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Become a Superhero Leader: 4 Tips

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Prior to my role at WhiteClouds I was founder and CEO of 3DplusMe where I frequently came in contact with superheroes. Granted they are often 3D printed versions of Marvel’s finest, but these are not the superheroes I’m talking about. The ones I am referring to are the leaders on every level – from the boardroom to the manufacturing lab floor – who seem to exhibit superhero powers as managers.

And although working in such a rapidly evolving technology field – such as 3D printing – may not require super-human strength or the ability to fly (although they would be helpful sometimes), honing leadership skills to meet the demands of the modern tech workplace is as important as ever.

Here are a few fundamentals to unleashing the powers to become a superhero leader:

Stay on Top of Intelligence. New technology hits the shelves everyday regardless of the industry, and as such leaders need to stay up-to-date with the burgeoning trends and ins-and-outs of their respective industries. Leadership requires a lot of juggling sometimes, but this is a must in order to both make proper business decisions and to lead by example. Eighty percent of workers say that intelligence is one of the most important leadership traits, so be sure to be constantly brushing up on new happenings in your industry. Leaders spend time every day reading, watching and paying attention to their market and competition.  The most efficient way to do this is 1) subscribe to 5 top industry newsletters 2) set Google alerts for key competitor, trends and companies 3) send all of the industry information to one email or feed so you can read through top information in 15 minutes.

Enable Your Team to Perform.  In the movie version, Superheroes always perform, they use their max potential to solve the problem and deliver results.  The best leaders do the same thing. They learn what they need to get the best performance out of every member of the teams and themselves.  Performance is created when people are focused, empowered, action-oriented and engaged.  A CTO of a tech company recently shared with me that a few years ago he was working on the best project of his career. He managed every detail of the project with his team of 20, they delivered the project and it was well received. At the end of the project he asked his team to take on the next project with him and every member of the team said they would never work with him again. Why? Because while they had delivered, he was only worried about it being done his way, with his methods. He didn’t enable the team to perform, he told them how to perform. Leaders build sustainable teams that can repeatedly deliver and anything less is not a trait of a superhero leader.

Develop On-Demand Problem-Solving. Your employees and colleagues are some of the best resources you have, and you have to create an environment where they can deliver, meet expectations and problem solve. By actively actively seeking their feedback or asking questions, you not only stand to find out each employees strengths and weaknesses are, but it also lets you build rapport, increase engagement and empower your team. In fact, employees who feel they can approach managers openly with any questions are found to be more engaged. Moreover, Gen Y and Millennial employees expect more of a two-way relationship with employers, so seeking them out for additional perspective is definitely a worthwhile opportunity.  Teams want to perform. A few months ago my team was faced with an impossible task.  On a Friday night two weeks before the launch of a million dollar project one of our delivery partners pulled out. Although there had been no prior “red flags,” the company abruptly said they could not hit the timeline. We had already signed the contract and were expected to deliver. On Monday morning I pulled the team together to figure out how to solve this problem.  The team committed to trying every possible idea we could come up with to see which ones might possibly work. Every team member was committed to solving the problem, they didn’t complain, they didn’t give up they found a solution in the face of the impossible.  Due to their commitment to problem-solving we only slipped the launch by 1 day. Teams with problem-solving frameworks outperform, the team feels valued, committed and appreciated.

Build a Culture of Collaboration.  Employees are key in helping a business grow, thrive and succeed. Furthermore, “recognition programs yield 21% higher retention rates, 27% higher profits, and 50% higher sales” according to a recent study by Gallup. Collaboration means that the teams talk about strategy, work through problems, value the talents of everyone around the room and execute. If organizations provide a transparent structure for collaboration you can recognize the great work of team members in the everyday successes of the team.

About nine months ago we made two changes in our company: we implemented daily standups (thanks to my SCRUM background) and Slack as our company collaboration tool.  The combination of those two has changed accountability, collaboration and recognition. We use it for all aspects of our business, engineering, sales, analytic reporting, 3D art and operations. Slack is a tool that enables our team to report, ask questions, post images, create images and pass work from person to person without any time delay. Our small team has almost 400,000 communications in Slack over that time.  It lets our remote employees stayed engaged. We have seen our risk identification, problem-solving and performance increase 5x since we implemented these two processes. It did require commitment from our leadership in the beginning but now it is just core to the culture.

Modern leadership requires more than issuing edicts from on-high and hoping your employees “get with the program.” It requires a host of well-rounded skills and the ability and willingness to be hands-on, transparency, creativity and ownership when it comes to each level of the organization. Who knew that by embracing a few tips and best practices you too can be a superhero?

Cydni Tetro is Chief Product Officer and President of Retail with WhiteClouds

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