the best way to achieve the vision or the objective.
TRUST: A leader must find a way to trust. We all have heard his saying before. “It’s better if I just do it because I know it will be done right.” This is the death sentence to a scalable a business, and leaders are not developed nor are they born under this pretense. A leader knows that in order to develop those around them, they must come from a place a trust. In business, it isn’t about trusting the person as much as it is trusting the process of development. Almost all of the best learnings come from failing. Most people learn from their mistakes. A leader knows this and accepts it. Leaders trust the process around developing those around them. They will allow for failure, and they will allow others to make mistakes, with the belief that all will improve as a result.
GENUINE: A leader has the confidence in themselves to be who they are. A leader puts on their pants the same way everyone else does. They make mistakes just like everyone else does. Leaders don’t live perfect lives. Leaders are human beings! Great leaders are able to be genuine with those around them, which tends to be inspiring and uplifting by itself.
ACCOUNTABLE: All leaders are accountable to their vision. Leaders create accountability for themselves and those around them. Leaders will use their passion to drive accountability and with more developed companies, they will create systems and processes to help drive accountability through the organization. It is almost impossible to realize your vision if no one is accountable to the HOW and WHEN it gets accomplished.