Earlier this year, I met with members of my board to get their advice on how I could improve as CEO. Jane Miller, who has served on our board for three years and has been extremely close to our whole team gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten: “You’re intelligent. But your job is not to be the smartest person in the room. It’s to bring out the best in your team.” She explained to me, as she’d observed in some team meetings, that I sometimes crowd out the voices of others on the team.

This advice resonated deeply because, one, I want to be a leader that brings out the best in my team, and, two, I know her observation is true. This is the number one thing I need to work on as a leader.

So I have set out to investigate how to bring out the best in other people and how to embrace that directive as my primary mission this year. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Care deeply about your teammates.

Knowing the range of someone’s strengths and abilities and having the ability to believe in them comes from having a deep understanding of them. And that understanding can only be achieved through sincere curiosity about what drives them, what they are interested in, and what they believe they can do. Having this space comes from asking them questions, usually in one-on-one settings.

Believe your team is highly capable.

This Harvard Business Review article examines the difference between “diminishers”—leaders who believe that they have all the answers and stifle their teams—and “multipliers”—leaders who truly bring out the best in their teams.

The number one difference between the two types of leaders is a simple belief. Diminishers believe “no one else really has much to offer.” They see talent as static and unchanging. Multipliers, on the other hand, view things differently. From the article:

The critical question for these leaders is not “Is this person smart?” but rather “In what ways is this person smart?” The job, as the multiplier sees it, is to bring the right people together in an environment that unleashes their best thinking—and then stay out of the way.

Multipliers might ask diminishers, “If you don’t believe your team is more capable than you at their job, why did you bring them onto your team?”

View your job as an editor, not a reporter.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter founder and Square CEO, famously describes the role of the CEO as an editor. An editor doesn’t write the stories published in a newspaper, but rather puts together the vision for the paper, encourages reporters to pursue certain stories, and holds all stories to standards of excellence.

In the past, I saw my job as the “first reporter.” Whenever we encountered a problem, I saw it as my responsibility to solve it first then delegate the execution of my solution to others. That doesn’t work too well because:

  1. I don’t always have the best solutions (particularly as the organization grows).
  2. My teammates aren’t always bought in to my way of doing things, especially because they haven’t had a chance to contribute solutions.
  3. The organization is severely limited by my capacity to take on the problems we face.

Instead, I’ve been learning that my job is to frame, invite, and equip. In other words, I’ve got to offer critical context including:

  1. Who we are as an organization (our culture, our values, our identity)?
  2. Where we are going (our mission, vision and core strategy)?
  3. What is the problem facing us at the moment and why is important to address?

With this framing in place, I can invite a member of my team to tackle the problem by saying, “From our conversations, I know this is something you care about and have a lot of insight into. How would you go about solving this problem?”

Once they lay out their proposed strategy, I can then offer any thoughts and then ask, “Would you be willing to take on solving this challenge? If so, how can I support you?”

My main job then becomes resourcing them with information, capital, decision-making authority, or whatever else they require.

Take a leap of faith.

Doing the above often requires giving teammates license they haven’t previously had or giving them a task they haven’t proven they can do yet. That’s perpetually your job as CEO. You want people who punch above their weight class on your team anyway. That means trusting them with things you don’t know they can do yet, reserving judgment, and then giving them honest feedback (hence, the next point).

Give feedback, especially about their impact on the organization.

People on my team always appreciate honest feedback because they genuinely care about making Unreasonable Institute as successful as possible. But I’ve found that giving honest feedback can often be a challenge for me. Buffer lays out incredible principles for giving great feedback in this blog post.

Giving feedback isn’t only about laying out how people can better. Tweet This Quote

But giving feedback isn’t only about laying out how people can be better. It is more about helping teammates understand how their contributions are driving the organization forward and contributing to the strategy and mission of the organization. As Adam Grant lays out in his book Give and Take (perhaps my all-time favorite business book), giving people are motivated primarily by seeing their effort translate into meaningful outcomes in service of a cause they care about.

I’m still learning tremendous amounts about what it takes to bring out the best in other people. But Jane Miller is right: that’s my number one job. And as a leader, I’m guessing it’s probably your number one job too.

About the author

Teju Ravilochan

Teju Ravilochan

Teju is co-founder and CEO of the Unreasonable Institute. He is driven by the desire to live in a world where every human being can be the master of their own fate, unbound by the chains of poverty, oppression, or injustice.