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This past Friday, I attended the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council’s Growth Conference 2017. It was pretty fantastic hearing each panelist and each presenter tell their ‘growth’ story. Of course, each story highlighted their own growing pains. A few themes that were mentioned included growing talent, knowing when to step down from certain roles, and learning from mistakes.

Finding Talent

Similar to dating, upon first hiring talent, people tend to gravitate to those who look best ‘on paper’. We’ve all heard the horror stories and the success stories. What have we learned from our early dating careers after basing all our ideals on Disney stories? Love at first sight rarely ever succeeds

Similar to hiring, finding the perfect candidate at first sight also rarely succeeds. It’s not about finding the perfect talent, it’s about finding the right talent. Toast’s CEO shared a story about hiring someone they desperately needed. The new hire was incredibly impressive on paper, but when it came to delivering, the employee just ‘didn’t want to roll up his sleeves’. He continued that ‘this was probably okay at a larger company, but [they] needed someone who would actually go door-to-door and really work on closing deals’.

We’ve all been there, trusting someone to be ‘perfect’ because we believed they would be… and we’ve all been burned by it. Instead of hiring people because of their accolades or their ‘FDA stamp of approval’, learn about their hustle, their work ethic, and their dedication to get the job done. You want to hire people who you can learn from and are eager and hungry to learn from you.

Acknowledging when to Step Aside

There comes a time in every person’s life when you work hard to build something that becomes yours. Positive reinforcement from investors, clients, customers, family, and / or friends feed your already growing ego that you are invincible, your logic is sound, and you are amazing. This is all great until you meet the situation that you are definitely unequipped and prepared for. How do you proceed? It’s now you vs. the person who has been brought in to ‘advise’.

There were a few stories told but the one that stood out to me was when CloudHealth Technologies’ CTO and Founder discussed being referred a potential client. He didn’t think much of it, thought it was a waste of time to pursue it, and even denied his colleague a few times. Eventually, his colleague insisted one more time and he gave in. That client is now one of their biggest customers.

It’s an eye-opening experience when you realize that maybe you don’t know everything and that’s completely fine. When companies grow, you may start out as a generalist, but eventually, you start to specialize. As a leader, your job isn’t to micromanage– it’s to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses not only in yourself but others so you can work more effectively and productively.

My favorite part of that story was his acknowledgment that if they had followed his advice vs his colleague’s, the company may not be where it is today. Moral of the story? Trust your team.

Learning from Mistakes

One of my favorite quotes from the conference was Mimecast’s CEO’s, ‘I learn best from mistakes and I’ve definitely had my fair share’. At one point in the past, he had the distinct honor of meeting the Honorable David Cameron, who was the Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time. The CEO dressed up and was excited to be there. At one point, the Prime Minister asked him a general question about his company’s impact on the industry. Instead of giving a general overview of the his company’s impact on the UK economy and how his company was making a difference, he went into detail about the technical aspects of his company and industry itself. Seeing the Prime Minster’s eyes glaze over as he moved on to speak to another attendee was when the CEO realized his mistake.

He told the audience what he would’ve said instead but the opportunity with the Prime Minister was gone. Sometimes, when we are faced with a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity, we choke and mess up. In times like these, there is not much we can do but suck it up, acknowledge the mistake, and correct the mistake in our minds. Additionally, we hope this experience won’t repeat itself in the future.

Growing is both an act and a state of mind. If you and your company are growing, adapting, pivoting, and listening, you’re on the right track.

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