Feb 252010

New Blog of Note in the Direct Marketing World

New Blog of Note in the Direct Marketing World

Gene Raitt, Chairman of the DMA, has launched a new blog today called DM Unplugged.  It’s not an official DMA property.  Gene won’t be the only contributor — over time, other DMA board members (including me) and thought leaders in the direct and interactive marketing communities at large — will contribute as well.

This is one small, though notable, development in a series of things the DMA is working on as it transforms itself.  Look for some truly “unplugged” commentary on this blog about both things happening in the industry and transparent views into things happening at the DMA as well as invitations to contribute to the discussion on both.

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Feb 222010

From Founder/Builder to Manager/Leader

From Founder/Builder to Manager/Leader

After I spoke at the Startup2Startup event last month, one of the people who sat with me at dinner emailed me and asked:

I was curious–how did you make the transition from CEO of a startup to manager of a medium-sized business? I’m great at just doing the work myself and interacting with clients, and it’s easy for me to delegate tasks, but it’s hard to have the vision and ability to develop my two employees into greater capacity…

I’d be interested in reading a blog post on what helped you make that transition from founder/builder to manager/leader

It feels like the answer to this question is about a mile long, but I thought I’d at least start with five suggestions.

  1. Hire Up!  The place where I see most founders fumble the transition is in not hiring the best people for the critical roles in the organization.  Sometimes this is for cash flow reasons, but more often it is either due to subconscious fear (“will I still be able to control the organization if this person is in it?”) or due to bravado (“I can do engineering way better than that guy”).  Lose that attitude and hire up for key positions.  Even if you COULD do every role better than anyone you’d ever hire, you only have so many hours in the day.
  2. Learn the magic of delegation and empowerment.  You can never get as much work done on your own as you can if you get work done THROUGH others.  Get comfortable delegating work by setting clear expectations up front in terms of timing and quality of deliverables and giving your high level input.  And never be a bottleneck.  If people are waiting on you for decisions or comments, that means they’re not working…or at least that they’re not working on the highest value or most urgent things they could be working on.
  3. Don’t fear some elements of larger organizations.  Larger organizations require some process so they don’t fall apart.  Make sure you pick your battles and accept that some changes, even if they feel bureaucratic, are critical to ensure success going forward.  I still get a queasy feeling in my stomach half of the times I see a new form or procedure or a suggestion from a lawyer, but as long as they are lightweight and constantly reviewed to make sure they’re having their intended impact AND ONLY their intended impact, some are inevitable.
  4. At the same time, don’t lose the founder/builder mentality.  Your company may have grown larger, but if you’re still running it, people will naturally look to you and other founders for much of the energy, vision, and drive in the business.  You will also likely be more inclined to be scrappy and entrepreneurial, which are good traits for any business.  Don’t lose those qualities, even as you modify them or add others.
  5. Look to the outside for help.  In my case, I’ve consistently done three things over the years to learn from others and to prevent myopia.  First, I have worked on and off with a fantastic executive coach, Marc Maltz from Triad Group. Second, I have always had one or two “CEO mentors,” e.g., guys who have built larger businesses than Return Path, on my Board, at all times, as resources.  Finally, I do a lot of CEO peer networking, some informal (breakfasts, drinks meetings), and some more formal (a CEO Forum group that I established) to make sure I’m consistently sharing information and best practices with others in comparable situations.

Any other entrepreneurs who have made the leap have other advice to offer?

Feb 142010

Parenting and Corporate Leadership

Parenting and Corporate Leadership

Let me be clear up front:  I do not think of my colleagues at Return Path as children, and I do not think of Casey, Wilson, and Elyse as employees.  That said, after a couple weeks of good quality family time in January, I was struck by the realization that being a CEO for a long time before having kids has made me a better parent…and I think being a new parent the last three years has made me a better CEO. 

Here's why.  The two roles have a heavy overlap in required core interpersonal competencies.  And doing both of them well means you're practicing those competencies twice as many hours in a week than just doing one – and in different settings.  It's like cross training.  In no order, the cross-over competencies I can think of are…

Decisiveness.  Be wishy washy at work, and the team can get stuck in a holding pattern.  Be wishy washy with kids, they run their agenda, not yours.

Listening.  As my friend Anita says, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Listening to your team at work, and also listening for what's not being said, is the best way to understand what's going on in your organization.  Kids need to be heard as well.  The best way to teach good verbal communication skills is to ask questions and then listen actively and attentively to the responses.

Focus.  Basically, no one benefits from multitasking, even if it feels like a more efficient way of working.  Anyone you're spending time with, whether professionally or at home, deserves your full attention. The reality is that the human brain is full of entropy anyway, so even a focused conversation, meeting, or play time, is somehow compromised.  Actually doing other activities at the same time destroys the human connection.

Patience.  For the most part, steering people to draw their own conclusions about things at work is key.  Even if it takes longer than just telling them what to do, it produces better results.  With kids, patience takes on a whole new meaning, but giving them space to work through issues and scenarios on their own, while hard, clearly fosters independence.

Alignment.  If you and your senior staff disagree about something, cross-communication confuses the team.  If you and your spouse aren't on the same page about something, watch those kids play the two of you off each other.  A united front at the top is key!

I'm sure there are others…but these are the main things that jump to mind.  And of course one can be great in one area without being in the other area at all, or without being great in it.  Are you a parent and a business leader?  What do you think?

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