How to Be A Leader Everyone Wants to Work For
Joshua Davidson wrote this article
The following is an edited excerpt from my new book, The Entrepreneur’s Framework: How Businesses Are Adapting in the New Economy.
It was early 2012, and I had stumbled upon something extraordinary.
I didn’t fully comprehend it at the time, but I accidentally discovered a tool that would allow me to turn Chop Dawg from a company with virtually no app sales to generating millions in revenue. I discovered the power of eCommerce through Twitter.
An individual tweeted out to the world that he needed an app developer to build his dream app. Coincidentally, this is at the same time that we decided that Chop Dawg was to become an app development agency. We were no longer a website design-only firm and we were hungry.
We were also borderline-desperate for any work we could get our hands on.
eCommerce may sound commonplace on social media today. But, back in 2012, this wasn’t the norm.
This is before Twitter became overrun with bots, scheduled posts, cliched social media influencers, and everyday folks trying to up-sell you. This was back when Twitter was in its prime, with its pre-algorithm driven feeds.
The pre-algorithm driven Twitter feed provided real-time tweets from the people you followed and genuinely cared to read about. The feed was something that could be spontaneous and exciting, and had it not been for the real-time feed, I may have never found the tweet at all. With the real-time feed, I was one of the first to read that tweet; and had the chance to take an at-bat before anyone else could. I was dead-set on hitting a home run, no matter the costs.
With a mixture of invalidated confidence and immature optimism, I took advantage of what at the time felt like divine intervention. I explained to this individual that we would be, in essence, their saviors. I assured him that we had the knowledge, the know-how, the team, and the experience to help.
But, as you already know by now, that wasn’t exactly the truth. Don’t get me wrong; we believed in all of this. We felt it in our bones. We had the passion, that internal fire, and yes, we did have the knowledge, know-how, and the team. But the experience part? The part where we would have to deliver on our big promises? That was pushing it.
Chop Dawg had existed for almost four years but we weren’t 245+ apps deep with experience as we are today.
No, we had made a grand total of one. That was PartyHopp, the app that fueled my passion for getting into building apps in the first place. That was experience, so again, not a lie… but, not entirely the full truth either. It felt, in many ways, how most pizza shops would call themselves the “world’s best pizza” — they might be, but who is to judge or say?
I had all of the fire and passion of a leader back in 2012, but I genuinely believed that overselling ourselves was the only way we could get the client we wanted. We needed to get that at-bat we were desperate for, at any cost.
But, I really did believe we could do it, and we really needed the work…
Within a week of that tweet, my head of programming Brandon Teller and I were on an Amtrak bound for New York City.
We were set to meet the lead for lunch, and I remember telling Brandon that we weren’t going to blow this. The meeting went as well as I could have ever hoped for. Even when they asked us to walk them through some of our prior experiences, Brandon and I were on our A-game. We only had to talk about PartyHopp; and fortunately, that was all we needed for this meeting. We walked them through the whole process of how we made PartyHopp into a revenue-generating app. That was all the proof they needed — they didn’t ask us about any other clients. Within a few short weeks after our meeting, the contracts were signed, the down payment was made, and my team was off to the races.
This was our shot to hit something out of the park.
But when actually delivering on our promises, the problems came about almost right away. Unlike today, we were doing everything that had to get done at once. There was no defined methodology, reasoning, or organization. Today, we always focus on design first, before writing a single line of code at Chop Dawg. We eliminate the possibility of misinterpretation and miscommunication from biting us in the butt, causing delays and hiccups in any app project. Back then, we didn’t organize ourselves at all. We just didn’t have the experience, or the expertise to realize such problems could and would exist. That opened the opportunity for endless bugs and revisions in programming, and nightmare-ish scenarios in design.
In hindsight, this resulted in some unforeseen (but preventable) issues, as new designs were in direct conflict with bits of code already in-place and completed prior. Since we never bothered to write a proper project plan, it felt like we were working on a moving target while also blind-folded and intoxicated. The team put in five times the work they needed to.
Naively, I assumed if the client didn’t see every facet of their project happening at once, they would be dissatisfied; even if the work was being done to get their apps completed. But of course, I was wrong there. Since we were spreading ourselves thin, we were getting constant client feedback on designs and in result, the code was breaking with the constant changes we were making. We promised a timetable of milestones to the client, but we failed to meet each one.
We kept telling the client that if they just stopped always wanting to change things we could get the job done. The client would always snipe back that if we could just get the job done right, they wouldn’t have to. This stressed us out, and we felt like hamsters on a spinning wheel. The outcome was disastrous. We constantly were bickering with the client! That should never happen.
Three months after we had expected to have the job completed, we were still working overtime on a half-functioning product when the client said they’d finally had it.
They fired us.
Swing and a miss. We struck out when at the time, felt like our first and only at-bat in the major league. How did this happen?
I had over-promised, and then we under-delivered. This was not out of laziness, but because I overestimated the capability of my team. We were working hard, but I could never communicate to the team exactly what the client wanted. We didn’t even have our client aligned with what they wanted. I should have been able to get everyone on the same page, but I didn’t have the project management skills yet.
I had not anticipated that just because we were able to do one project successfully, that didn’t mean we were qualified to do another. With small business websites, we had been working on a service that could be easily replicated. I naively thought that apps would be easily replicated across projects, too.
Even when things weren’t going right, I didn’t have the courage to be transparent with the client. I thought I could hide behind the curtain of attentive service, but attentive service is moot without the deliverables to back it up. In the end, all the positive meetings in the world couldn’t mask the fact that we made a broken product.
Years later, I am thankful we were fired.
I am not remotely okay with the fact that we did let down these two individuals — that is forever on my conscience. But this setback (along with Subtle), forced me to look at exactly what caused us to fail, and learn how to ensure that this would never happen again. Otherwise, we would be doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
I incorrectly thought at the time that leadership could only come from solely one individual.
Leadership is a shared mindset.
Individual leaders can be catalysts for change, but without a collective effort, nothing can get done. A collective is always more powerful than an individual.
I had programmed myself to think that leaders are solely responsibility for everything.
The early successes of Chop Dawg, before I even had a team, blinded me to think that the whole operation would fail without me. It felt good to think that the only way my company could stay in business was if I were around all the time. I swore I was the visionary, the only person who could it do all. I loved the idea of being that guy who could heroically swoop in and make all of the big decisions.
But I never really asked my team what they thought, and if they even liked what we were doing at all.
That lack of understanding of the value a team can bring cost Chop Dawg millions in potential earnings.
I failed to realize how little my team was being properly utilized.
As I am sure many of you have noticed over the years, the media glamorizes the individual founder(s).
They fail to see that in reality, they are the face of company, but they are not the one that does everything.
A successful company is the collective work of the whole team. The other reality is that it’s the founder that provides the direction. You shouldn’t be a leader to feel like the “boss.” It’s your job to set the course, work with your people to best utilize their inner-capabilities, and make sure that everything is on course. You can truly inspire everyone on your team to make contributions to your business and to themselves.
Every person on the team should feel like a leader of change.
The reality is this; leaders create leaders.
The best teams on the planet are the ones that work together, communicate and function as one horde, and even when facing a setback, remain optimistic and confident that together, they’ll be able to get back on track and move mountains.
The reason that Chop Dawg has lasted a decade isn’t because of me, but because of the fact we have a plethora of leaders at Chop Dawg who accept, and thrive off of accountability and team efforts. We’re a collective group of leaders, all unified under one goal, one mindset, one mission; to give the best service to our clients possible.
The Chief Accountability Officer
With both Subtle and the client that fired us, there was no accountability until it was too late.
There was a clear flaw in the DNA of our operations; and it was me.
I just didn’t know how to keep my team accountable. Not yet.
There needs to always be someone at a company, especially an infant operation, who keeps the mission on course, make sure deadlines are met, and that everyone is doing what they need to be doing. That individual that instills the charisma, personality, and work ethic that a company should be striving for.
If I had to create a more specific job for myself rather than just calling myself the CEO, it would be Chief Accountability Officer.
This means being responsible, not passing the buck, and leading by example. If you’re late to meetings, be on time yourself to teach others that you aren’t all talk, but that you practice what you preach. How can you breed accountability without being accountable yourself?
I think the most important thing of all when it comes to leadership and your own accountability is to encourage honesty among your team members — no one should ever be afraid to tell you that something isn’t going to plan or isn’t going to work. The sooner you know something is going wrong, the sooner you have the opportunity to fix it.
Always remember, leaders create other leaders.
To learn more about how to succeed as an entrepreneur in today’s world, pick up The Entrepreneur’s Framework: How Businesses Are Adapting in the New Economy by Joshua H. Davidson.