Changing My Leadership Style
When I founded Creative Niche, a creative workforce management firm, in 2002, it was with a meager CAD$8,000 personal line of credit, no clients and no candidates— a potentially lethal combination for a recruitment-and-staffing company. At the time, I was 27-years-old and betting that my entrepreneurial skills could help navigate the complexities of a highly competitive industry. By mid-2008, we had 22 employees and the company’s annual revenue exceeded CAD$5 million. It seemed like nothing was going to stop me! And then the Great Recession hit full force.
Being walloped by my first major downturn as an entrepreneur, I felt as lonely and isolated as I did on the first day of running my startup. Although I did everything possible to remain composed in front of my team, hemorrhaging thousands of dollars in salary each week and handling employee layoffs were getting the better of me. Not long after those tough times, I was introduced to EO. I was soon accepted into the Entrepreneur Masters’ Program (EMP) at MIT, and after the completion of my first year, I decided to participate in the EO/Bell Leadership Institute Program to hone my managerial skills. That’s when it became obvious that my leadership style needed to change.
After hearing direct, honest feedback on my leadership skills—or lack thereof— from my direct reports, personal friends and family, I immediately became defensive. I was hurt and somewhat angry. But I quickly snapped out of that state of self- pity and realized how thankful I was to hear mthe truth from the very people that contributed most to my success and happiness in life. They were right. I was a leader, but not a great one. After spending just three days at the Bell Leadership Institute, it became clear that learning how to lead has no set end point. It’s a continual process of change and improvement.
As we ready for Creative Niche’s global expansion into Europe and the US, I want to share the tactics I used to take my company to the next level:
- Be prepared to take a look in the mirror: Being an entrepreneur is one of the loneliest, most taxing, intriguing, energizing and incredible experiences imaginable. But business owners tend to be highly confident and sometimes stubborn when it comes to heeding intelligent advice. When your company revenue flat-lines, your employee turnover rates jump or some other frightening business-metric trend rears its head, it’s time to analyze what’s going wrong and fix it— that means analyzing your own managerial faults and committing to change.
- Understand your staff: My employees’ talents complement mine, which is why I hired them in the first place. I realized that motivating employees requires a clear understanding of their abilities, career goals and an idea of how their vision meshes with mine. So, I took the time to ask those questions, document their answers and help them work toward achieving their goals. I haven’t looked back since.
- Envision the culture you want … then build it: I wanted a dynamic, fast-paced company built on idea generation, collaboration and fun. I actively moved to empower Nichers by opening the door to any idea they had, provided funding for career development, and—perhaps most importantly—started asking questions, listening and delegating more to help further their growth. I also made changes to ensure we had the right people in the right places. The advice I was given by colleagues was to hire slow and fire fast. I took it, and I saw an immediate boost in engagement, team-building and positive energy. I finally had my dream culture.
The only end point of an entrepreneur’s management education should be when he or she hangs up their gloves (and let’s face it, how many entrepreneurs really retire?). Until then, it’s an ongoing process of learning, reinforcement and evolution. Furthering my leadership abilities is now just as important as helping to connect great creative talent with outstanding organizations. It took time and business maturity to realize just how important it was all along.
Mandy Gilbert is founder and CEO of Creative Niche. Visit www.creativeniche.ca or e-mail Mandy at