Do you rob your team?

A few years back, I was the platoon leader of an amazing group of young, U.S. Army men and women. We were stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia and had a pretty prominent global mission that garnered some attention and a significant, multi-million dollar budget. The mission was tough, demanding, and there was lots of work to be done.

Many of you can relate to keeping your team’s morale and esprit de corps high when they are working long hours and are involved in the tough work of scaling your company. Well, that was also one of my challenges as a platoon leader…although maintaining high morale while increasing training and development was more of our challenge than scaling the organization.

So, when the opportunity arose for my platoon to participate in our 24-hour relay race to raise money for a local charity, I hopped on it and convinced my team leaders that it would be a lot of fun. They agreed and we started to make preparations.

Before the event kicked off, I went to the grocery store and bought lots of bananas, sports drinks, hamburgers, hot dogs, and just lots of food for us to stay awake and keep the relay going for the full 24 hours.

Unfortunately on the day of the event I was distracted by an emergency I needed to attend to and forgot to bring all the groceries to the event kickoff. As our team settled into the relay and we adjusted to the rythmn, I had an idea.

What if I can run my part of the relay, quickly hop in my Jeep, get to my apartment, pickup the groceries and get back in time for my turn in the relay? What could go wrong, right? I had about an hour until it was my turn, and my apartment was just 15-20 minutes away.

When I arrived at my apartment I filled my Jeep with the groceries and was ready to leave and return to the race. There was just one problem. A home moving truck blocked my ability to leave the apartment complex.

After a search for the driver and painfully waiting for him to move the truck, I made it back to the race only to miss my turn in the relay. Not only did we now lose the opportunity to win, but we still had to run the relay. My team’s morale sank. And, I was the cause of it. This was the exact opposite outcome I had intended. I was focused on raising morale, not lowering it. Uggh!

I robbed my team. Because I was so fixated on my involvement in getting supplies, I forgot my real job was to lead. They could have easily and eagerly shopped for the supplies and groceries and had them ready for the event.

Has this happened to you?

As you shift from startup to scaleup, do you unintentionally rob your team of their responsibilities?

It takes many different forms.

You might tell your scrum master that you’ll take over finding a new developer for him.

You might tell your sales VP that you’ll research the new sales tech software vendor.

You might tell your COO that you’ll run the ops meeting for awhile.

The question is why?

Why do we rob the people we hire to lead when it’s their responsibility to do so?

There are many reasons. The obvious one is we are just use to rolling up our sleeves, wearing many hats, and diving in to help get work done. When the company is small, the CEO title is different and often meaningless. Our ability to lead and work is important during the early stages.

The point is, as we shift from Founder to CEO, as we transform our startup team into a scaleup team, we inhibit the growth of our company when we intentionally or unintentionally rob our team leaders of their work. We must focus our time and energy on the things that only the CEO can do.

What have you found yourself doing that really is the responsibility of the leaders on your team?

This will make you a better Founder & CEO

My first consequential team leadership experience occurred when I worked at Service Merchandise in Derby, Connecticut.

I volunteered to lead our annual MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) fundraising event. Basically it was a big car wash on steroids. There were carnival games for the kids, visits from Miss Connecticut and the town mayor, lots of tables with homemade baked goods for sale, and of course, lots of cars washed by almost every junior high and high school sports teams in the area.

It was a spectacle. It was chaotic. It was fun. Many were happy. We made lots of money for MDA…record breaking for this annual event.

The next year, I volunteered again. It seemed much more difficult to replicate the same atmosphere, spirit, and fundraising results.

I was baffled.

Some of the dignitaries decided not to attend. We had a smaller number of volunteers making and selling baked goods. And, we didn’t raise nearly the same amount of money as we did the year before.

What was different? Me.

A few kind-hearted people shared with me that I didn’t take the time to celebrate and acknowledge all the hard work, dedication, and time that all the volunteers provided in the previous year. And, they remembered that.

I was so focused on meeting my personal leadership milestones that I hadn’t really taken the time to acknowledge the milestones of our task force team and the volunteers. Their sense of accomplishment at a personal level and group level were different and I had not noticed.

Fast forward to 2017 and Carisa Miklusak, CEO of tirl, shared a similar lesson in a recent candid interview on the “From Founder To CEO” podcast.

Here’s her quote that caught my attention: “…what we realized is…there needs to be intentional recognition of incremental successes daily, that we celebrate…”

Carisa went on to explain that she was focused on the big goals of the company and not necessarily the daily achievements that her team and team members were accomplishing…because they were often different.

Has this happened to you? As the Founder you are so focused on scaling the company. You are so focused on transitioning from startup to scaleup, that you forget that a small act of recognition to one of your developers, or marketers, or anyone on your team, can go a very long way to building a culture that will stand the test of time.

I’m reminded of the famous meme that travels the internet. It is from Arthur Ashe. “Success is a journey, not a destination.”

From a practical perspective, you’ll get more from your scaleup team when you, as the Founder & CEO, model the behavior of celebration and acknowledgement on a more consistent and authentic basis.

I do think this is a relatively difficult thing to do for many of us Founders. We are often high achieving and results-driven people who are never really satisfied with the status-quo. That’s often the reason we became entrepreneurs in the first place.

I encourage you to think about this. Do you celebrate the accomplishments of your team members enough? Do you acknowledge the milestones of individual team members? Do you give praise with the biggest gift you have to offer? Your time and attention.

If you realize that your answer may be no. Take heart. Just begin asking your team members what acknowledgement and celebration looks like through their eyes. Take note and begin to incorporate their ideas into your own calendar, behaviors, and the culture of your company.

You will probably end up getting much better results than I did on year two of my MDA fundraising leadership experience.

What works for your team? How do you celebrate at your company?

Please consider sharing your thoughts below so we can all learn together.

I’d Rather Waste Money on Jet Skis Than Invest in a Sales Funnel

SPECIAL NOTE: For this post, I asked Musa Sulejmani to share his thoughts about  how he has managed to build such a strong and committed team at Volume Technologies. Musa was our guest in episode 189 of the “From Founder To CEO” podcast. Let me know what you think. – Todd


By: Musa Sulejmani, Founder & CEO of Volume® Technologies, Inc.

Yes, I’d rather spend my day riding a jet ski, sipping martinis with my best friends and run up a tab than invest in a sales funnel.

Spoiler Alert: My best friends are my co-workers.

I believe at the core of any business, whether you’re Google, Facebook, or even one of the high school students who have an idea, team development is the most important part of your business. The most powerful empires of all time began as a movement, a team of people who were brought together because they shared a similar vision.

Not only do these groups share a vision, but they grow together. Teams that develop together, share their visions, their fears, all while growing together. A lot of the time, they even fail together. That’s because team development increases productivity, fosters innovation, and creates unbreakable bonds.

I like speaking from personal experience. Let’s rewind back to February 2017 when my company, Volume Technologies, released its principal product, Volume, in a small, controlled market in Champaign, Illinois. Our team was small and outside of the founders, there wasn’t huge commitment. Productivity was slow, I was micromanaging, and pretty much forcing our meetings. I found myself irritated constantly wondering why the team outside of the founders didn’t care. Why was it that they’d rather spend time on homework and not hands-on projects that people wanted to use.

There was no emotional investment in the company.

I realized quickly that no one wanted to work on something with people they didn’t grow with, they didn’t care about. Why should they?

I had an idea. I merged the software development culture with our event-planning culture. I began inviting our development team to the events we were planning at the release of our product. Not even a week later, I was getting messages from the development team asking when our next meeting was and what they can be working on. They cared. Because I merged cultures together, gave them a platform to all grow together on, in this case it was parties, we were all able to grow together. This is why I now encourage all product managers, founders, etc. to plan company retreats or get togethers and have fun with their team.

When I was receiving those messages and calls from my team, I wondered how I could get away from my micro-managing tendencies and increase buy-in. Every book on leadership I ever read talked about team buy-in. I wanted to learn about it in the real world. I began asking my team if they felt we were innovative enough. What could we be doing better? I was amazed at the feedback I was receiving. In fact, it was so moving, when I emailed my mentor for advice, he told me I was doing fine, reassuring me that most product managers would “kill for that type of buy-in.”

Letting go of what I wanted and asking what others wanted was the first step in learning about delegation and the truth about innovation. Innovation never comes from the vision of one. It comes from the perception of many and change occurs collectively.

Becoming more of a, dare I say, ‘cool’ founder, has propelled my company forward. Being ‘cool’ has developed unbreakable bonds between myself and my team. I’ve almost never feared abandonment from any of my core team members. We have already all grown together, endured a lot of failure and a lot of success. It’s in a sense, like a marriage. The more you go through and stick together, the more you grow together.

We were working with a company whose founder had a decently successful track record in the 90’s during Web 1.0 (necessary step forward for tech, but ew). I pride myself on giving everyone an opportunity. That’s the person I am. After working with this company for a few months, we learned they were trying to backdoor fund their own company using our company’s success. Nice. Flattering, but in poor taste. After this obviously exploded in their face, they tried to poach every single one of my team members.

I never worried.

I had the trust in my team to stick together. We did. Not only did we stick together, but we grew stronger and grew faster than we even imagined. Now, we’re on track to release a national version of our app, Volume.

What I learned from this experience was that, by investing in my team’s future and caring about them, I not only grew myself and became an insightful leader, but I helped give a lot of people a sense of belonging and purpose. That’s invaluable.

What I encourage people to realize is that your team is like any relationship, especially like a marriage. Well, I’m not married but from what I read/see, it’s like a marriage. You have to always be communicating, compromise, and grow together. Sticking together and growing together with your team can do wonders for your company’s productivity, innovation, and bonds. After all, if you aren’t all in the water riding jet skis together, you can’t all drown together.

Musa Sulejmani is the Co-founder & CEO of Volume Technologies. Volume is a data analytics company that focuses on how people interact with not only each other but with their surroundings. Volume measures crowd and traffic movement at various areas including wait times, capacity, male/female ratios, and more. Volume uses machine learning and predictive analytics to forecast traffic patterns which has helped businesses plan for staffing, delivery drivers plan for pickup, and more.

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Twitter – @musa_sulejmani

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Hiring: Systems, Discovery, and Discipline

SPECIAL NOTE: For this post, I asked Bob Spence to return to my blog to make a very important point about hiring that we all my know, but often forget. Let me know what you think. – Todd


Hiring: Systems, Discovery, and Discipline

By: Bob Spence, current Vistage Florida Chair & Founder and former CEO of  Creative-Leadership Consultants

Since 1992 I have been speaking and presenting seminars about my five step hiring process, the Choosing Winners™ System. I have discovered that far too many leaders have no concept of how to select the right people.

Leaders make hiring a whole lot more difficult than it is in reality. Part of this is due to a lack of specific training. However, the single greatest problem is the refusal of leaders to devote the time and effort necessary to improve their hiring success. They are all looking for the magic potion, the single test that will tell them who to hire. Guess what? That single test is a myth.

I developed my ideas about hiring while working as a school principal and superintendent. The single most positive influence on me was Ken Cardinal. Ken developed numerous structured interviews and I learned how to interview from him.

Ken always spoke about hiring as a discovery process. I found that with a discovery process mind-set I was able to focus on the interviewee’s responses and learn more about them. In discovery you want to learn all you can about a person before you make the job offer. Unfortunately, most leaders do not do this and after the person begins working it is “oh, no, why did I ever hire them?”

Hiring right is all about discipline. For years now managers have not been disciplined in their hiring of new employees. I really do not care which system is used in hiring new employees for a company. All I know is that you will be far more successful with a system, a process that everyone in the company supports and follows without exception. (Including the President!) My Choosing Winners™ System provides a framework, a process that requires discipline on the part of the leader. I never present my system as the answer, but rather as a model from which a company can plan and then implement a process.

When you hire the wrong person, the cost to your company is at least three times the mis-hire’s annual compensation not to mention the negative impact on the team. And remember, as it is written in the Book of Proverbs, 26:10, “Like an archer who wounds at random, is he who hires a fool or any passer-by.”

Bob Spence completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and also has done Ph.D. work at BGSU. (ABD) At BGSU he received the Distinguished Service Award. Bob founded Creative-Leadership Consultants, a human resources company, in San Diego, California, and grew it to 15 professionals and 4 licensee offices. He has experience in construction, manufacturing, retail, services and high technology. Bob is based in Orlando, Florida, serves clients throughout the United States. He is also a Vistage Florida Chair and a Senior Resource for Vistage International. In 2016 he received the HR Lifetime Achievement Award from Columbus CEO Magazine. He can be reached at his email address: