Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
And that’s why Scott Raskin, CEO of Mindjet Corp., spends a lot of time getting his employees to understand the ‘why’ of their jobs to help grow his company.
Mindjet, a software developer that helps users take a visual approach to project management, posted 2006 revenue of $33 million, up from $13 million in 2003. And Raskin says that helping his employees understand the big picture is essential to maintaining that kind of growth.
Smart Business spoke with Raskin about how to make communication equal understanding and why a leader needs to be a chameleon.
Q. How do you approach leadership?
Take an approach that’s right for the situation. It’s important for any CEO to be a chameleon from that perspective.
I try to operate from a transformational perspective. I believe in inspiring the team and giving them a shared vision of the future. Leadership is all about not having confidence but instilling confidence in those in the organization which allows them to do things beyond what they think is possible.
I like to delegate responsibility wherever I can. I like to be in the back pushing the team forward. It’s really about giving people confidence to do the things they might not believe they’re capable of and driving them toward that shared vision.
Q. How do you inspire that confidence?
It comes down to what obviously is our No. 1: making sure they know what the vision is, where are we going, why is it important to get there. Make sure that’s constant and consistent and that they know what’s in it for them.
You’ve got to engage them in the part of the process of what it means to be successful, so that they’re part of the process of what needs to get done.
Make sure they’re part of the process and they’re using their creative ideas, they’re allowed to be heard and respected in the process, then encourage them to go out and take risks. I strongly believe in quick decision-making. I appreciate a culture where people do take risks, knowing that if they do, they’re not going to get beaten up for it.
Q. How do you create a culture where people are comfortable taking risks?
You have to walk the talk. It can be difficult, but it’s really important to give people the freedom and set the expectations that it’s OK to make a mistake. I’d rather make a mistake trying something than not try something at all.
What that means is if people take risks, there are always successes and failures. There can’t be a backlash. You have to make sure that somebody’s not getting lambasted for making a mistake or going out on a limb or taking a risk.
There needs to be encouragement to try new things, to be creative, to step outside the box as long as it’s in line with where we’re headed.
I grew up on the sales side, and I used to say, ‘Salespeople tend to be lone rangers.’ You can go out and win something by yourself, but if you lose, you never want to lose by yourself. It’s OK to go out and take those risks and do what you need to do, but bring the organization along with you.
Q. How do you communicate your vision to employees?
One of the things every CEO hears in their organization is, ‘We need more communication.’
Especially in a high-growth environment, when things are really changing pretty rapidly.
The first phase many CEOs move into is this overcommunication mode where broadcasting all this information out to people is apparently communication. What that doesn’t take into consideration is that people are overloaded with it. So even though they want communication, what they are really asking for is a better understanding.
To accomplish that takes a little different effort and a lot more time on the CEO’s part.
We’ve been going through massive growth, we increased the employee base, we’ve opened up new offices, we’re working on new products, and there’s been a ton of communication about this. We had a social last night, and I was talking with two key folks in engineering. Sure, they’d seen the e-mails, they’d heard me talk at the big meetings, but they really didn’t understand.
I hadn’t spent the time personally to really know whether people were really understanding what was being communicated to them, and the management level below me didn’t either. Everybody was running so fast, and we were comfortable with, ‘We’re doing a great job communicating. Look at all the e-mails we’re sending.’
The need to help people understand had to come at a much smaller group level, almost an individual level. We established more of these small group interactive scenarios, and we’re really getting that feedback. So, communication and more of it is not the solution.
HOW TO REACH: Mindjet Corp., (415) 229-4200 or www.mindjet.com