Four Lessons of Leadership From Startups to Corporations
By: Ande Johnson, senior information technology director
Early in my career, I joined a technology startup as merely “Employee #19” of what would later become a midsized technology company, delivering cloud-based services before the term “cloud” even existed. It was exciting to be at the forefront of technology – a place I have also often found myself during my four and a half years here at Jabil.
It was an amazing experience working for a startup: it was a time of great collaboration, a time to celebrate successes and learn from failures, and many long nights with lots of pizza. Not until many years later did I realize all the things I learned from those early-career experiences. Being Employee #19 shaped the rest of my career, including the way I work, innovate and now lead my team.
Four lessons have guided me throughout my career and helped me find success in my professional development:
First, work over your head
By that I mean, if the work is easy, then you’re doing the wrong work. People, companies and teams grow by pushing beyond what comes easy. This is a fundamental part of the Jabil culture, too – work with ingenuity and consistently innovate. As a company, we can’t progress if we don’t push ourselves or our teams. Recently, my team has been working on a new artificial intelligence-based virtual assistant project, which is an exciting, brand new technology. Given that it’s something we haven’t done before, the key to succeeding is for everyone to step out of their comfort zone, work beyond what they already know, and better understand the customer to solve real business problems.
Second, goal setting is critical
A team with a truly common goal, a single mission, will find a way to work together to be successful. Last summer in St. Petersburg, I participated in our Joules Regional Power Forum and spoke to my discussion group about this exact topic. It’s important everyone understands everything from our company goal to our departmental one and finally the team goal. Then, we can individually find out how each of our diverse strengths work to help our team’s mission and the overall success of the company. We can’t simply make an ambiguous goal and proceed. While working for a startup company, the cruciality of goal setting was especially evident. Everyone had to be aligned in their work to build the company and create progress.
Third, don’t quit
Often, you’re closest to the solution just when things seem impossible: find a way. I recall a time early in my career when I worked on a project with a tough customer where nothing seemed to go right: resource limitations, technology issues, miscommunication and scheduling conflicts. I persevered by putting in the extra time to be prepared, remaining transparent with my customer and most importantly asking for candid feedback from those I worked with. In the end, the project was given the highest customer satisfaction ratings on any project for that customer to date. Now, I lead my team to follow this same formula for overcoming challenging requests. Even when everything seems negative, there is a way to succeed if you keep your head level and focus on fixing the problem instead of thinking about everything that went wrong.
Finally, “pick up the broom”
If there’s work to be done, then do it; and if a coworker is struggling with something, then help them. It can be as simple as cleaning up the break-room to picking up a tough task or presenting a team project, but along the way, you will learn something new, meet someone you hadn’t known before, and ultimately, help your company. If everyone pitches in to help others, we’ll all build a collaborative, inclusive team that supports the success of others.