One of our top sessions from our recent Annual at Home event was from GitHub’s COO, Erica Brescia. For those unfamiliar with her background, Brescia started off as the founder and COO of Bitnami, a 75 person startup. Just over a year ago, she sold to VMware and the company has since doubled in size.
In her session, Erica shares her hard-earned leadership lessons– from selling her company to what she’s learned at Github, we’ll share her most essential leadership principles for any stage of business.
#1 Build a Support Staff Early
The truth is, founders are frugal. You want to lead by example and get everything done with your own two hands. But that “do it all” mindset, is actually harming your ability to execute. In fact, every task you do that is not actively building your business is distractive of the work truly adding to reaching your goals. Time is a founder’s most precious commodity, and you must use it wisely.
Erica’s Key Advice:
- Hire an Executive Assistant or Office Manager right away
- As you scale, evaluate how you spend time
- Speak openly to others about the support you are getting
#2 Focus Leads to Deep Thinking
A question posed by several founders is, “How do you use your time to focus more clearly on building the business?” The answer is simple. Continually handoff chunks of work so you can remain focused on the bigger picture. Saying no is far more important than taking on more tasks than you can handle. In fact, Erica says no about 90% of the time and claims, “it’s probably still not enough”. You can’t do your best work and focus unless you leave free time to take care of yourself physically and mentally.
- Say no more often
- Delegate Aggressively
- Schedule time for focused work
- Take time out of your element for deeper thinking
#3 Push Decision Making Down
Now that you have a team, learn to rely on them to make important decisions. Making the shift from knowing every day-to-day detail, to allowing your team to make decisions is crucial for business growth. Think of it this way: You are an airplane 40,000 ft up. You can see all the houses and shapes, but you can’t tell if that’s your dear Aunt Susan walking down the street. As a founder or COO of a company, it is virtually impossible to know every small detail happening within the company at a given moment. You can know general concepts, but specific details are not crucial to your vision. The people closest to the problem, probably know best.
- Communicate your vision and expectations
- Empower your team to make decisions
- Facilitate cross-functional collaboration
#4 Communicate Thoughtfully
People in different respective areas of business have different perspectives. Each area of people has different priorities and digests information very differently. If you want someone to remember something, tell them five times in five different ways. Always be careful about what or when you communicate, and your implication of decisions.
There are four key characteristics of achieving effective transparency:
You must be…
- Have principles for what, how, and when to communicate
- Adapt how you communicate as you scale your business
- Communicate in partnership with managers
#5 Know What Great Looks Like
If you’re just starting out, chances are you’ve never had to hire someone in a senior position role, and it may be hard to know who to hire. These are some of the most crucial hires you will make in your business; having the right person can make it, and having the wrong person can break it. The best thing you can do is meet as many exceptional people in that field as possible. Even if you could never possibly afford to hire them, you can learn how to find people on top of their game, and you develop an archetype of the type of person you need in your business. It’s crucial to lean into your network when making important hires.
- Be proactive, and find out what great looks like early on
- Leverage your network to learn from great leaders
- Build archetypes specific to your company
BONUS: #6 Create a Growth Environment
After hiring great people, you must create an environment in which they see clearly how they contribute to success. Everyone wants to feel like they belong. If you have burned out people who don’t feel valued, supported, and cared for, they will either quit or drag the rest of your business down with them. In a study by Mckinsey, there is a 21% improvement in workforce effectiveness when employees’ mental health is supported.
- Build and communicate a clear mission and vision
- Use OKRs to drive execution and help people see how their work contributes to the company’s success
- Build an inclusive environment and cultivate a sense of belonging in all the employees
- Invest in mental and physical health and wellness