When I started Melewi, it never crossed my mind how much time I’d spend figuring out how to lead.
It sounds laughable, and looking back, it feels as though I walked into a room with an elephant in it and managed to see everything BUT the elephant.
Growing a business from the ground up usually means you take on every role that exists. All at once I was the designer, project manager, sales manager, accountant, lawyer, HR, business strategist, admin assistant.
If we hadn’t been remote, I’d also have been taking the rubbish out and scrubbing the toilets.
Now with a full team, it’s easy to state what my role is: CEO or Founder. But describing what I do is difficult without a 5-minute monologue.
And while I’ve learned that a big part of my role is to lead my team, I could never quite describe what “leading the way” actually means.
So I’ve come up with a way to describe my role using an analogy (because as the Melewi team can attest to, I love analogies).
It doesn’t explain exactly what I do, but instead the leadership mindset I’ve adopted that drives my role. And that is the analogy of The Bushwhacking CEO.
Where do you want to go?
At any point in time, most businesses are trying to go from where they’re presently at (I shall call this “Today’s Spot”), to a goal future destination (and dub this “The Promised Land”).
The problems are two-fold. 1st, you’ve only a vague idea of The Promised Land’s direction, but no coordinates; and 2nd, there is no existing way to get there.
No trail, no pathway, just dense bush, muddy bogs, thorny vines, and a whole lot of very annoying bugs.
So when I think about leadership, I don’t think about sending in my team into the unknown mosquito-filled craptown. I go in first. My job is to whack my way through the thorny, muddy bush to get us to, well, ‘The Promised Land’.
It’s not that straightforward, literally.
Ever tried finding your way through an unmarked forest? I don’t recommend it. It’s never ever a straight line to get to your destination.
It’s the same thing with figuring out how to get to ‘The Promised Land’.
You run around in circles, you take bad guesses, you read bad intel, you get tired, torn up and more than a little annoyed.
But if you keep going, after all the wrong turns, running around in circles and stumbles, you finally find yourself at The Promised Land.
Awesome, what next?
A little dirt path is good enough (for now)
Over time as you travel back and forth, slowly straightening out the path, a little dirt path gets worn in.
Now if your team needs to, they can make their way from Today’s Spot to The Promised Land. It’s good enough, but everyone knows it’s not the most pleasant of journeys.
But as they walk through it, some of them clear branches along the way. Others lay out planks across the boggy areas. It goes from a grotty dirt path, so a nicer, wider dirt path.
Paving the way
Over time, as more people start to travel the route more frequently, you decide it’s time for an upgrade.
You clean up the route, making it straighter, easier and safer. Soon, it turns into a gravel path, then a few months later, a little concrete road.
And as the team gets bigger and their needs and speed change, it turns into a 2-lane road, then eventually a highway.
So now everyone can travel back and forth to The Promised Land whenever they want, as quickly as they want, and probably with some Hotel California blasting and snacks in the car.
It all starts with you getting your hands dirty, by not being the smartest person in the room
My job as the leader — especially of a small business or startup with limited resources — is to be the first person to get my hands dirty.
Instead of tossing the job to someone else, I want to dig in, get lost, get un-lost, and then continuously make it easier and better for everyone else to get from Today’s Spot to The Promised Land.
Out of the forest; back to real life
Bushwhacking leading is really about starting with finding the simplest and least sophisticated way to do something that works. Whether it’s keeping track of cash flow in a word document, or managing a project via email — start with what works, clunky as it may be.
But you must constantly iterate to improve.
As you start to discover why a word doc is a terrible tool for numbers (lol), you can find better tools, systems or even automation.
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You can start training people to help with the work. You can improve the process with their feedback and ideas, and codify them so now anyone can do the work.
Being the leader is not about being the expert at everything, or to be the smartest person in the (metaphorical if you’re fully remote like us) room.
It’s about getting your hands dirty, getting started, getting better, and bushwhacking your way forward, paving the way for your team.
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Founder of Melewi — We’ve helped McDonald’s launch apps in 4 continents, Visa test their tech innovations, and startups reach #1 in the app store.
(This article was originally posted on LinkedIn)