Seeding, Cultivating and Growing a Passionate and Caring Workforce

Roberta LewissmartPRENEUR Blog Series

The Best Way To Be a Better Leader is to Fail

I have many stories of success and failure in growing employees and instilling passion and loyalty in a work culture.  The best way to be a better leader is to fail.  Failure teaches you a lot if you are open to learning and changing your ways.  Yes, you can read books, participate in programs to better educate yourself, and learn from the experiences of others. These certainly will not hurt, but I believe it is in the trenches that will test, purify, and train you best.     

My background in managing a large workforce in CI and Retail CE quickly accelerated by our substantial growth.  We grew from a staff of thirty to over two hundred within a decade.  The infrastructure was stressed throughout most of those years.  We didn’t have the sophisticated business systems readily available today.  We relied on spreadsheets and later had an in-house programmer to customize our reporting needs.  

Motivation or Micromanagement?

The more people you hire and employ, the more time, budgets and internal resources are needed to properly staff, train and motivate.  As the leader, you must learn to let go of the reins and let your management team take full charge of the areas they are responsible for.  They must lead and learn with your guidance, but not your active participation.  They will make mistakes, but learn by this process, which allows them to act without the fear of being reprimanded.  If they know you will support their mistakes, as well as their successes, they will learn to be independent – and train those below them in the same manner.  

I learned a valuable lesson by trying to micromanage a talented and competent person.  It was a lesson I’ve shared many times and adjusted my behavior by, both personally and professionally.  I had an artistic and creative advertising director. She owned a quiet demeanor, pleasant personality, and was talented.   We did a lot of advertising, our ad budget was over half a million before rebates. We did a lot of print ads, billboards, radio, direct mail, events, and many other items.  I had a bad habit of getting in the middle of everything she did, mainly because I liked marketing, but I didn’t realize at the time I had micromanaging issues. She worked in my office, so it was easy to drop by her office often.  Oops!  

The Resignation

After a few years, this employee gave her notice and resigned.  I attempted to get her to stay, but she had already accepted another job. She was kind enough to tell me that she needed to work without someone looking over her shoulder all the time.  She left because I was driving her nuts, literally. I hired her replacement, she didn’t work out.  I hired a second replacement, this person could not keep up with half the work required.  I believe it was over eight or nine months struggling with the advertising position, and I often needed to step in myself to assist.  I decided to call the origin person, asking if we could meet.  She agreed.  I literally begged her to come back.  I promised I would never come into her office or second guess her decisions.  I did trust her.  She was competent, time-efficient, and thorough.  Artistic people need their space to be creative, at their pace.  I learned this. She worked for me for many years, after and up to the time we were acquired.  Ironically, I ran into her earlier this year at a funeral of a mutual friend’s son. We laughed as I reminded her of the valuable lesson that she taught me.  If you have competent people, support them, don’t suffocate their independence, and stifle their creativity. 

With every job role in the organization comes different and varied requirements, business acumen and personalities that must be attended to with delicacy at times.  Managing and growing people is a learned talent. To be good at it, you must be willing to listen, learn and change when needed.  I humbled myself in public with the mistake I made with this situation (and many other situations), to show that I too was human, and that I made mistakes – and most importantly, that I was willing to change to make working both for me and our company easier and better.  

About the Author

Roberta Lewis

Roberta Lewis is an industry veteran with over four decades of successful consumer electronics retailing, internet marketing, and manufacturing experience. Roberta Lewis and Associates was founded in 2005 to support the broad range of consumer electronics businesses including manufacturers, retailers, custom installation businesses, and group associations with marketing, advertising, public and consumer relations, product/brand awareness, and strategic sales management.