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This is the sixth in an 11-part series of blog posts that focus on Basis Technologies’ corporate guiding principles, and how those values show up in the workplace and in the lives of our people.
Leadership is a complex ideology: as teams evolve, so do their needs. However, there are a few best practices that will always hold true.
At Basis Technologies, our guiding principle of Humility recognizes that there is no such thing as individual success in life. To follow this principle, we constantly acknowledge those who have helped us along the way, and know that team chemistry and collaboration are critical to achieving our goals.
I sat down with three Basis tech leaders—Jeff Smith (Dir, Production Operations), Victoria Bateman (Mgr, Data Operations), and Jonah Rosenberg (Sr Dir, Software Engineering)—to ask them how humility plays into their leadership philosophies.
Read on to check out my takeaways from this conversation—these five humility-focused practices are sure to benefit leaders of all kinds!
Jeff Smith: Ego is a toxic thing inside of an organization. It creates artificial hierarchies that suggests that good ideas can only come from certain levels in the hierarchy. Humility is the personality trait that negates that. At Basis Technologies we’ve always said, “check your egos at the door.” That’s because we know ego is something that prevents the best ideas from shining through.
Victoria Bateman: Basis Technologies values humility because it recognizes that team performance and success is greater than the sum of individual successes. The leaders of Basis Technologies show us every day that humility leads to openness and trust. This creates an environment that motivates employees and encourages innovation.
Jonah Rosenberg: Basis Technologies has always placed a key focus on hiring and retaining great people. To do that successfully, I believe leaders must show humility by providing growth opportunities for their team and placing their team members’ successes above their own. I try to practice "servant leadership”—delegating responsibility to my team members, placing a large emphasis on transparency throughout the decision-making process, and supporting my team by doing all that I can to help them to succeed.
JS: First, it’s about making sure people are calculating risks correctly. Taking a risk is only valuable if the payoff is worth it. You wouldn’t wager $10 to make $1. But you’d probably wager $10 to make $100. What does that tipping point look like for your team as it relates to your goals?
Being able to evaluate risks in the context of your larger goals is key. We create space for these risks by making them learning opportunities. Even when you miss on a risk, there’s tons of invaluable information to be learned, and chances are you’re going to learn much faster than you would have in a traditional setting. Being able to pull something positive out of a risk saves it from being a wasted effort.
VB: I try to show my team that I’m human, I make mistakes, and I fail. It’s my role to teach the importance of ownership when mistakes happen. Most importantly, I want my team to know they're in an environment where it's safe to fail, learn, and do better. I believe learning to fail forward is essential to innovation and growth as an individual, and as a team.
JR: I believe that to take risks, an individual needs to feel comfortable and supported by their leaders and peers. As a leader, I first focus on building trust with my team by forming positive relationships, showing that I care, and helping without micromanaging. If struggles arise and trust has been formed, then it’s a combined effort to fail forward together, which can be a positive learning experience for all to take into the next challenge.
JS: Think of the type of leader you’d want to work for. Do you want a bombastic, egotistical task master? Probably not. It all starts with vulnerability. I think to be a humble leader is to be a leader that’s comfortable exposing their vulnerabilities—both as a means of connecting and also as a means of humanizing yourself.
Leaders have warped perceptions of themselves because they often forget about the role power they have within an organization. I feel like I’m just Jeff, the approachable Ops guy, but other people might see me completely differently. I have to continuously work at letting people know that I’m approachable. Humility is a practice, something you have to live out. Remember that as often as you can.
VB: In my view, the first step to becoming a humble leader is acknowledging to yourself, and others, that you don’t know everything. The next step is committing yourself to lifelong learning. The best way of getting started today is to take a step back, to listen, to ask questions.
JR: Focus on achieving success by uplifting others. Set the example that it’s okay to make mistakes. Delegate autonomy to your team and find joy in your team members’ successes.
JS: Imagine the best marketing campaign ever for a product that doesn’t exist. Imagine a great product that nobody has ever heard of. Imagine a computer system so secure that nobody can use it in a meaningful way. We live in an increasingly complex world and as a result, we’re becoming more and more interdependent.
We have to measure ourselves on an aligned set of goals and objectives. If my team was measured on goals they can deliver on their own, the teams would optimize for that at the expense of the whole. As leaders we need to make sure we’re building goals that take the whole organization into account. That will also mean making sure people understand how their work fits into the larger picture.
VB: For me, encouraging collaboration is about two things. The first is modelling collaboration. I do my best to ask for input from my team or teams across the company when working on significant tasks or projects. The second is gratitude. I recognize other people’s contributions and give credit for every task or project they complete.
JR: Our teams place a high priority on hiring kind-hearted and supportive teammates. When team members want each other to do well, collaboration becomes easy – wins turn into team wins, and mistakes are about growing and improving for the future rather than placing blame. At our bi-weekly staff meeting, we have a standing agenda item for “Shoutouts” – a crowd favorite! Team members are excited to show their appreciation by raising up their teammates for the hard work they put in.
JS: Creativity is a hard thing to inspire because everyone gets their inspiration from a different place. The best thing I can do is provide a space for that creativity to take hold and that’s through empowerment. The simplest way to empower a team is to define the goal and the constraints and then leave it to the team on how to get there.
As a leader you obviously will have your own ideas, but keep those ideas loosely held. You’ll be amazed by the things people come up with when you’ve removed your own influence from the solution. For example: "Rent a truck to move this sofa to the new office" is a task that is filled with your own ideas on how it should be done. "Get this sofa to the new office" opens up a world of possible options for the team.
VB: Every individual on the team, no matter how long they’ve been at Basis Technologies, has new ideas to contribute and different perspectives to share. I regularly ask my team to take on challenging problems and new projects, and bring new ideas to the table. I want everyone on my team to feel empowered to have a voice.
JR: I try to lend autonomy to the team to solve the hard problems we’re faced with each day. By building a positive environment where team members want to help each other, opportunities arise to form safe spaces for differing opinions and ideas. I try to provide space for those quieter voices in meetings, which has become even more important virtually, and I expect my team members to do the same.
When we all support each other, we also challenge each other to grow and learn from one another. Focus on achieving success by lifting others up. Set the example that it’s okay to make mistakes. Delegate autonomy to your team and find joy in your team members’ successes.
Learn more about Basis Technologies’ culture here.