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Get out of the way Featured

4:43pm EDT February 21, 2011
Jeff Ready, founder and CEO, Scale Computing Jeff Ready, founder and CEO, Scale Computing

Jeff Ready learned a valuable lesson about overcoming failure when he was 16 and had his first car accident.

“I was terrified of driving after that,” Ready says. “But the next day, my dad filled up the other car with gas and told me to go drive it until it was empty. The lesson was, ‘You screwed up, but too bad. Move on and get back to work.’”

Ready is not quite as blunt with his employees at Scale Computing, but the idea is the same. He wants them to always know that if they make a mistake in the pursuit of a worthy goal, he’s not going to jump all over them if it doesn’t work out.

“I would rather see people trying things and screwing it up than not trying things at all,” Ready says.

It’s an approach that has helped Scale grow quickly and become a solid presence in the data storage industry.

“Mistakes are a sign of progress,” says Ready, the company’s founder and CEO. “You can always do what you’ve always done and make very few mistakes. But if you’re going to go out there and advance, do something new, take some risks, there will be mistakes.”

Fear of mistakes leads to a situation where every decision is agonized over through a series of committees and meetings, without ever taking action.

“So you end up taking very few risks and making very few mistakes but also making very little progress,” Ready says.

In order to make progress, your primary function needs to be to knock down barriers that get in the way of your team’s ability to do its job. Beyond that, you need to stay out of the way and let them do what you hired them to do.

“Pick something that is a significant chunk of responsibility,” Ready says. “Take something that is meaningful, something that you as the CEO feel personally responsible for, something you would be concerned to give to somebody else and give it away. Just do it.

“Pick somebody in the organization that you feel is capable and give them full control of that. Your job is to knock down barriers that get in their way. But you are not going to dictate how they do it, when they do it, etc.”

When you insist on being in on every last decision your company makes and taking part in every key meeting that occurs, you place a limit as to how much your company can grow. That limit is your personal capacity to get things done.

Ready uses the example of his company’s search for partners to illustrate his point.

“We sell data storage,” Ready says. “We’ve been looking at partnering with key companies in networking and switching to bundle products with us. A company like us is probably going to look at partnering with a much larger organization.”

A micromanager would have no choice but to take the lead on this kind of initiative out of fear that his team would screw it up.

“I’m the CEO, therefore I’m going to go out there and run this initiative,” Ready says. “The problem is, your business marches on while you’re jerking around with this other thing. You can’t juggle all of the tasks required for what you’re already doing plus all the new stuff. If you think about the whole top-down approach, you inherently have a situation where your ability as an organization to grow and expand is limited by your own capacity to handle these things.”

You may be surprised by the results when you let someone else take the lead on a project.

“They’re probably not going to screw it up any differently than you were going to,” Ready says. “You just have to start somewhere. It’s like ripping the Band-Aid off.”

How to reach: Scale Computing, (877) 722-5359 or www.scalecomputing.com

Study your successes

It’s probably in the first chapter of any leadership handbook. It’s a prevalent theme in the main story on this page. But Jeff Ready says it takes more than just learning from mistakes to be successful.

“The greater lessons can come from trying to learn from your successes and trying to analyze, what was it about that success that made it successful?” Ready says. “The natural tendency is if something works, you just keep doing it. That makes sense. But is there room for improvement within that particular process?”

If you have a successful marketing program, was it the message that stood out or the medium you used to transmit that message?

“Let’s say you believe that it was the message of that ad that was effective,” Ready says. “Then the risk you might take is to take that message and apply it in a different venue. Maybe it was a print ad that worked and you’re going to take it and apply that same messaging online or in a telemarketing application. If that fails and you’ve got this culture, it made perfect sense to try it. The failure is not that big a deal. We know it works in print, but it doesn’t work in telemarketing, so we’re going to try something else.”