Before making my way into tech, I learned the ropes of entrepreneurship by owning and operating a ski resort. One day, I was approached by a dogsled guide wanting to run tours out of our resort.
I initially balked at the idea, as the notion of tethering eight dogs to a sled seemed inhumane to me. But after some amount of persuasion, I conceded to experience it for myself. Attached to the sled was a huge, intimidating metal hook embedded deep in the snow. Naturally, this piqued my interest.
“What's that for?" I asked.
The musher just smiled and began rigging the dogs. By the time all eight were secured, that hook was barely enough to hold the sled in place. You see, these dogs wanted to run—they're work dogs, after all. And as soon as we pulled the hook from the snow, it was nothing but pure bliss for them.
But it's not only our canine companions that are at their best when doing what they were born to do. We humans aren't so different, and a critical precursor for work-related satisfaction is the presence of a strong leader.
Much like sled dogs, humans count on their leaders for a sense of purpose and direction. So how do you go about motivating your team through the common challenges that affect a business?
1. Listen to your employees.
In my early days as a CEO, I was not a good listener. I was always in a hurry and offered quick responses. My hastiness sometimes had a negative impact on morale—this speedy, opaque approach made my employees feel as if they'd been shot down without a good reason.
While my intent was to swiftly and efficiently move things forward, over time I've found that not all business decisions must be made on the spot. And so now, when it comes to employee ideas, I let suggestions seep in overnight before I come to a final decision. Most of the time, I come to the same conclusion, but employees know I've given the decision fair consideration.
2. Inspire the individual.
Like so many tech companies, we have several offices. We're headquartered in Silicon Valley; we house our sales offices in Spokane, Washington; and we have an office in India. The people in each office have different motivations, thus it's impossible to motivate them using the same strategies.
Before you try to motivate your team, you have to understand your people and what makes each one tick. Connect with your employees, and take a genuine interest in their lives and goals. Use what you learn to energize staff and rally them around that common mission.
3. Set employees up for success.
As leaders, it's our duty to help employees get to where they want to go—even if that means working somewhere else in the future. So the first question I ask interviewees is where they want to go in their careers and whether we have a path to get them there. If we get the right team members in the right positions, we maximize the output of the entire organization.
When I lead a business, I manage with the philosophy of constant and relentless improvement. And my entire team rallies around this belief. Our team has a burning desire to innovate and build; that means that we're constantly running, and if our sled slows or stops, we can't help but feel uncomfortable.
We're always striving to run faster, farther, harder. Much like sled dogs, we don't think of it as work—for us, it's about creating, building and growing together as a team.