I started a denim company about two years ago. I didn’t have much experience in the fashion design field, but I surrounded myself with people who knew more than I did. It worked to get the business off the ground, but I think it’s starting to backfire on me.
The problem is that I’m trying to grow the company now, and I’m trying to make changes I see necessary to make this happen. But, I don’t seem to have much authority with my staff, and they can be quite dismissive and combative at times.
Do you have any advice on how to approach this situation and how I can improve my leadership skills? I know if something doesn’t change, I’ll never be able to grow the way I want.
Congratulations on making it through the first couple of years and being in a place where you can think about growth. Believe me, you’re not the only founder of a company who started their business without much expertise in their field. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; you just don’t want to hand over the keys to the kingdom without establishing yourself as the leader regardless of your level of expertise at the time.
You’re in a tough spot now because you have to try to change the way your staff perceives you and how you relate to one another. That’s far more challenging than establishing roles and boundaries from the beginning. The problem is we feel desperate to get other’s input and dependent on their knowledge, and we unknowingly sacrifice our authority in the process.
Here are some suggestions on how to turn this around and set yourself up for growth.
First, recognize that you may not be able to change the way these employees perceive you, and you might need to replace them. I always recommend you try to change the situation, but it’s important to know from the start that the only solution could be to replace the existing staff. Change can be incredibly hard for others and if you’ve already established a certain culture, they may not be on board with the new way of working. It might not be why they came to work with you in the first place, and you need to be able to recognize that and not let the problem linger.
If you do want to try to shift boundaries with your existing staff and establish yourself more as the leader, start by accepting responsibility for the change. Give your staff a context for this change, don’t just walk into the business and proclaim that things are going to be different. They need an explanation as to why things need to shift. It’s a lot easier to change when everyone understands why it has to happen and how it will benefit everyone. Keep this at the center of your efforts. I would frame it in the context of growing the company and creating more opportunity for everyone involved. You have to create a “buy in” gateway when you want to make change.
Next, I would acknowledge where you’ve fallen short as the leader and what you’re going to do to fix it. Nothing is more off-putting to employees than a leader who skips over responsibility and tries to make others change. It’s good for everyone if you let the team know where you accept responsibility and what actions you’re taking to create solutions.
Finally, be consistent from here forward. Once you know what changes you need to make and you have your team on board, you have to be consistent. Old habits die hard, and if you slip back into your old ways of working and you don’t hold a firmer leadership position, you’ll lose credibility with your staff. Consistency is the key factor during these types of transitions so do what you need to keep yourself on track.
Good luck! This is one of the hardest changes you can make. And, know that if you have to replace your staff, you need to be prepared to get off on the right foot with your new team. Invest in leadership development, and don’t let the same mistakes impact your future.
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