The 5 attributes of leaders we want to work for

Photo by  Shridhar Gupta  on  Unsplash

Companies with great cultures often attract the best employees, are industry leaders, and create products we all want to buy.

They’re companies we all want to work at. Finding a company with a great culture is like dating — it takes a lot of work and a lot of luck and there is an inexplicable joy when you find the perfect match. What works for one person isn’t going to work for everyone either.

On average, we spend over 90,000 hours of our life at work. Building the right relationships at work are important because those are the people we’re around the most. The people we work with, how we work with them, and the circumstances surrounding that work determines a large part of our happiness. Working at a company with a great culture sure makes the happiness come easier.

At the end of 2018 I was looking for work again after a short stint languishing in a position that didn’t fit me well. My job search started by messaging people on LinkedIn who worked at relatively unknown, yet seemingly solid companies. I’d have a brief phone call with people at these companies that interested me to get the inside perspective about the culture. I was career dating.

Within a month I found the right match with Scoutr as a recruiter and product manager. I’m loving it because I get to help other people go through a similar process of finding companies they love. The idea of finding a great place to work also kept coming up in conversations with friends so I put together a list of companies that stood out to me as genuinely great work cultures that I could share with them. Ndustrial.io was one company on the list and Laura, the head of People Operations there, helped me organize a time to talk with some of the team about some ideas that had been bouncing around my head about what makes a great company culture.

Ndustrial.io has software and services to help manage industrial energy consumption

Based on my experience and the thoughts of the Ndustrial.io team, leadership seemed to have a large part in determining a work culture. And while there’s multiple types of leaders from managers to directors to executives, the principles of leadership that determine work culture apply to all titles. As I’ve been dwelling on the topic, the same principles kept coming up. Great leaders do more than inspire or make a profit. They do these 5 things:

Great leaders have a mission

After meeting with some of the team, I spoke with Jason Massey (CEO). The company mission wasn’t apparent during my initial conversations so I wondered if this was important. Turns out it was everything. The mission is the reason the company exists. Jason got his start in the energy business with Al Gore’s The Climate Project launch in China. After working in the industry for a few years, he realized it’s not just about eliminating wasteful energy consumption. It’s also about having an impact on a company’s bottom line. Reducing energy costs happens by reducing energy use which leads to the positive benefits of less emissions, for example. The company purpose transcends the political arguments and is about delivering value. I drilled down into how Jason has built the company to deliver this value and it was insightful.

The first step is demonstrating their commitment to the company purpose in their hiring practices. They don’t follow a prescription to find people to join their team. They’re not looking for people with a political agenda or die-hard environmentalists, for example. It’s a more organic process for them to find people that are authentic. Ndustrial.io’s authenticity comes from being true to their purpose of helping manage industrial energy needs so that companies can be more sustainable and profitable. The way that Ndustrial.io looks for in a potential employee is how he or she would respond when customers or teammates challenge their values.

Along with that authenticity, they’re also looking for people that challenge the status quo. Jason has recognized that people who do that are curious. Curiosity is what keeps people engaged. It leads to good customer service, it leads to good teammate relationships. It gives us empathy to drive what we’re doing. It’s the reason innovations happen.

In talking with Jason I realized that the goal-driven, venture-backed organizations often value profit or growth at the expense of curiosity. The office is humming with the energy that the motivational posters plastered with management platitudes try to create and it comes from genuinely caring about the team and the customers instead of next quarter’s profit numbers. The best part about it is that the profit and growth seems to be coming along just fine for Ndustrial.io.

Great leaders trust their team

After Jason hires someone, he lets them begin tackling problems. The sink or swim mentality works for Ndustiral.io because they hire people they trust to get the job done. Laura, the head of People Operations, joined the team this last year and said every proposal she’s brought to Jason has been met with enthusiastic support. He fully supports her endeavors to continue to make the employee experience pleasantly unique. Jason’s trust in her abilities have allowed decisions to happen quickly. A trusting organization can be agile through their quick decisions. Companies with unnecessary red tape are missing the element of trust that makes great companies flourish.

It is apparent an organization has a culture of trust when employees feel comfortable voicing their opinions, whether they are positive or negative. Being able to open up about what is going wrong is crucial to solving problems.

“When you have trust you’re more willing to enjoy where you’re working, you’re more willing to trust the people around you, you’re more willing to speak your mind and put more of yourself into being honest, being open, and hopefully being productive.” — Josh

Honest, open communication comes from feeling comfortable in your environment and knowing you won’t get criticized for speaking the truth. Casey is a product manager and really likes working at Ndustrial.io because the trusting environment has completely removed the drama some companies see.

I’ve worked at other jobs where there are people that complain or make backhanded comments and maybe I’m just completely blind to that but there’s been none of that here. Everyone on the team is pretty happy. — Casey

Working at a company where people trust each other is fun because you can voice your opinion and feel great about it. Respect is a necessary component to building trust. Without respect, workplaces backhanded comments, gossip, or public criticism break down the baseline of respect necessary for trust. Openness, honesty, and a lot of praise have been Ndustrial.io’s recipe for respect and trust.

Great leaders communicate well

Good communication starts with trust and continues with transparency and openness. Small organizations like Ndustrial.io are very tight-knit and can facilitate open discussions easily. Asher Flynt works on the professional services team and has a close working relationship with one of the Co-founders, Charles Tuck.

My manager builds trust through open communication. He never holds anything back and he doesn’t expect anyone working for him to either. He is looking for peoples’ opinions even if it’s contrary to his. — Asher

Getting different perspective is an important ingredient in resolving problems and making decisions. Many of the other employees at Ndustrial.io agreed the company has an air of transparency and it is a refreshing feeling for everyone. Casey told me employees at Ndustrial.io have direct access to management. They have the ability to talk with Jason or other leadership without setting up a meeting. The informal environment is a shock for many new hires because of how many jokes are going back and forth. While every workplace doesn’t need to feel like a comedy show, having the environment to talk openly is a great way to reduce stress and make people happy.

Great leaders don’t give feedback. They give praise.

As humans we generally want to be affirmed. It makes us feel good. Let’s be honest, we all want to fit in. This is especially true for new employees. Positive feedback builds trust quicker than negative feedback because a positive workplace invites employees to be comfortable with vulnerability. Having openness and honesty in an organization also leads to more productivity. In fact, researchers found that high-performing teams gave six positive comments for every criticism.

Josh told a story of how the management team was great at giving praise when praise was due. He put extra effort into revamping a presentation deck for a client. Josh expected his team to review the presentation and was pleasantly surprised when he received feedback from the CEO

One evening Jason sent me a message and said that the report looked really good. He threw me for a loop because I didn’t even know he was looking at it. There are little things like that I hope I’m doing and I hope everyone here keeps doing — recognizing work and recognizing the effort that’s put in. — Josh

Feedback for improvement can be beneficial if it is solicited and phrased in a way where it leaves everyone more energized. Being able to arrive at this point requires a high level of trust and great communication skills. This type of feedback is also to help the individual be the best version of themselves.

Great leaders are good mentors

There’s a saying that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Eric is one of the developers and shared a story with me about one of his past jobs that he left. In that particular job, the managers were too busy to be available for their team. It felt like a huge shortcoming because while he was putting everything he had into the product he was not receiving support from leadership and he dreaded going to work each day. At Ndustrial.io, it’s the complete opposite. Eric feels that the management team trusts him to work on what needs to get done without looking over his shoulder and at the same time being available for support when needed.

Before talking with the Ndustrial.io team I thought giving employees autonomy was a mark of a good leader. After our discussions, I realized there was a piece missing to just being autonomous. None of us know what we’re doing. And if we do, we’re bored. Or coasting. Anyone trying to get better doesn’t want a boss that just allows autonomy but wants a supportive leader who excels at helping them grow.

“Someone who was a really good leader for me was one of my first managers out of college. She wasn’t just handing me work or micromanaging. She had her own projects and her deliverables to take care of but she would take time to walk alongside me and ask for feedback. You don’t want someone to hold your hand, especially in a startup environment. Nobody has time to do that. So you need someone who can let you figure things out but is there to help you and support you along the way.” — Casey

While an uninvolved leader may be better than having a hypercritical one, Casey’s and Eric’s experiences showed that good leaders put in effort to a relationship. Being a good leader means taking the time to teach, to train, and support. Good leaders are selfless but also involved on a personal level with the members of their team. Great leaders care.

Some leaders work in the same day-to-day job as their team members and others are just in a management role. While the specifics of how often a manager should engage with the members of his or her team will likely vary at the company and role, a good rule of thumb is to have at least a weekly interaction with everyone on the team, if not daily. Managers on smaller teams can split the responsibility of carrying a workload and being involved as a mentor but larger teams should have a manager dedicated to leadership responsibilities.

Talking with the Ndustrial.io team helped me realize building a great culture boils down to being a human-centered organization. Helping people become the best versions of themselves is what good leaders do, and it’s no easy task. Leadership is about understanding people.

Whether you’re a leader trying to become better or an employee scouting out a potential company, these steps should help anyone in the quest for a happy work environment. It may even help you in your romantic life too.

A big thanks to Laura and the rest of the Ndustrial.io team for making this possible.

You can contact me on LinkedIn to get in touch.