Leadership: A Love Letter to Founders and Bosses

Podcast Transcript

It can be lonely at the top and this episode is a love letter to the founders and bosses we work with who are trying to keep things running, ideally without being a d*ck.

Rachel and Jo cover everything from micro-managing, empathy in the workplace, to how Gen Z are reshaping the workforce.

Leadership image

Read on for the transcript here:-

RSB: Welcome to the Atelier, where we workshop your work life. Brought to you by Talent Atelier, the executive search business where we essentially act as a dating agency between businesses and people. I'm Rachel, Founder and mother of both the business and my two kids.

JG: And I'm Jo, Managing Partner of Talent Atelier.

RSB: We focus each episode on a topic we're asked about frequently, pepper things with anecdotal experiences we've had over the years, and root around for letters in our mailbag.

JG: Think of this as career therapy, and this episode is all about being a leader. It can be lonely at the top, and this episode is a love letter to the founders and bosses we work with who are trying to keep things running, ideally without being a dick.

RSB: Jo, what's your best boss story?

JG: When I joined a business, the person I reported into was not a direct communicator, so when I joined everything was, like, super positive and they'd communicated a bonus structure incorrectly to a few people that they hired at the same time. So we're all working towards something. The bonus structure looked really decent.

RSB: Jo is money motivated if you haven't picked that up.

JG: In these four people, I was the first person to receive said bonus structure, and it all dropped down so that you were earning a significant amount less. And because I was the first person to receive commission, I became the poster child for this dreadful scenario until the other three joined me a month later, and this person hadn't communicated upwards what was going on, as it would reflect really badly on them. And the person that owned the business didn't know. They were all sat there, absolutely livid and really out of pocket. So, yeah, not a great scenario for me. What about you?

RSB: I've had to think about this, obviously, as I do each week. I think when you become a leader, you suddenly develop massive amounts of empathy for everyone that's ever managed you in the past. I was thinking back to all my kind of lol stories, and then I was like, oh, what about Tina, my manager from River Island, when I was 16? Hi Tina. And we all used to sit there and listen to her because she said obviously about 100 times in a sentence. And we used to play bingo when she was doing staff meetings. I was like, oh, yeah, her. But then I was like, no, Tina was absolutely brilliant, and she was managing a team of like, 16 to 20 year olds who none of which cared. And we all came into work and we all enjoyed it, and it was great. So Tina was great.

RSB: Tina was doing her best. But then I remembered, and I'd buried it really deep. The worst person that I don't have any empathy for was when I worked on a big sales team. You and I had always worked in sales teams, and this was for a recruitment company that was doing really well. We were the best performing team and our manager had gone travelling, so they hadn't left because of anything negative. She'd gone travelling and we were all really sad and they brought this guy on who had come from a background that wasn't necessarily parallel to what we were doing, and he came on wanting to change things instantly and really got everyone's noses out of joint. Like were always the ones that were like winning gift vouchers and winning spa experiences and like real apprentice style team

JG: Really going for it.

RSB: He came in and he absolutely took the rug from underneath us all, made us all have these weird meetings that weren't necessary, And instead of coming in and taking a breath navigating what was there and working out, to see how he could support what was a successful team, he came in and he screwed everything up. He only lasted, I think, two months because I think we all turned on him so badly. But it was just a case of not reading the room, like coming in with probably feeling nervous about something. But instead of looking at what they could have done better in a positive kind of way, where they could have just watched what was going on and shifted things slightly, they came in and they were like, right, we're going to change all of this. And it was just awful. Yeah, there you go.

JG: How demoralising.

RSB: I was 27 and I think I was really mouthy, so probably was not the easiest to manage anyway, but yeah, there you go, classy. I actually do remember having a massive fight with him on the sales floor as well. Yeah. Which probably I wouldn't do again if I was going back on it. Shall we have a little look in the mailbag?

JG: Yes, let's do it. Okay, this one is from Jasper. I'm the founder of a medium sized business where I used to have a handle on everything going on. As we grow, I'm getting distanced from the day to day and I find it hard to let go. It means I sometimes drop in and out and can be seen as micromanaging, which I know is annoying, but if I don't do it, I'm out of touch. It makes people jumpy and I know I need to change. Sounds nice, doesn't it?

RSB: Sounds nice, yeah. This is really common and something that can really disrupt things, especially if you're a small business and then you're kind of adding more and more people into the company. You're losing grip of what's going on and it can be really unnerving both for yourself and for the people around you. And if you know that you're micromanaging, it absolutely sucks. Like, I definitely hate it when I know that I'm micromanaging. Letting go is one of the biggest things that leaders face, and it's really bloody hard. It doesn't just have to be founders or CEOs. It can be anyone, really, that's leading a team and has accountability. Because if you're the type of person that needs perfection, then often you think it's easier to take over and do something yourself because then you know that you've got the accountability and you're doing it. But it doesn't always lead to the best outcome.

I always say to people, you cannot be the expert in everything. And I've learned that from parenting. Because if you're the only person that can put your kid to bed, then you have screwed yourself over and you will never leave the house again.

Never be the expert in everything. And also, as your business grows, you can't be doing marketing, finance, all of the other bits and pieces. As you get bigger, you have to bring experts in to handle each area, and people do things in different ways, and that's okay. I think it's learning along the way means that your team will hopefully kind of pick things up. But also, feedback in both directions is really important. It's critical to make sure that you're not just jumping in and out of things. And I know that I'm guilty of doing that. It's easy to not realize that you are someone that's supposed to be leading a team and then instead of what you're doing is kind of putting everyone out to the sideline and doing everything yourself. I have a really erratic work pattern. So I've got two kids who are, well, nearly two and four.

RSB: So it means that sometimes if my childcare screws up, there's like, everything just collapses around me. I'm floating around trying to look like I know what I'm talking about. But then at home, I'm literally sat in the middle of a bonfire with everything kicking off at home, and it's just horrendous. And then the cat's sick and then something else happens and it just means the metronome of what I need at work, which keeps me going and keeps the rhythm of everything moving and makes me good at my job, falls to pieces. I think also when it comes to feeling like you're missing out, that's another piece of the puzzle. Because if you've started a business or if you're at the top of a game in a business, it normally means that you were fantastic at the core thing that people do. Like, I'm really good at sales and I'm really good at meeting people, and that's what I very much enjoy.

But as we grow as a business, often I get moved away from certain things because I don't have the capability to run the business, do all of the different things and that. And if I haven't got that aspect of the job that I really enjoy. I find it really hard because I'm powered by speaking to people and getting that kind of buzz from stuff.

JG: Getting your energy from different people.

RSB: Like, if you're really good at something and you can sparkle doing that and it kind of essentially gets taken away, it's difficult. So if you're at the top and you're trying to lead but you're getting caught up in doing various different tasks that shouldn't be yours, you need to take a step back, kind of look at your day as a pie chart and what is the stuff that's actually making money? What are you supposed to be doing? And what could you actually just let go of a little bit? And does it matter if it goes wrong? If it does go wrong, can you help make things better the next time? You have to trust people and set goals and expectations for them because if you don't do that as well, that's another thing that will stop you from being able to delegate, essentially.

JG: Yeah. I think a lot of leaders are quite time poor, aren't they? So you need to really consider what you're spending your time on. So maybe digging around in someone else's admin isn't what you should be doing. But yeah, I think time management is probably the key thing there. When we work with quite a lot of coaches and most leaders going to them are always talking about time.

RSB: That’s it, literally, if anyone could solve the problem of time, I think they would be an absolute genius.

JG: So aside from not following the 24 hours clock.

RSB: My core working hours are from 04:00 A.m. Until 09:00 A.m.Could actually probably do quite well with that.

Cool. Okay. Another question here is from Beth. I'm relatively young and have been promoted to manage a small team. There's someone in my department who's significantly older than me who applied for the same role but didn't get it and is now making life difficult. I definitely think they're playing the age and experience card. How do I elevate myself to get respect?

JG: It's a tricky one, isn't it? Because with new innovation technology, it happens a lot.

RSB: I think AI is gobbling up all of our jobs.

JG: Yeah, we won't have any jobs soon. It's that talking to each other, just the laptops instead. And I think we're inbuilt to think that people older than us are more senior, but you've got to remember that you're in this position because somebody higher up on the ladder saw your potential and gave you the job. So think of the experienced team member as an additional challenge for your manager style and make sure that you treat it as a learning experience.

RSB: I think take the age out of it. Just think of people as all the same level and what are they bringing to the table as well.

JG: And look at their expertise. So you've got to lead by example and passion, and you've been chosen for a reason, so just believe in that. But you've got to leave your ego to one side, because when you're going down the passive aggressive route with people, that's never going to work well. So you're going to have to be quite open in your communication style and don't be afraid to address issues. So being the compassionate manager means showing kindness and treating others with respect and demonstrating a willingness to help everyone on your team. So you need to figure out who's in your team and what their strengths are so that you can focus on them and also understand what areas people want to develop into. Like, they might be really good at something, but really want to develop a skill in another area, and you can help them do that.

JG: And it comes back to understanding how to hire experts in your team, I think.

RSB: Yeah. And just your general attitude if you're reflecting positivity about the person. As long as you don't veer into condescending.

JG: Yeah. So acknowledging they're an expert in their field shows a level of humility, and somebody will always be more experienced than you in this dynamic. So acknowledging that, I think, is pretty key.

That's what I would do in that situation.

RSB: Yeah.

JG: Okay, next question from Daniel. Following COVID and a new intake of Gen Z employees, I've been finding it difficult to enforce a structure that strikes the right balance of being both a respected leader and someone that speaks their language and can understand them. How do I navigate their expectations of corporate culture and bridge that generational gap?

RSB: Without sounding like a silly old fart? Oh, here we go. Okay, I've got stat, Gen Z will make up 27% of the workforce by 2025. They're already reshaping it. Managing a generation that's really demanding of their employers is not an easy task, and I think for a lot of people who aren't Gen Z, they find it extremely overwhelming because you've not only got the job to do, but then you've got all of the emotional needs that goes alongside it. And you're literally like, I feel like I'm having to do 10,000 different things at once. I think it's obvious the stuff that they enjoy, they need to feel empowered, they need to feel valued and included at work. There needs to be a lot of open communication. And something else that seems to be really apparent is where people where businesses have been chucking money at, like, benefits and jazzy lunches and all of those kind of things, it's not the currency that Gen Z employees actually want anymore.

RSB: They kind of expect having a nice office or they expect to be able to work from home. They work to live. They don't live to work. So they want to just earn a salary and have a nice time rather than just being engolfed in work all the time.

JG: Yeah.

RSB: You can't say just work really hard and it's going to pay off. It doesn't wash. There's no one wanting to sleep in the office and really go hell for leather with dedicating themselves to work that much anymore. It's more that they want to come in, earn a salary and then have a nice time outside of work.

JG: Have experiences outside of work.

RSB: And according to the Harvard Business Review, gen Z's top wish for their leadership is that they care about their well being and mental health. You need to ask how they're doing, what's been on their minds, and have one to one meetings all the time. And yeah, it's really obvious when we are working with a company that does that and really obvious when we're working with one that doesn't. Because normally they will retain their staff a lot more and they will have people that are going up through the ranks. Because progression is also another thing for Gen Z that is incredibly important. I think when Daniel is asking about expectations of corporate culture and bridging the generational gap, I think it's fine to be from two different generations. You don't have to make a big thing out of trying to be hip and like, hey, I know what's happening.

RSB: You essentially have got lots of experience that the Gen Z person maybe doesn't have in terms of life and just understanding how the world works. When it comes to corporate culture, just ensure that you're working for a business that really anticipates the mental health requirements and the emotional requirements of their employees. You don't want to be trying to filter down something which is incredibly old fashioned and negative. Like, we worked with a business recently which was really sad, wasn't it? We got right to the end of the interview process and then when we found out what the package was and they thought they were being flexible, it was five days in the office, nine thirty till six, wasn't it?

JG: Yeah.

RSB: And that was the offer. And they couldn't flex at all.

JG: But that was just the way the business was.

RSB: The model of what they needed to hire was someone from Gen Z and it was incredibly difficult because of the flexibility. Because they had a jazzy business that was super glossy and really lovely, their founder expected people to just still be coming running and kind of knocking down the doors. But people don't need to anymore.

JG: Yeah. I'd also say, just from a mindset perspective, you need to understand what they've been through in quite formative years.

RSB: Yeah. We've all been hired, then fired or been at university and it's been absolutely awful. They've seen the whole world fall to bits, and wondered if everyone was going to die.

JG: And that's why mental health is such a big thing. They're really anxious.

RSB: Yeah.

JG: So if you don't understand the mindset of these people, or don't try to do that, there's loads of literature about it and we'll put some links in the show notes.

RSB: We've got some stats here. More stats.

JG: We have more stats.

RSB: Yeah. From Forbes. They did a huge survey and 96% of respondents said it's important they feel valued, included and empowered. And 80% of respondents, I think this is super interesting, prefer a job that allows them to explore and grow various skill sets rather than a job that's focused on a particular thing. So it just really explains that work is something that people aren't just wanting to come in and literally just do like one thing and then go home again. They expect a supportive, creative environment no matter what position that they're doing.

JG: I read somewhere that somebody, I think it was on TikTok, it was some leadership coach, was advising that people start their one to ones with asking people, so what's been on your mind recently? And it sets the tone and it means that people can reply with what's on their mind and you can understand where their heads at with things because some people have a natural propensity to feel quite scared by one to ones. And if you start with the same question every time, they understand it better.

RSB: Yeah. Because I suppose if you start with how are you? People are going to go fine.

JG: Yeah. Good.

RSB: Us always going back to sleep. Yeah. Did you have a good sleep? Yeah.

JG: Great.

RSB: Yeah.

JG: How did you sleep last night?

RSB: Yeah. Final question is about being a founder. And it's a really common question. I am the founder of a business and there is not much of an age gap in terms of age and experience with my peers. Another age gap question. My name's on the door, but it's often hard to make a clear line between me and the people I employ. The vibe here has always been positive, but when there's a difficult conversation to have, it's not ideal.

JG: Yeah. So I was talking to somebody about this morning because she had her own business. It was a small business and she felt because she's always worked in a larger organisation, she found that not having people on a peer to peer level or people to manage that were senior, she found it really difficult to bounce ideas off people. So she invested in her own mentorship outside of that, and she got two really senior mentors in the industry to help her and guide her through the decisions she would make. And that was including managing her team as well. So I think that you just need to outsource a few things and get that mentorship for your own sanity.

Investing in your organisational structure with the advice of others who have succeeded. We always find ourselves working around founders' skill sets when it comes to hiring leadership teams.

JG: So normally that's with, say, like direct to consumer brands, if two people set it up, if one's a banker and one's a growth marketing director, they then don't have great creative. So they have to hire that in, and then you have a leadership team without the empathy of creative in it. So hiring the right people beneath you is going to alleviate that as well. In terms of your leadership team.

RSB: Keeping a level of distance is also something that's obviously important, but often doesn't happen because if you are trying to create a positive working environment, part of that is being open about yourself and you may overshare things. It happens quite often with founders where they might have had like team drinks or done something fun. And I know one thing actually where a friend of mine went out for drinks with the founder of the business that she works with and he told her that he was firing her friend the next day because that was where he was like, hey, we're all friends here, blah, blah. And he's overshared something and it's caused a really tricky situation. So small businesses, I think there's any business really if you are the person whose name is on the door or you are the leader, then create some space around everything.

RSB: Maybe think about things as if you were on Below Deck. The captain always goes out for a quick drink with the crew.

JG: Doesn't get leathered though, never gets leathered.

RSB: Goes back to the boat. Always go back to the boat, always.

JG: Go back to the boat.

RSB: Go back to the boat. So have a great time guys. The first drinks are on me. And then swiftly walk out the door. Yeah, the same for just having personal relationships with people at work. It might be people that would normally be in your friendship group, but you just have to put a little kind of dotted line around that. It's not going to be the perfect situation because when you do have to have these conversations or if something's screwing up or you're not making enough money or something else has happened and someone's screwed something up and you've got too close a bond with people, it's really difficult. So, yeah, be the captain on the boat and just head back to the boat.

JG: Also structuring things properly so that you can allow these conversations to take place. So making sure that everybody has a job spec, you have structured meetings.

RSB: Yeah, potentially have an HR person. They don't have to be there all the time, but have someone who is maybe on a retainer who can come in and out when you need them because HR adds a different perspective on things. And if you've got a modern HR person who really understands navigating founder-led, or kind of small startup scale-up businesses, they can be a real asset because they're kind of part psychologist and part legal and part everything else. And it just means it gives another dimension to things and can also give your staff a sounding board if they need one.

To round up. Accept that there's a distance between you and other generations. It's a given, it's just fact. And it means that you will all bring something to the table. There's no point in fighting it, no matter how much botox you have. Keep communicating.

RSB: Don't drink together. Well, just get back on the boat, and just make sure you're clear with your expectations. There you go. That's my roundup for you.

JG: We'll be putting questions out to our LinkedIn community about future episodes, but if there's anything you would like your favourite career therapist thoughts on, then get in touch on podcast@talentatelier.com.

RSB: Signing off for now.

RSB & JG: Bye.

At Talent Atelier, we have years of experience recruiting for businesses who want to be inclusive with their hiring as well as those just starting their journey.

To learn more about how we could work together please email us at hello@talentatelier.com.

Our podcast The Atelier is also available here.