Yes, it’s that time of year again, when we look back at what we’ve accomplished so far, and look forward at the 365 days ahead. It’s a time to take stock, make plans, and get this ball called The New Year rolling. Before you start in on the tools we recommend for planning, focusing, and staying engaged (below, we promise), we want to have a little chat with you about something really important.

Now that you’re at a place where you lead a team - yes, leading a virtual team is absolutely still leading a team (and can be more challenging than leading in meatspace) - we want to make sure you don’t become one of those leaders. You know who we mean. The ones that got your behind-the-back eyerolls. The ones that you bitched about after work. The ones that drove you to create a business where NO ONE would ever, ever, ever feel the way you felt on that day.

Since you started building your business, you’ve been exposed to the garbage media (social or otherwise) that fetishizes the “entrepreneur lifestyle” where we’re all somehow traveling around the world, wearing sunglasses, drinking champagne and laughing annoyingly with our other “boss” friends. Oh yeah, and at the same time we’re also working 24-7, fighting with our spouses, and scrambling to pay contractors. Somehow that didn’t make it onto Instagram.

This is a lot tougher than people make it out to be. Even if we were told, it can be hard to believe that we signed up for this, and it’s likely that you are reminding yourself daily why you chose the path you did, and why the risks you take will all be worth it in the end. While we’re doing that, we often forget that the people who choose to work with us - that’s right, we said “choose” - take risks as well. They take different kinds of risks. They experience different kinds of stress. They make different choices, but none of those are less valuable or worthy than the ones you are taking every day. Thinking like that is where a lot of leaders, especially those you used to hate, went wrong.

If you feel like you’re doing everything yourself and are solely responsible for the success of the company…good news! You’re not. If you’re doing your job right, your team actually needs you a little less every day.

Here is how you can avoid being an asshat leader this year:

Don’t bitch to your employees about what a tough time you’re having. That’s not motivating. Your team shouldn’t feel guilty about being paid when you’re not. You’re not making that sacrifice because you’re a saint. You’re making it because you believe it will be worth it in the long run. Your team doesn’t get that payoff, so they don’t need to make that sacrifice.

If you do ask your employees to make sacrifices, you had better make it worth their while. If you’re asking them to make sacrifices like an owner would make - delaying payroll, working overtime for free, taking a pay cut - then you better be sharing an equivalent level upside with them. You cannot expect your team to “be entrepreneurial” if they don’t get a piece of the entrepreneurial pie.

Remember that who you are is how you behave. Don’t let success turn confidence into arrogance, or allow stress to justify asshat behaviour. Read about different healthy and unhealthy management styles and be honest with yourself. Are you taking a page from the wrong book?

Be aware of your own privilege. As a business owner, you are by definition, privileged - even if you are marginalized based on race, gender, age, socioeconomic background, sexuality, or ability. It is a privilege to have other humans helping you bring your dream to life.

Be grateful. You need your team more than they need you. Every time you have a brilliant idea, achieve a goal, or experience a breakthrough, ask yourself: Who on my team can I thank for this? And do it! We’ve asked every team member at Admin Slayer how they like to be thanked - quietly, publicly, with gifts, with time - and made a spreadsheet (of course) to ensure our team gets the kudos they deserve in a way that they can appreciate. Oh, and if there’s someone to blame? That’s you. It’s always you.

Be aggressively accessible. This is not a “my door is always open” kind of thing, which pushes the responsibility to communicate onto your team. Schedule one-to-one meetings with your team. Find out what makes them tick; what they like, what they love, what they hate. Find out where they want to go, and what you can do to help them get there (even if that means pushing them out the door, because that’s what they need). Put as much energy into them as people as you are asking them to put into your dream. Create “office hours”, or communication pathways, that encourage discussion, questions, and open-ended spitballing. Remember that your team knows just how busy you are, and they don’t want to “bother” you. Make it part of your job to truly be there for them when they need you, and not just when you need them.

Create a backdoor to your ego. No matter how impressed you get with yourself, there should be at least one person - or, ideally, a few people - to whom you will listen when they say you’re acting like an idiot and you need to make a change. Make sure that your team has the ability to throw a lifeline to that person, or group of people. You’re going to fuck up from time to time, so you’d better have an early warning system in place.

Honour the call. Honour the meeting. Honour the time. This means for every meeting and every call you have - internal and external - you need to:

  • Show up on time, rested, and ready to pay attention.
  • Review the agenda in advance, and have it in front of you. Don’t show up cold and make others wait while you process what they’ve invested time in preparing.
  • Make space, eliminate distractions and be present. Don’t make everyone else accommodate you - if you’re running late / have bad cell reception / are driving / whatever - respect the rest of the attendees enough to reschedule when you can give them your full attention.
  • Make sure all agenda items get covered (and not just your own).
  • Know that each participant has a finite amount of attention for any given meeting or call. Your team will follow your lead - don’t allow meetings to fill up with chit chat instead of tackling what needs to get done.

If you aren’t prepared to do that, you shouldn’t have booked the time (as noted above, it’s always your fault). Which of course, leads to being a lot more mindful of your time, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Remember that the definition of the word ‘company’ is not only “a commercial business”, but also “the fact or condition of being with another or others, especially in a way that provides friendship and enjoyment”.

Being a leader is not about being the bossiest boss. Being a leader is about being committed to service. You’ve suddenly gone from reporting to one person - your leader - to reporting to many: your team. What can you do to make their lives better this year?

We highly recommend that you read up on The Hudson’s Bay Start, Celebrating Your Wins, Planning Like a Boss, and Time Blocking; these are just a few tools that we use to rock and roll ourselves into the new year. To your success!!!