I spoke with three business owners about their strategies for getting their organizations' leaders up to speed: Josh Harcus, co-founder and chairman at sales agency Hüify in Wilmington, South Carolina; Joey Kercher, founder and CEO of Air Fresh Marketing in Denver; and Nina Ojeda, founder and CEO of beauty aggregator PRÊTE in Los Angeles.
What's your definition of a leader in your organization? Is leader synonymous with manager?
Josh Harcus: A leader is an individual who has a lasting impact on those around them. A good leader will have a positive impact, and a bad leader will have a negative one.
Being a manager does not necessarily imply the qualities of leadership. The title of manager gives one the opportunity to lead, but a good manager must make the choice to sacrifice for those underneath them.
Joey Kercher: A leader in my organization is someone who takes initiative to make our company better and doesn't rely on others for motivation.
Developing leaders out of a desire to see their improvement and growth will always come back to reward you.
—Josh Harcus, co-founder, Hüify
For me, the definition of leader is not synonymous with manager, though they are intertwined in many ways. Managers focus primarily on tasks, time and keeping projects on track. Although a leader has to have managerial abilities, leaders also need to focus on interpersonal relationships. Leaders often have to act as the face of the company as well.
Nina Ojeda: Leadership doesn't come with a title, it's a choice. A leader is someone who always puts their team first, company second and themselves last. Leaders can be managers, but not all managers are leaders.
How do you develop leaders or engage in manager training? Is your approach more formal or informal, classroom-based or experiential?
Kercher: We develop rising leaders by first hiring the best people. We look for those who have expertise and intelligence as well as the capacity for growth. My company is small, so we do not have a formal method for manager training. Currently, we operate as a flat organization, in which each team member has the flexibility to make their own decisions. Failing is okay as long as we can track our mistakes and learn from them.
Harcus: My colleague David is a terrific example of my company's approach to leadership development. Since David's team focuses primarily on sales development, David wanted each of his team members to grow in their abilities to build rapport and think on their feet. So he had everybody do open mic, stand-up comedy at an improvisation club in San Francisco. It was awesome to see each team member thrive under the pressure of trying something terrifying, and conquering it. Along with stand-up, David has conducted many formal manager training sessions that are essential to his team's development.
What role does mentorship play in development?
Ojeda: Mentorship is important both inside and outside a company. I have mentors with whom I work directly—and those who are building their careers in other places—and I learn something new from each of them every time we interact. The most successful people I know surround themselves with people who believe in the same things they do.
Kercher: I currently mentor a few of our junior team members. It's difficult for new employees to become successful without the right support. Having a mentorship component in place ensures that team members can get the answers they need to be successful quickly.
Why is it important to develop rising leaders before you need them?
Kercher: I am not going to be in charge of this company forever. If I want to scale, I need a team that can take initiative and grow the company. I need leaders who can handle high-level tasks. My business is only as good as the people surrounding me.
Ojeda: Leaders come in many shapes, sizes and roles. It's important to have leaders across all roles in a company from intern to president. If not, imagine what would happen if the top three leaders left the organization. How could it still run?
Harcus: Developing leaders out of a desire to see their improvement and growth will always come back to reward you. It may not be in the way you originally thought, but you will be developing friends and colleagues for life who you can truly trust. Usually, some degree of self-sacrifice on your part will encourage them to remain with your company, and the impact you will have through their efforts will be exponential.