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Being a good boss is about being yourself — and a road sweeper

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Yessi Bello Perez
Story by
Yessi Bello Perez

Senior Writer, Growth QuartersYessi leads the writing efforts at TNW’s Growth Quarters. Yessi leads the writing efforts at TNW’s Growth Quarters.

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Countless articles have been written about the power of good leadership and how it can help employees and businesses thrive.

And there’s a good reason, you can always do better. Leadership challenges change day to day, and sometimes frankly reminders are in order as it’s easy to get sidetracked by the host of other duties you have.

[Read: 3 top tips to help you be a good boss]

That’s why we spoke with a select group of tech founders to gain a few invaluable tips to help you hone your leadership skills and be the best boss you can be.

1. Be your true self

Tessa Clarke is the co-founder and CEO of OLIO, a food sharing app that connects people who have food they don’t want or need, with neighbors living nearby who would like to use it.

Clarke agrees that being a good boss is about outlining a clear vision, creating a safe environment, giving autonomy, and providing support when necessary.

“I learned the importance of what I call ‘leading with love’ (rather than fear) very early on in my career when I witnessed two wildly opposing leadership styles on the love/fear spectrum. This prompted me to ask myself two simple questions: ‘Who do I most enjoy working for?’ And, ‘Who brings out the best in me?’ The person who led with love was the hands-down winner, and so from that day on I resolved to follow that leadership model,” she told me.

If you hire the right people, she said, then you should give them as much freedom as you dare. “I’m constantly amazed at just how universally powerful autonomy is – not only does it bring out the best in people, over the longer term it’s also a massive boost to motivation and retention too.”

Importantly, Clarke also spoke about the importance of humanizing leaders and employees.

“One of my direct reports once told me that the more I revealed of the true me, the more the team liked and respected me. This was a massive revelation! Up until that point in time, I’d thought that there needed to be a ‘work’ Tessa and a ‘personal’ Tessa, and that the two should never mix. Now there’s a relatively small gap between the two, and I’m not only happier as a result, but I’m also significantly more effective,” she concluded.

2. Don’t be a superhero, be a road sweeper

Amber Coster, founder and CEO of Balpro — The Balance Project, which seeks to “help businesses balance aggressive revenue goals with employee wellbeing,” believes good bosses play an integral part in an employee’s and business success.

“One of my best bosses appeared to be less like a superhero and more like a road sweeper. They put their energy into clearing all of the crap out of our way so that we were able to simply get on and do our jobs with the least friction and resistance possible,” she told me.

This meant employees were granted enough freedom to create, build, and execute in a way that bureaucracy would have otherwise prevented it.

“As the saying goes, not all superheroes wear capes. We can feel pressure to show the world how important we are, but the best leaders are often far more understated. Humble, approachable, kind, and curious. They create safe environments, set clear goals and expectations, and empower their teams to navigate a path to mutual glory,” Coster added.

The trick here is to hire people who you think are more skilled, or better equipped, than you in whatever role you’re looking to fill.

“You are exceptional, you have an enormous amount to give, you are building your legacy — but it’s your job to lead — not to show off that tactical skill you learned a decade ago,” Caster noted, “Hire people who will make you proud, hire people who will make you look good, who will bring new ideas, who will surprise you and those around you. And then build something you can all believe in, treat them well, look after them, nurture their talents and their hearts and minds. Look after them so they can look after your business.”

3. Judge by results, not presentism

“Being a good boss is generating a company culture with motivated employees. It is important to work with like-minded people who can be autonomous,” Borja Aranguren, the co-founder and CEO of Cobee, a Spanish startup seeking to transform employee benefits management, told me.

He says that his employees and he all work with the notion of being an ‘owner,’ with every individual being fully aware of what their duties are, taking full ownership towards their goals

There are many different things that can cause a leader to lose focus: “Too many meetings or events outside the day-to-day work that prevents the pace of the company can be detrimental. Not [spending] enough time with teams can create a disconnect, and make it harder to understand their projects and their day to day, which ultimately, creates friction.”

Aranguren also urged other founders to judge by results and not by time spent in the office. “I put a  strong emphasis on efficiency and smart working, and I value shortcuts if they reduce labor and company resources.”

Being a good boss is not always easy but it’s certainly not impossible. If you’ve had particular leadership challenges you’ve overcome or learned from, make sure to share it with our readers!

Like what you’ve read? On Growth Quarters, we strive to go beyond generic ‘fortune cookie advice’ and learn directly from the people who have walked the walk. And this summer, at TNW Conference 2020 in Amsterdam, we’ll take Growth Quarters offline again with a vibrant program dedicated exclusively to sustainable business growth. Listen to keynotes from leaders from the world’s most successful companies and get actionable guidance to help you grow professionally. Get early bird tickets now and learn more about the Growth Quarters track.

Published February 28, 2020 — 11:00 UTC