I have watched so many leaders over the years in my various roles as lead investor, board member, board chair, investor, and advisor.
And one thing I have learned from this front-row seat is that leading from the heart is very powerful.
A leader can be the most brilliant product person, strategist, entrepreneur, and business builder, but if they cannot get people to follow them, trust them, and care for them, they will not be an effective leader.
This is a hard lesson to learn. It is a fairly natural tendency to hold your emotions in check when you are in front of a large group of people. We are taught to project strength in moments like this.
And it is also a natural tendency to hold back the most difficult-to-process information, like a fundraising process that is not going well, or conflicts in the board room, or a co-founder relationship that is fraying, or the loss of the biggest customer, or a key supplier relationship that is at risk.
And yet, it is these exact moments where leaders develop that followership, trust, and care from the team.
I am not suggesting that leaders should become deeply emotional every time they talk to the team. I am not suggesting that leaders share every little detail about the business with the team. I understand that some details about the business need to stay confidential until the appropriate time to communicate them. There is a balance to all of this.
I am suggesting that more transparency, more vulnerability, and more honesty is the winning formula and when you are choosing between the two, choose these things.
One of my favorite stories about this comes from a particularly difficult moment in my career where I had to transition a founder out of the company they started. It was the night before the all-hands where the CEO transition was going to be announced. I asked the founder if they were going to attend the all-hands and the founder said no. I then asked the founder what I should tell the team. The founder said, “tell them you fired me because that is what happened”.
The next day I stood up in front of the entire company and told the team the Board had asked the founder to leave the company they started and that the Board had asked a member of the team to step into the CEO role.
After the all-hands ended, there was a line of about twenty or thirty people long to talk to me. And every single one of them waited in line to tell me the same thing which was “thank you for telling us the truth.”
It was a powerful lesson for me. And like most of the lessons I’ve learned in business, I learned it from a founder and their team.
If you are struggling to build the level of trust you want with the team in your company, try a little more transparency, vulnerability, and honesty in your communication style. It will pay dividends.