I first became a manager at 24, the year that we started the business. I had never managed anybody before that, and everybody I hired at that point was older than me, with more working experience than me.
I had to learn management the hard way—on the job. I made many of same mistakes that all new managers make: I tried to be everybody’s best friend. I did whatever I could to please them and to placate them. I hoped that if they liked me, they would do what I asked them to do. Well, this obviously did not work. I was so bitter with that experience that I swung to the other extreme of the pendulum. I became a hard b***h and I drew a clear line: I am the boss and you better do what you are told! You probably have guessed the outcome: I just ended up with some very disgruntled and unhappy employees.
That was when I realized that I needed to seek balance. I needed to discover my own leadership style. And over the years, I found a formula that works for me. Here are four key steps to my leadership style.
You might be surprised how crucial this is. On the days that I am not smiling, the mood in the office is completely different. My mood creates a ripple effect across the entire office. As a leader, I have learned that it is important to show up—and show up with a positive attitude. Nobody likes to work in a place where they have to constantly walk on eggshells.
2. Be a good listener.
In addition to having regular one-on-one meetings with my direct reports, I have created multiple channels for my 100-plus associates to reach out to me. I have lunch with newcomers, hold quarterly town halls and host small group catch-ups when I visit different branches. People want to be heard and they want to know their opinions matter. I always take notes and support them to my best ability.
3. Give them autonomy.
I found one of the most frustrating aspects of being an employee before I launched my business was feeling that the work I did didn’t have any tangible impact. So when we started Lunch Actually, we wanted to make sure that everybody—from the most junior associate to the CEO—could contribute ideas. And if it is a great idea, we encourage them to execute it and see their own ideas come to reality. Many of the products we have today are dreamt up not by me, but by our talented associates.
EO members have access to world-class executive education and leadership insights. The EO Entrepreneurial Masters Program is one of many opportunities for growth.
4. Recognize, appreciate and celebrate.
I love to hear nice things being said about me. And I am sure my associates love to be publicly acknowledged too. We have created structures for us to recognize and appreciate our associates on a regular basis. We launched a purple coin system where we encourage our managers and associates to appreciate fellow associates for a job well done. Purple coins can be saved and exchanged for shopping vouchers or time off!
What’s your leadership style? Of all the leaders you have worked with, who has had the biggest impact on you? What did they do well? How can you include some of these leadership ingredients into your own brand of leadership?
When we are given a chance to lead, it is an honor and a privilege. It is therefore up to us to step up, make the best of the opportunity and inspire others to be the best they can be.