A little over a year ago, I joined HotPads.com as their online marketing manager. I was the first marketer at HotPads in a while, hence the team was me and I was doing everything (though nothing super well). One year later, I have a team of eight marketers (including myself) spanning SEO, email, and content. We’re soon to add a few more positions too.
Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned creating and growing a marketing team over the past year.
But first, here’s how I feel about my leadership experience over the last year:
Lead Don’t Dictate
As an individual contributor, I never had issues with motivating myself to learn new skills or challenging myself to try new things where I might fail. As a leader, this can work well if you harness it correctly, because then you can show your team that what you are proposing could actually be a) feasible and b) helpful to your goals.
The challenge comes in communication. One lesson I learned the hard way was that I was failing to communicate to my team *why* I was doing something. They took it as me doing their job and not trusting them, when really I trusted them completely but wasn’t sure myself if an idea would actually be a good idea.
A large part of leadership that I previously did not understand is communicating why something should be done, and what the end goal is. If you fail to get someone on board to do something, you’ve failed to inspire and you’ve failed to lead. At this point you’re a dictator. I especially have to be careful of this because my personality type is ENTJ, which I share with Napoleon, Stalin, Steve Jobs, and others. Yikes!
Hire for Culture, Not “Culture”
In San Francisco where I live, and in tech culture more broadly, people talk about “hiring for culture” frequently. When I started thinking about hiring, at first I thought culture was similar interests, a fun attitude, etc. Those are nice things to have in a coworker, but what about things like work culture, humility, how they solve problems, and other things like this that affect the day to day?
Make Your Team Look Good
The last feedback you ever want to hear as a manager is that your team feels like you are taking credit for their work. Part of your job as manager is to amplify their amazing work to your boss. If you’re leading well by making them decision makers (next section), this should be easy to do because they’ll be the ones sending the update emails and you can either a) make sure that your boss is CCd on them or b) you can forward it directly to your boss.
Make Them Decision Makers
You’re probably not the right person to make tactical decisions in areas that you are not a specialist. The person actually doing the work is the right person to make that decision, so why do we try to make the decision when we are the senior employee? I recently read The Decision Maker after the team at Buffer wrote about it, and it changed my perspective on leading a team. Now, instead of making a decision when asked for one, I respond with a question and get them to think through the answer. I’m always the support (and rarely will push back, and only when I think it’s the wrong decision or they haven’t gathered enough information), but the channel owner makes the decision.
I’m actually actively trying to give away as much decision making as possible, and it’s been amazing for the last month.
Some Final Words
I love the HotPads marketing team. I love leading the HotPads marketing team and inspiring them to do great work. This last year has been the hardest of my professional career, but the lessons learned have been invaluable.
Here is what I’ve decided are what I care about on my team:
I wrote this post as part of our bi-annual Hackweek. Yes, we do hackweeks twice per year, and yes, we are always hiring.