During college, I worked for a successful entrepreneur. His list of career accomplishments include: changing the landscape of a Big 4 accounting firm, building a popular New Orleans restaurant empire, raising two sons who went on to develop one of the top restaurant chains in America, changing Ohio's retail landscape, serving as the dean of a culinary school, developing real estate properties, and consulting for a handful of high-profile clients. Needless to say, he was a busy man who required a strong and dependable team to help manage his day-to-day. I started out as an intern who managed small projects and bookkeeping, and then eventually became his executive assistant tasked with streamlining the consulting arm of his business.
Now that my role has switched gears and I'm on the other side, I'm realizing why my former boss was so exclusive about who joined his team. We're in an exciting time for small creative businesses, and there's so many great ideas and pioneers in almost every business. The more each of us grow our business, the more important it is to have a team who can jump on board, earn their keeps, and take the business to the next level. Sure, there's a big spotlight on entrepreneurs but the focus should be on the business, which of course, can't grow without a strong team. If you are in love with a certain business or want to learn from a trailblazer, you can start small within the company and grow into an indispensable asset. Here's how!
- Put the business before yourself. (Leave your personal agenda at the door.)
- Though my job role seemed insignificant to most, I inherently knew there was a lot of growth to be had simply because it was just me. If I could learn my boss's needs and biggest headaches, I could essentially make his life easier. In turn, he'd have more time and energy to focus on all of his other responsibilities. Though it was an internship I did for college credit, I knew firsthand it wasn't about me. I shared very little about myself unless I was asked. It was more important that I worked and soaked in the experience at hand. My focus was on what I could implement, take on, and make better for the business.
- Wear all the hats.
- In most new businesses, there's generally one or two people trying to manage all the backend work like operations and financing to everything customer facing including sales and marketing. It's a whole lot of necessary half-assing to ensure it all gets done. Observe and figure out what your boss / team wants to focus on, and then pick up the slack. Offer your help with anything and everything that is lacking in the business. Eventually, you'll gain even more skills and identify one area of the business you're passionate about. Your team is going to be over the moon and will rightfully promote your hard work.
- Craft your trajectory.
- Once you've figured out where you see yourself in the business's future, sit down with your team to discuss your trajectory. I generally lay this out to any potential hires to be fully transparent: intern > assistant > project manager > director > partner. If you show your team that you have what it takes to work to the bone as an intern, can run a well-oiled machine as an assistant, are responsible enough to work with clients as a project manager, then surely you can take ownership as a director and so on. Show them exactly how you want to grow with the company, and you've done half the thinking for them!
- Build strong internal + external relationships.
- Not only should you get to know and understand your teammates, but try to learn as much as you can about everyone you come into contact with, from the office neighbors to potential clients and janitors. Learn their names and stories because well, we don't give other people the spotlight enough, and you can learn a wealth of knowledge just by listening. As a representative of the brand, let people know you value relationships as much as the business.
- Keep a feedback loop.
- There's no way to learn how to improve if you don't ask your team and your clients for their feedback. Focus on improving your shortcomings. One day, those shortcomings will become a strength that you were able to cultivate from a specific struggle. Even if you leave that company, you'll be able to track and share your progress to show you're humble and want to grow not only for yourself, but more importantly for the team.
This post is dedicated to my late boss and former mentor, Dr. Alton F. Doody, who taught me so much but above all, about tenacity, innovation, and generosity.