Building Your Visionary Team

This is the third of five articles in the Give Birth to Your Visionary Business series, originally delivered as an email series starting on Martin Luther King Day of 2017. I've ported it here to the blog without changing the original content – which is just as relevant as it was a year ago. Learn more about the entire series here.

This year, if you’re giving birth to something bigger than ever before, you will need more and better support than ever before.

I’m not just saying “you can’t do it alone,” which you already know. You may already have a mastermind group, a coach, a virtual assistant, a web designer, or others in your corner. But this is just the beginning of the world-class team that’s possible for you.

Leading a team is an art that I’ve learned a lot about this past year, and I’m just scratching the surface. I hired three different people as subcontractors to support my business, hired multiple coaches, and collaborated with dozens of friends and colleagues to put on programs and events, create content, support each other, and generally make life better for each other and our clients.

When you have a team, it means you can focus on your superpowers and delegate everything else to other brilliant and capable people. The more you step into your role as a leader and cultivate a brilliant team around you, the larger your vision can grow. But you must also collaborate with care – being clear on your teammate’s strengths and weaknesses, giving appreciation and feedback, compensating them fairly, setting the course, and making adjustments when needed.

In each lesson I will highlight a visionary leadership capacity. Last time I talked about holding a clear and compelling vision for your life and business. Now I’d like to introduce…

Visionary Leadership Capacity #3 – Build a brilliant team to help you birth your vision, and master the art of caring leadership so the collaboration flows and everyone wins.

Why Do We Resist Building a Team?

Leading a team is one of the most vulnerable things you can do, up there with posting raw details of your love life on Facebook and teaching workshops in your underwear.

Because when you hire someone to be on your team, they see the inner workings of your business… and your soul.

If you are disorganized, they see it.
If you need a lot of time for self-care, they see that.
If you’re struggling financially (or if you’re raking it in) it’s hard to hide it…

And why would you? One of the most healing things about having a team is mutual vulnerability. I aspire to create a culture of psychological safety so I and my teammates can make mistakes and learn from them, while also holding a high bar for accountability.

My former teammate Cait Gordon made this failure celebration jar to help us remember the value of risk-taking. I still have it in my living room today!

My former teammate Cait Gordon made this failure celebration jar to help us remember the value of risk-taking. I still have it in my living room today!

If you’re keeping your “hired help” at arm’s length or are avoiding hiring at all, you’re missing an opportunity. 

For too long, I stayed a one-man show because I carried shame of being a high-maintenance employee in my former career as a designer. I wasn’t obedient, appropriate, or easily satisfied, so why did I deserve to have anyone follow my lead? I eventually realized that a) I’m an entrepreneur to the core and not everyone is like me… some people thrive with less risk and more direction, and b) I’m a good boss for creative people because I *get it* and allow for, even encourage, a ton of self-expression and authenticity.

What are the limiting stories in the way of you having your dream team? It’s time to let them go…

When you learn to embrace the vulnerability of leadership, the result is a more resilient and loyal team that will have your back when you need it most.

Hierarchy or Non-Hierarchy?

As you embrace being a leader, you will have to consider how power and decision-making are distributed in your team. Do you build a hierarchy with yourself at the top? Or do you collaborate with equal owners and decision-makers?

While some experts are staunchly pro- or anti- hierarchy, I believe that your ideal organizational structure depends completely on how you’re wired and what you want to create.

For six years I taught a course in team dynamics at the Stanford with my mentor and seasoned psychologist Julian Gorodsky. We specialized in working with non-hierarchical innovation teams and I was enamored of this egalitarian style of collaboration. 

I’ve been part of other radical collaborations, including a virtual coaching community called the Reinvention Circle and more recently, a “business family" – a democratic 4-person collaboration that has warmed my heart and filled my soul. My business sister, Natalie Kent, believes that the era of the solopreneur is ending and that group collaborations are the future.

And I think she's right, for some people, but not for everyone.

Consider Holacracy, a cutting-edge form of teamwork and corporate governance that distributes power but embraces hierarchy. In their view, hierarchy is natural and useful (a tree has hierarchy, from roots to branches to leaves), while toxic politics are the real problem.

I've recently been getting honest with myself about how I thrive when I have creative control. (I was recently called, with love, a “benevolent dictator,” and I thought, “hey, that’s pretty accurate!”)

So, the paradox is this – as a highly-educated upper-middle-class white man, I've been socialized my whole life to be "the boss." Yet being liberal and from Berkeley, I've been taught to be wary of power. And looking at the bare wiring of who I am, as best I can tell, being at the helm seems to work for me.

These aren't simple questions. And being a "good boss" isn't a clearcut endeavor.I try to explain where we’re going and why instead of micromanaging. I try to listen deeply, even if I have the final say. And I try to always remember that my teammates are equal human beings, and treat them with respect.

In the CTI Dimensional Leadership Model, you would say I am strong at “leading from the front” which is a pretty classic CEO position. But it’s not the only form of leadership there is. You can also lead from the back, which is a classic “coach” role. You can lead from the side, which is typical of a partnership. You can lead from the field which means having attention on the whole picture. In addition to these, you can also lead from within, which is where all authentic leadership originates. No form of leadership is better than any other. You must know yourself and what the situation calls for, be flexible while owning your home base, and design your team with all of these positions in mind.

As you ponder where you best lead from, and what style of organization you’d like to build, I might ask, “What kind of leader… are you?

Sage Wisdom on Hiring Your Team

The other day I interviewed Alexis Morgan, whose writing, art, and speaking centers on truth, justice, and exploring what it means to live a liberated life. We connected around the concept of privilege-based pricing, then I learned she used to be a VA (virtual assistant) and OBM (online business manager). I thought it would be interesting to ask her about how to hire and cultivate a loyal team, and discuss some of the ethical issues that arise. I don’t often say this, but it’s a must-listen for those who want to grow their businesses! Listen here on Soundcloud to “Your VA Is Not Your Slave: How to Hire and Cultivate a Loyal Team” and read the full show notes here.

The second interview I’d like to share is with my business brother George Kao, who has dedicated the last 7 years to coaching and mentoring clients to help them create sustainable & joyful livelihoods. He’s passionate about affordable outsourcing, and I wanted to learn more from him! Once you've listened to the interview above with Alexis, you'll be ready to learn from George about the ins and outs of working with Fiverr and Upwork for projects with a smaller budget.Watch the video here.

Exercise: Begin Designing and Reaching Out to Your World-Class Team

In the last article, you got clear on your compelling vision. Your next step is to figure out what roles and people will be needed to make that vision a reality.

1. Draw a simple diagram of the roles you need to be successful this year and any people you know who might fill those roles. (It could be a hierarchy, or a circle – this diagram will be custom to you and your business!)

2. Start having open-ended conversations with people you already know who might fill those roles. Notice any gaps in your network and start being curious how you might fill those gaps. (You may choose to launch a more robust hiring process.)

Wait to commit to your team until you have your strategy solidly in place. More on that in the next article.
With love,

Follow the yellow brick road to…
Your Visionary Business Strategy