Episode 3

How You Can Build a Culture of Effective Leadership at Work (with Aydin Mirzaee, Co-Founder and CEO of Fellow.APP and Creator of the SuperManagers Podcast)

In this episode, our guest Aydin walks us through how you can improve employee retention and create a more productive team by improving your workplace culture.

Listen now on your favourite platform

“You want to have a group of people that agree on a set of principles and a way of operating and this is one of the funniest things, if you don’t have missions and values and these things set up, your company will break, 100%.” - Aydin Mirzaee

In this episode

Did you know that 70% of employee retention is based on their manager and no other factor? People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.

Aydin Mirzaee is the co-founder and CEO of Fellow.app, a meeting productivity platform that helps organizations have fewer, better meetings.

In episode #3, Aydin talks about how managers can influence team performance and shares his thoughts on why he thinks getting advice can be dangerous.

He also discusses statistics and studies that help explain why it’s necessary for you to incorporate missions, values and self-reflection in your management journey to improve your team or greater workplace dynamic. 

Tune in to hear all about how Aydin’s leadership experiences and advice can help you improve your leadership style!

Time Stamps

2:00 Are leaders born or made?

8:30 Leaders are like athletes

12:19 Toyota leadership case study

22:15 Aydin's own leadership journey

26:38 Until you experience it you don't fully understand

30:40 Growth and how it affects business

37:45 The best managers work like athletes

44:20 Advice can be dangerous

Aydin Mirzaee

Co-Founder and CEO of Fellow.APP and Creator of the SuperManagers Podcast

Guest Bio

Aydin is the co-founder and CEO of Fellow.app, a meeting productivity platform that helps organizations have fewer, better meetings. Prior to Fellow, he co-founded Fluidware in 2008 and grew it to 90 people in staff before selling it to SurveyMonkey, where he served as General Manager of SurveyMonkey Canada. Aydin is also the co-founder of Fresh Founders, a non-profit organization with the vision to foster a community of top entrepreneurs in Canada.


Aydin: You probably know this for sure. Which is like the Gallup studies on 70% of employee retention is due to the manager and, and not any other things, which is crazy, right? Like the, the best thing you can do as a CEO of a company is you can make sure that your, your managers are managing well. And that's gonna take care of 70% of retention and engagement, which is mind blowing people, leave managers, not companies.

Fahd: [00:00:30] Welcome to the unicorn leaders podcast. My name is Fahd Alhattab and I am the CEO and founder of Unicorn Labs. This podcast is where we interview leaders on how they create high performing teams and high performing cultures. Uh, today we've got Aydin Mirzaee, who's going to be with us to discuss on how we can build a culture of leadership in our organizations. We're gonna cover quite [00:01:00] a few topics on what these super managers or unicorn leaders are and how you can create them in your organization. This podcast is brought to you by unicorn labs. You can check us out at unicornlabs.ca, um, where you'll find more information about how we help transform managers into leaders that create these high performing teams. So well, let's unpack one of the old age questions are leaders born or are they made this question of [00:01:30] nurture versus nature?

Are leaders born or are they made? And I think society has shifted quite a bit. You know, I think there was a time probably years ago where many of us thought, uh, leaders were born. You were born, you have a certain personality, you have certain genetics, you have certain, uh, kind of blessed gifts that allow you to lead. And I think society has shifted very much on the other side, where for a long time, we've started to say, well, no leaders are nurtured. They're, they're made, they're created. [00:02:00] And I perhaps will take a little bit of a, uh, a controversial view here. I believe leaders are born, unless of course you work extremely hard to become a leader in which it can be made. Well, hear me out here. I, if you pick up a basketball for the first time in your life, at the age of 30, you're going to suck compared to the 15 year old, who is younger than you, half your age, but has been playing basketball for since they were the age of five.

And so are they [00:02:30] born or are they made, perhaps it is that you have some genetic abilities because you have certain personalities, but really it is the deliberate work and, and intention and learning that creates leaders. And that's the journey that you have to be on to create these unicorn leaders. We talk about these 10 X managers with Aydin. We talk about super managers. These managers who create disproportional impact on [00:03:00] their team that really allow their teams to become high performing because of the environment they create because of how they develop relationships and because of the vision that they can can create. But that is something that is learned. That is a skill that is honed on. And that is something that takes extreme amount of time. You know, whatever the things with our unicorn leadership, uh, program that we have is that a six month long program it's intensive, it's comprehensive.

And one of the, you know, things that people say is like, God, I think your leadership program is a little long. And I always laugh and [00:03:30] say, oh, I didn't know. You wanted to learn leadership over a single day, like leadership isn't learned overnight. It is something that is practiced. It is something where you fall. You, you will get scars, you hurt your knees. You, you, you, you get all the pain of trying to be a leader and effective leader. And it is through that, uh, that you learn. Some things can only be learned through time experience and coaching with constant feedback. And that's, what's gonna get us to be these unicorn leaders and these 10 X super managers that Aydin shares with us, [00:04:00] you know, to kick us off. I wanted to, to, to, to, to unpack that idea, but also dive into when does leadership start for us?

Many folks will say, oh, I'm a manager now, therefore I'm a leader, right? Like I, I got the title as a manager. Now I'm a leader of people. And that's usually when people start to seek help, that's when they start to read books on leadership. That's when they start to listen to podcasts on leadership. That's perhaps where, where you're listening to this. And you're like, I've got a whole bunch of young managers in our startup and they are now the first time ever being in a manager position. And they're not sure how to [00:04:30] work it. And, and that's usually the flaws. Most people think that leadership comes with a certain amount of authority, but really your title makes you a manager. Your people make you a leader. It is, it is the relationship that you have with people that give them that they give you permission to allow them to lead.

And then it's the results that you can produce by, by getting a team together and then actually helping them co and helping coach them and going through that process, we look at leadership in stages. And, and depending on what stage your team is on, you have [00:05:00] to be a different type of leader. Perhaps in the beginning with a young team, you need to be more of a teacher teaching them what to do and how to do and how to improve. And then maybe you move to more of a coach where you empower them and you let them do their own thing, and you help tweak things and eventually become a facilitator that opens doors for them and allows them to be fully empowered and run. Your leadership has to be fluid in its approach based on what your team needs, but also in your style.

You know, many young leaders, myself, specifically, um, we tend to have certain [00:05:30] leadership styles, the two most common leadership styles in startups that we see are, is this commanding style and this pace setting style and the commanding style of style, we all know it's kind of old school bread in, in these hierarchical, uh, companies, this military kind of command and conquer. This is what you're gonna do. This is how we're gonna get it done. And this is where we're gonna go. This is what leaders feel the pressure. Well, I need to tell the team what's gonna happen. When is it gonna happen? And how is it gonna happen? This was like my go to style. As a leader growing up, it was like, [00:06:00] I need to have the answers. Well, I have the answers. I know what needs to get done. So I just needed people to help get it done.

And so we, we, we create a commanding style. The reason commanding style sticks on for so long is that it actually gets us short term results. When you have a commanding style, you get things done and you get shit done. You're like, wow, this actually works. But we don't think about the impact of the team over the long run. The other most common style of startups is a pace setter. The person who says I'm gonna run as hard as possible and as fast as possible. And everyone's gonna try and keep up with me and that's how I'm gonna lead [00:06:30] by being the hardest worker, uh, at all times. And these pace setting styles are phenomenal for sprints, but do a pace setting style over a year. And there's no wonder that you have such poor retention and people are leaving and burning out because you can't keep a pace setting style for so long.

So we're gonna get into some of this personalized leadership approach with Aydin. We're gonna look at what actually makes you a leader, and actually we're gonna even get into some of the characteristics of leadership. And I wanted to share this one with you. It's a, it's a, it's a well known, um, concept developed [00:07:00] by Jim Collins. It's called the window and the mirror. And it says that most effective leaders, um, have a different relationship with the window and the mirror versus not effective leaders. And so non-effective leaders, when there's a problem, they look out the window and they say, you're causing the problem. You need to fix it. This person is the reason for the problem. This customer is the reason for a problem. And when something goes well, they look in the mirror and they say, well, look at me. I did well. I'm good.

I'm getting results. This is awesome. The opposite is true [00:07:30] for highly effective leaders. When something goes really well, they look out the window and they say, look, my team is amazing. They did it. They're the reason we're succeeding. My team is good. I don't know about me. My team is good. They're the ones that are getting all the, the, the stuff done. And when there's a problem that happens, they look in the mirror and they say, there's a problem happening. What is it that I'm doing? That's causing this problem? What is it that I'm doing that is creating this environment? And in that window, in the mirror, they're able to then have [00:08:00] the necessary long term discipline and humility to be effective leaders. Because leaders always think in the long run, when we make short term, uh, decisions, what we end up doing is choosing commanding styles versus a coaching style, because a commanding style will get you the short term decision, the short term outcome in the next week it'll get done, but perhaps you never taught the person how to get it done and why they should do it, and what engages them to actually do it.

So the long term view of leaders with the window and the mirror [00:08:30] is what allows us to have really effective leaders. Let's hear what Aydin has to say about how leaders are just like athletes.

Aydin: The best managers in the world operate like athletes do. They are very deliberate. Uh, they practice, they practice the different concepts. They're always reflecting and figuring out like, how can I actually get better at this?

Fahd: Aydin is the co-founder and CEO of Fellow.app and meeting productivity platform that helps organizations have fewer, [00:09:00] but better meetings. If you don't love the amount of meetings you're having, you want them to be better. Check out Fellow prior to Fellow. He actually co-founded fluid where in 2008, and it grew to 90 people and staff before he sold it to survey monkey, where he served as a general manager of survey monkey Canada, and is also the co-founder of fresh founders, a nonprofit organization with the vision to foster a community of top entrepreneurs in Canada. In this episode, he talks about how managers can influence team performance and shares his thoughts on why he thinks getting [00:09:30] a device can be dangerous and that we need to consider context. He, it also discusses statistics and studies that help explain why it's necessary for you to improve and to incorporate missions and values and self-reflection and management journey to improve your team's greater, uh, workplace dynamics. Let's tune in, let's get onto this conversation with Aydin and let's hear what he has to say.

Fahd: All right, well welcome [00:10:00] Aydin to our unicorn, uh, leadership podcast. I'm really excited to have you here, uh, with us really excited for you to join, join us. I'm a big avid listener of your podcast, a super manager's podcast with, uh, what you've been developing. And so, um, I actually wanted to kick us off today with a little bit about that, but a little bit about that, that concept that you've been working on developing that kind of core thesis around what is a super manager.

Aydin: Yeah, this is a, this is a good [00:10:30] question. So the concept, you know, it, it, it's interesting. The concept was, was originally, we were thinking about how I think in north American society, a lot of times we talk about just like individual contributors and how you've got the superstar players, the superstar engineer, the superstar, like this or that, and they carry a whole team. And it's all about that one person that carries the whole team. Um, and you know, what what's interesting [00:11:00] is like that, that has been the way that people have thought about things. And when we first started talking about super managers, we didn't really like managers weren't really celebrated. And so a lot of times people would talk about managers in the sense that like, they would say, oh, managers don't do a lot of work. There's, they're not necessarily that useful. Or like, you know, they're paper pushers or they're this, or they're that. And so we thought that there was

Fahd: They're the red tape, you

Aydin: Know? [00:11:30] Yeah, exactly. Like it wasn't necessarily people would come out and say like, I'm so happy. I'm, I'm a manager. And like, let's celebrate this. And so, uh, and we thought that was really the, the wrong way to, to look at it. We thought that managers were incredibly useful, added a tremendous amount of value and that they should be celebrated. And so we kind of, uh, did a lot of research on, on this and said like, do managers actually matter? And can they make a big impact on a team? [00:12:00] And so there's a lot of, um, just looking at this and like really researching it. There was like a lot of really interesting studies that we came across and, um, just kind of proving the value of like what managers can do. Um, I don't know if have you heard about the GM Fremont plant and that story with Toyota?

Fahd: Yes. Yeah. Well, that's a good one. I I'd share it, please, please.

Aydin: I think it's so for, for anyone who hasn't heard of it, this is a really interesting story. There was this, uh, plant that GM, general [00:12:30] motors used to have, uh, in Fremont. And it was one of the worst plants. One of the worst performing plants, there was constantly, there were strikes, there were Wildcats strikes. It was like, uh, people would actively like destroy equipment. And so, you know, to most of the world, they would look at this and they would say, oh, the people, the people are, are the ones that are causing all of the trouble. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, we should just fire all of the people and bring in new people and that's gonna solve everything. And so what was really interesting is like GM [00:13:00] did, uh, a joint joint venture with Toyota Toyota came in new management system and completely revitalize like the way that people were doing things.

And all of a sudden this went from being one of the worst plants, like the one where, you know, that the mindset would've been let's go fire everybody to one of the best performing plants without changing, uh, without changing the staff. Right. And this was just like, so transformative that, Hey, actually management can have an impact, uh, you know, an outsized [00:13:30] impact. Uh, there's all this studies. I, I mean, you, you probably know this for sure. Which is like the Gallup studies on 70% of employer retention is due to the manager and, and not any other things, which is crazy, right? Like the, the best thing you can do as a CEO of a company is you can make sure that your, your managers are managing well, and that's gonna take care of 70% of retention and engagement, which is mind blowing people, leave managers, not companies, uh, but we kept digging.

[00:14:00] Um, so there's this study and I, I actually have this, uh, pulled up so I could, uh, read some of this, but basically great. I love it. There was, yeah. So there was, uh, there's studies on surgeons, um, and, uh, Robert Huffman, Gary Pisano, they tracked 200 cardiac surgeons, 43 hospitals. And what they wanted to find out was that like, is it possible that you look at these surgeons and over the course of time that you think that, you [00:14:30] know, they would get better with practice? Um, and what it turns out actually happened was that they didn't necessarily, it wasn't that the, the, the surgeons with the best track track records, they were the ones with the most experience. It wasn't, it wasn't that. Um, but it turned out that if you, uh, because when they would go from hospital to hospital, the results would vary.

And the thing that they found out was that the biggest impact, um, on whether surgeon was very successful or not was if, how [00:15:00] long they've had to work with their teams. And if, if they work with the same staff, uh, then that would have a much larger impact. Like they would basically gel together and learn to work together. And it would, it would be that much better. Uh, we've seen this in sports teams, right? You take a star player from one team, put 'em in another team. And all of a sudden, they're, they're not a star player. They've done this for financial analysts. And they've figured out that, like, you take a star financial analyst from, from one company, you plug them into another company and [00:15:30] it takes almost five years for them to get to their same star status, um, that they had in, in the previous firm, except for, yeah.

If they, if you also took the whole team, if you took more people from the team that had learned to work together. And so it's really interesting. The reason I mentioned the latter part of this is that the person that has the most influence on whether or not like who the players are, how you bring in the right people, how do you get them to work really well together is [00:16:00] the manager of the team. And so when you think of it, and you think about like how, you know, people care about retention and engagement these days, um, and you take into consideration how important the team is, and not just one player, like, it just makes all the sense in the world. That as a matter of fact, if you have a great manager, you could get 10 times the performance that you would from a team then than if you just had an average manager. Right. And so, like, this was a concept. We were like, oh, if you've got an [00:16:30] amazing manager, you could actually get 10 X performance. And so we thought like, how do we capture this word, 10 X performance in one word? And we thought of the term Supermanager. And, and that's kind of like how the whole theme, uh, around that concept came about.

Fahd: I love that

Aydin: Which is a long story.

Fahd: No, no, that's, that's brilliant. And so you took these insights, Aydin, and, and, and you built, you built a team, you built, you started building Fellow. So tell, tell me a little bit about Fellow, tell me that kind of insight, where that took you and, and [00:17:00] where you guys are today with, um, because this isn't your first company and we're gonna, we're gonna get back to some of the other stuff and your journey in leadership, cuz I think it's, uh, it's phenomenal for, for our listeners to, to hear, but tell us a little bit about Fellow and how this insight kind of led to building that.

Aydin: Yeah. So I mean, that's a good question. And without going in into a long story, uh, I mean we we've known each other, uh, for, I think probably, I don't know, maybe five, 10 years now. Uh, something like that. My, my sense of time has always warped. I never remember these things, but it it's been a long time. [00:17:30] And so, like you said, I mean, this wasn't my first company, my last company was in the online service space. We grew it and sold it, a survey monkey and then lived and worked, uh, at survey monkey for, for a few years. And our insight there was that, uh, it was really interesting. I mean, believe it or not, like we grew our last company to about, uh, you know, just under a hundred people before we sold it. And I had never done a one-on-one meeting in my entire life during that time. <laugh> never done a quarterly business.

Fahd: How many, how many employees did you get to?

Aydin: Yeah, we got close to [00:18:00] a hundred and like, you know, we were doing well, right? Like this was a great, yeah. You know, and so, but I think we were at the brink of things falling apart. Probably like if we, we scale a little bit past that, but so we get acquired into this, this larger company, uh, which is survey monkey and all of a sudden we get exposed to, and, and, you know, survey monkey was, uh, was bigger than us and we kept continuing to grow. And then later on iPod and, and really got to see a lot of, um, the fast growth there and what it turns out is that in order to [00:18:30] be able to sustain that type of growth, you need really good management systems in place. And so we got exposed to basic things like one on ones, uh, you know, town hall meetings, quarterly business reviews, design syncs, like retrospectives, like all of the very process oriented, like management stuff.

And so the thing that we we thought about was like, you know, how do we make it that best in class processes and management systems? Like how do we make sure that everybody can access those things and like why hasn't someone built [00:19:00] software for managers? Um, and, and so this was the original concept because, you know, you've got Salesforce for sales people. You've got, I don't know, like Marketo for marketing people, but who's actually gone out and built a tool for managers. And so mm-hmm, <affirmative>, this was the original concept of like, let's go out and build a tool for managers and, and build this manager's co-pilot and to kind of shorten the story for a bit, uh, you know, when we Del delved into it, what we realized is that, you know, managers can spend almost half their [00:19:30] time in meetings. And so the biggest impact that we can have on managers is actually, if we focus on, on meetings specifically and like that can have a huge impact on its own. And so Fellow started as a manager's co-pilot, but really what I would describe us as today is I'd describe us as a meeting productivity platform where we really try and make effective, uh, use of everyone's time and, and make their meetings super productive.

Fahd: Yeah. I love that. I love that, that, that kind of real [00:20:00] focus and is, is there perhaps, um, a larger vision that includes coming, coming, adding some, you know, of maybe down the road, adding some more tools that look at that co-pilot piece of, of managers for Fellow or, and, and, you know, is there a vision for that in five years, 10 years of where Fellow goes?

Aydin: Yeah, yeah. A hundred percent. So I think like, you know, our mission is still the same, right? And so when we think about super managers, uh, the podcasts, all the content, the eBooks, the blogs, [00:20:30] um, you know, everything else that, that we produce, uh, we've always thought about it as like managers or audience, uh, managers have the most meetings. And so any product that we build in that context is gonna serve managers the most. And over the course of time, the way that we think about meetings is meetings are just a tool in the toolkit. They're one tool. It, it, it so happens that they're the largest type of work that managers do. And so, uh, it's justifiably [00:21:00] like occupied our attention, but you're right over the course of time, like Fellow will do more and more, um, in the manager's tool kit, you know, today we do things like goal setting and feedback and, and a few other things inside of the product. Uh, but yeah, overall like our, our mission is still the same is to help managers and their teams work better together. Um, and you know, over the course of time, we really see Fellow becoming a management system for companies everywhere.

Fahd: I love that. I love that. So, so [00:21:30] perhaps let's, let's go back in time a little bit. And, and let's, let's, let's hear about Aydin, learn about, learn about your personal story. Now, one thing you shared with me in, in the pre-interview is that you are a bit of an instigator initiator. You, you do things, you start things you've always kind of, you've been entrepreneurial. And I, I love that comparison, that kind of entrepreneurial instigator initiator in, in their leadership roles, as a leader, one who takes initiative one who kind of starts things creates new value. So you've had quite a bit of a leadership journey, perhaps your leadership journey in your early [00:22:00] entrepreneurial days in the fluid survey, in survey monkey and in Fellow, and kind of the, you know, maybe take me through those different leadership chapters that you've had, um, uh, throughout your entrepreneurial journey.

Aydin: Yeah. So, um, I mean, it, it depends how, how far back we wanna go. But I think like, you know, very early on, I, I was very lucky, uh, to find, find a great team. I mean, there, there's a few things I've learned in my entrepreneurial journey, which is like, actually the best thing that I've done that's led to the best outcomes, [00:22:30] uh, in general has been when something works, just keep doing it. Right. <laugh> I know that sounds really, really basic. Um, but it turns out that like, it's, uh, it's, it's important and it doesn't come easy necessarily. Uh, but basically, so growing up, uh, I was very fortunate. Uh, I don't know if you've met my brother IIN, uh, one of the smartest people, uh, in the world, I think. And so he and I are very, very different. And so growing up, we started all sorts of businesses, um, [00:23:00] on the side, I mean, you know,

Fahd: I love the, the blog. You, you mentioned about the, the men's clothing blog that you had at one point.

Aydin: oh yeah. I have to, I have to tell you that story, but yeah, we started all sorts of companies. And so he, um, uh, he and I like, uh, very complimentary and we also met my, my now co-founder Sam. And so all this to say is that, uh, the three of us we've started three companies together, five different products we've worked together for 16 years. [00:23:30] Um, maybe more than that now. And, and so all this to say is like, I was very lucky to find a great co-founding team very early on that, that we're both very, very complimentary. Uh, and we've just stuck together. Like this is, uh, you know, we did one business, uh, in the beginning, which was, uh, called box systems. Uh, we call that the successful failure in that it failed, but it taught us that we like each other and we should continue working together. Uh, obviously, uh, fluid, uh, fluid surveys afterwards was, was a big success.

And, and of course now Fellow [00:24:00] is, is growing very fast and, and doing very well. But I think like that, that is a yeah, I mean that, that's probably one of the biggest lessons, which is when you find a really great team, um, you know, try and stick to that. Because as you know, you probably know a lot of startup founders that, you know, the startup team breaks up. It's actually such a super common thing for startup teams to break up. And so I think like when you know, that that's one of the biggest risks, which is like, do you have assertive team that can work well together and do it for, for the long [00:24:30] term?

Fahd: And then the longer you work together, the more effective you be, right? Like connected a hundred percent, some of the stuff you shared earlier, right? Like you've worked together for 16 years. Now, you all the mistakes you made in fluid survey, you know, what, you know, how to, how to overcome those with Fellow. Right. And, and, and so and so forth.

Aydin: Yeah. Yeah. Totally. I mean, it's, it's funny if you hear the three of us speak, I think like you wouldn't understand, I mean, not you specifically, but I think people, it will sound like gibberish to most people because it's like such short form over [00:25:00] 16 years, what we've developed. Like we've just figured out all sorts of systems to like, make everything super effective. And, uh, you know, our wives hang out, we have, we now have kids that are the same age. They they're starting to play. Like, it's just, I love that. It's very, very intertwined.

Fahd: I love that. I love that. Cuz I, I, I think it, I mean, it, it shows how important the co-founding team is. Right. And you kind of go back to this team concept, this idea of the relationships, um, the, of, of, and, and how the relationships blend [00:25:30] the professional and, and, and personal. Right. I think there's, there's an old myth around the separation of personal and business, but you see it in really effective co-founding teams like yourself, you, you are friends, you are family, you are interconnected in, in all sorts of ways. And, and then you develop your own language. And I think most people can relate that to like, you know, a best friend they have, or like a partner, right? Like you kinda have your own words and your own, your own isms that, that you use. I love that. So, so tell me maybe, um, the, the difference in leadership style specifically between [00:26:00] fluid survey and Fellow and, and one of the things that you shared with me earlier that maybe I can pull out at you is that, you know, fluid survey, you never, you never really did any of the mission value stuff, any of that like kind of pieces, but then Fellow, you said you did it early, and there's a real difference in your, in that leadership style.

Fahd: You also mentioned maybe a commanding style with fluid survey and more decentralized style with Fellow. So let's kind of conscious compare your leadership styles between those two. It'd be interesting to just unpack.

Aydin: Yeah. I mean, thi this is, this is all stuff that like, [00:26:30] um, you know, I learned later on, it's so funny, like as I think back to some of the, um, uh, it's funny. So we, in the super manager's podcast, the first question we ask everyone is go back when he first started leading a team, you know, what were some of the mistakes, your early mistakes, and you you'd, there's like three or four things that like every single person does. Like it's so, uh, similar across the board, you'd wonder, like, why not just tell people [00:27:00] so that they don't make those three or four mistakes. Uh, but this is a very interesting learning, which is like, I, you can tell me something, uh, which is like, Aydin, you're about to do this. Go be careful, right? Like everybody makes this mistake. Do you understand? And I would say, yes, I understand <laugh> and then I will go and I will make that mistake again.

Aydin: Anyway, it's so funny. Like intellectually knowing something is one thing, reading a hundred books on it isn't, you know, but like, until you experience it, you don't truly understand, [00:27:30] uh, a lesson. And so yeah, all this to say is like, I think back and all the lessons that people mention on, on the show I've made as well. And some of them are very cringeworthy. Uh, but yeah, I mean, basically it was a story of, you know, as a, as a startup founder, you start doing a lot of things yourself, right. And then, and then, and then you can't do all of the things yourself, and then you start to, to add people to do, you know, parts, parts of the things. Um, but the, so really we, we grew very organically in, in that respect. [00:28:00] Uh, what I would say is that I never really, you know, I heard big companies talking about this stuff, you know, things like values and emission.

Aydin: And I thought it was just like, very, um, how do I say? Like mushy? Yeah, yeah. Soft, emotional, soft. Yeah. And I was like, what is this? We're building a, a, you know, a startup, like, let's grow this, like let's make sales let's. And so I was really, I didn't really understand. And I, I saw that everybody else was doing it. And then I thought, oh, maybe it's a thing that, like, at [00:28:30] some point you, you grow larger and it becomes useful. Right. And so what's interesting is like, if you operate in that way, which we did, uh, and you know, O obviously like some of it is, um, you know, some of it is, is important for different ways, but what you start to understand is like, you can't be everywhere as a, as a founder all of the time. And so you almost need like, decision making principles, right?

Aydin: Like what things matter for your company and, uh, you know, what kind of decisions [00:29:00] do you want people to make? And unless you explicitly talk about those things and, and get buy in from everyone that this is how we tend to operate. Like, these are things that matter to the team. And unless you agree on that stuff, what will happen is every time you hire a person they're gonna bring in their values from whatever organization they came from. And then you're gonna have this hodgepodge of people, everybody doing things in a different way, and it can get quite chaotic. And then, you know, it can lead to all sorts [00:29:30] of problems. Um, and if you don't have that, and you're not starting to hire based on those values, like this problem keeps, you know, getting worse and worse. And it's kind of hard. Like when you think about people in, you know, like it used to be, when you think about people in a certain country, they have the same values.

Aydin: Now the world is so divided. I don't know if that's true anymore, but yeah, but it, but it's just like, you, you, you wanna have a group of people that agree on a set of principles and, and, and a way of operating. And this is, you know, this is one of the, [00:30:00] the funniest things, which is, so if you don't have mission, like if you don't have missions and values and these things set up, uh, your company will break a hundred percent, like past a certain point. I don't know what that is. Maybe it's like 50 people, maybe it's 70 people. At some point, you're gonna hit a massive ceiling and things are gonna slow down and things are gonna break. And you're not gonna know why, like, people are gonna start quitting, you're gonna start losing deals. Everything's gonna go wrong.

Fahd: And so I find, [00:30:30] I find, and just to, on that point, I find as soon as growth slows, as soon as you're having some hyper growth, it's, you can, you can put all that under the carpet. Oh, no worries. Whatever. We're just, we're just getting the dollars. We're getting the, as soon as that stagnant, as soon as it slows down a little bit, it starts to break. It just, that's kind of whatever shows

Aydin: Too far. Now you're gonna put me on a different tangent because like I, a hundred percent agree with that. This is the, uh, like I have this, uh, this, this thesis about this, which is, uh, growth [00:31:00] is like the universal master key. It's like the highest order solution to everything. Uh, you're absolutely right. If there is growth, so many things will be ignored. I mean, there's, you know, you look at many of the famous companies that we have, like, uh, that have later on had, you know, we're thinking about the Ubers and the WeWorks, and when there is growth, people brush many things to the side. Uh, but as soon as, you know, you hit a wall then, but yeah, it is like the master. [00:31:30] Um, it is like the master solution, like the highest order solution. I like to call it of like old problems. If there's growth, other things will be ignored, but that can be dangerous, obviously

Aydin: What, uh, but yeah, all this to say is like, so the question is, um, you kind of look at these larger companies and then you see that, oh, they have like mission and values and, and all of these things. So is it a thing that you need to adopt? Um, because [00:32:00] if you don't adopt it, you won't get past a certain growth stage or is it that people who have those things in the beginning or more likely to grow. And so like, is it that you have to adopt or adopt go a certain way? Because like, um, because if, if you don't do that, you can't get past a certain point or is it a coincidence that like maybe people who have that earlier, it unlocks more growth for them. So it's, it's kind of, uh, hard to, for sure know, but I think statistically, [00:32:30] like, I think businesses game of statistics, there's no formula for success, but you can improve your odds. I think that having a common way of seeing things can drastically improve your odds. And so, yes, like I think we were 12 people, uh, and we came up with, with our values at Fellow, which was a very radical way of doing things because in the last company we didn't even, we never even agreed on any of those things. Right. And so, yeah, definitely changed, um, that in the company.

Fahd: So, uh, Aydin, [00:33:00] uh, we're having a phenomenal conversation here so far. And, and, and what I wanna, I want to hear actually those three or four, uh, perhaps bits that you keep hearing from super manager, what are those three or four mistakes that most managers make first time managers, new managers make, uh, that, you know, while maybe we can kind of forward them. We also understand that a lot of them are gonna have to go through it. Right. But, you know, perhaps, you know, ready to hear the lesson when, when it actually happens, but what are some of those three or four maybe that you went through also, or kind of the [00:33:30] key learning lessons. And I know you've shared a number already, but would love to hear that insight.

Aydin: Yeah. So this is a really interesting one. So I've, uh, seen this pattern and I now call it the pendulum of management and it's because people start like in one end and then they're like, oh, there's like too much. And then they go to the other end and they're like, oh, that's too much the other way. And then they kind of like swing and eventually they fi find a balance. Uh, and then what they, so one, one of which is [00:34:00] like, people tend to, you know, some people tend to like micromanage and like not give enough authority to people to make their own decisions, make their own mistakes, like yeah. Uh, and then other people swing the other way and they give them too much freedom. And like, they just they're like, oh, my job is just to support and help you. And like, not like do anything else.

Aydin: And, you know, uh, and, and, and, and, and, and for the people that need the support, then all of a sudden, like, [00:34:30] you know, basically things that need to happen aren't happening. So this, this is the common thing. And so what, what ends up happening is like, people try it one way where they're like, oh, giving a lot of freedom and then, uh, and not being as involved. And then they swing the other way. And then they, they do a bunch of micromanaging and then they kind of end somewhere in the balance and what they realize over the course of time is that as a matter of fact, it depends on the person. And so you kind of need a customized approach for each and [00:35:00] every person. And it's not just on the person. It's also the, like the, the role maturity, right? Like how long has this person been in this particular role?

Aydin: And so what you end up realizing that this stuff is really hard because you actually have to manage each person a completely different way, depending on the context, depending on, you know, where they are in their career, what their role maturity is, you know, and, and a bunch of things like this, and this is one of the things that, that makes it, makes it super, super difficult. [00:35:30] Right. And it's just on the spectrum of like, and, and I would intertwine with this problem. Uh, the other thing, which is like in, in the spectrum of like, when, when, when you tend to give people a lot more freedom and kind of like, not necessarily, uh, be beyond like further away from, um, being like directly involved, like the opposite of being a, a micromanager in this particular case. It's also because, uh, you, you, you're more prone to wanting [00:36:00] to be friendly with people and like, not tell them, you know, what to do.

Aydin: And, uh, so, so this is another mix. And, and that specifically, you know, when people who are like, if you're with a bunch of peers and then you suddenly become their manager, uh, this is, this is one of the things that comes up. So everybody makes this some mistake. It's very rare that people get it, get it right, like the, the right level of management and type of management on a per person basis. Uh, so this is [00:36:30] the, I would say, like the most common thing. And, and that's why I just call it the pendulum, because I hear it every single time. The question is like, where in the pendulum were you, how long did it take you to figure it out? And by the way, here's the, the fun fact, right? Uh, it takes people years to get it right. And I think that even after years, nobody really fully gets it.

Aydin: Right. Cuz you keep relearning this lesson and getting better and doing more pattern recognition. Uh, you know, it, it's a fun fact about this management stuff, which [00:37:00] is that, you know, we, we talk about this internally. Uh, if you are really good at management, our opinion is that you've just made a lot of mistakes and hopefully you've learned from those mistakes. And so, uh, when you're, you know, and, and when you're kind of like paying for experience as an organization, you're, you're, you're getting more experienced people that, you know, obviously are compensated, uh, you know, more on the higher end of the spectrum. You're basically paying for [00:37:30] mistakes that they've made on someone else's clock. Right. <laugh> and so, because like, unfortunately like a lot of management is just like, you can read a lot of things and, and I think reading and learning is very good and practicing is very, very good.

Aydin: But I think like the, the best managers in the world operate like athletes do, they are very deliberate. Uh, they practice, they practice the different concepts. They're always reflecting and figuring out like, how can I actually get better at this? [00:38:00] I mean, again, the world's best athletes, they watch tapes, they mark up the tapes, they learn from those things and believe it, or not like the best managers in the world actually do that too. They journal, they reflect, they look at learnings. They think about, I gave this feedback, did it land the right way? What could I have said differently in order to have made that operate better? Like, what did I do about this hiring decision? They log decisions. They review them like they really, really thoroughly analyze it. And, and [00:38:30] this was the, the most interesting concept that we've learned from, from the greatest managers that we've had on the podcast is that they have focused on like relentlessly focused on getting better, uh, on a weekly, on a quarterly basis at the practice of management.

Fahd: Mm-hmm <affirmative>, mm-hmm <affirmative> yeah. Not at, and not at specifically maybe their, their, their, you know, technical roles, right. If they're managing, if they're product design, you know, they're a product manager, not, not, not the product side of things, but specifically [00:39:00] the management skills. Right. Really focusing in on that. I, I really like what you should

Aydin: Share here. I think they're two completely separate things, right? Like you should also get better at the craft of engineering or design or product management, but this is specifically as it relates to, uh, the people side of things.

Fahd: Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, um, I love this pendulum swing, uh, concept. Um, so, so in what, what I've kind of heard, so maybe that space in the middle, so you've kind of said this, this kind of personalized leadership approach, the pendulum swing of finding [00:39:30] the balance between those two extremes. A lot of folks are starting to call that kind of a coaching style that a manager needs to be a coach and a more effective coach. Now there's several different types of coaching and all that. So I wanna ask you, what do you do to help develop your managers for them to develop these skills as a company, or as a CEO? What do you do in order to, Hey, I've got five managers that I wanna help develop, and I want them to be more coaches. I want them to find that, that, that kind of balance, [00:40:00] what do you do to support them from a company perspective or even just as a individual leader? Um, uh, you know, do you mentor, do you, you know, have programs so and so forth? What, what does that look like?

Aydin: Yeah, so I think, um, so, so a few things, one is that, you know, just organizational size and like when people listen to this, uh, in, in, in the future, but you know, today we're, we're just over 60 people. And so now this is like, this is a thing that we actively think about, which is like, how do we make sure that our managers [00:40:30] are constantly getting better? And so, because they work at Fellow, uh, and through osmosis, I mean, through listening to the podcast everybody does and like, you know, just using the product and just our content, like through osmosis people gain a lot. But that aside, we also put, um, our teams through manager training. Um, and so we, uh, we, we have done that. So every, every new manager or old manager, like goes through manager training, uh, we currently have, [00:41:00] um, like outsource that, but what I'm realizing that over the course of time, we need to put together our own playbook and our own internal management training, because it's, um, it ends up becoming very Fellow specific over the course of time.

Aydin: Yeah. Um, the other thing that we do is we have our manager meetups internally. And so part of it is so that we can get everybody to talk about issues, um, and kind of calibrate, and then have people [00:41:30] who are more experienced help, people who are less experienced. So we do, we do this, uh, with the teams. Um, and then the other things that we do is we're starting to build a lot of processes like, and, and, you know, some of this stuff we're borrowing, uh, from other organizations, we had, um, Colin Brier, who's a former, uh, Amazon VP and also Jeff Bezos's shadow for, uh, quite a few years. He came on the show, he wrote this book, uh, working backwards, uh, which is, uh, basically like a bunch of the processes at [00:42:00] Amazon. So for example, for hiring, what we've realized is that like, we really like Amazon's bar process.

Aydin: And so what we've done is we've adopted it and we've made it our own, obviously we've, you know, made some changes to make it more Fellow que. Yeah. Um, and so we have this, and so hiring is such an important part of, uh, a manager's role. And so for things like this, we're starting to basically like roll out, like, here's the way of being for this particular process. Like, here's how we handle hiring. Here's what [00:42:30] bar raiser process Fellow looks like, and we're starting to teach those things. And so I I've recently hired, um, you know, someone on the team, uh, Dave, who's our chief of staff, and he's now taking on a bunch of these. Like, we're just realizing that we need to ensure that across the board, we're, we're going about things the different, a different way is he's really taking the lead and making sure that we're implementing these processes, training people, and then constantly like reinforcing it.

Aydin: Um, and a lot of things like [00:43:00] values, um, obviously get reins, like basically get emphasized during the hiring process as well. It gets, uh, emphasized during like, we call it performance feedback, cuz it, we're not trying to evaluate people. It's just more trying to make sure that people have information on how they could continue to grow. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so, I mean, there's a bunch of self-reinforcing things, but I, I think over the course of time, like where I see this stuff in the next two to three years is we're gonna have very solid internally developed [00:43:30] very Fellow specific, uh, management training, constant, like learning and reflection again, like we really believe in this stuff, right. We think that right, you know, the right managers and leaders can have a 10 X impact on team performance. And so like we spend money on it, we spend time on it. We really care about it.

Fahd: Amazing, amazing. I love that. I love that kind of, uh, investment in a learning culture. How do you create a learning culture at your organization? And, and you're saying that, you know, it's been a big part of your value. It's a big part of what [00:44:00] you guys do. So naturally it was there, but then taking the necessary steps of training and mentorship and, and actual, uh, developing your own internal programs to do that. I, I, uh, I, I really like that. So for, for our last question here, uh, together, uh, Aydin, um, kinda, I guess your, your, your biggest takeaway, maybe, maybe that's a, you're not biggest takeaway. Let's go, let's go with, let's a little more specific if I'm a young manager listening [00:44:30] to this podcast and I wanna develop my skill, I have a certain amount of skill and I'm, you know, I'm going through it, but, but I have ambitions to improve my management and grow. What do I need to hear from you as a, as a CEO?

Aydin: Yeah. So I'm gonna, I'm gonna say something controversial, uh, which is be very careful when you get advice. Um, and the, the reason, so here's what I've learned, uh, interviewing a hundred people on the topic [00:45:00] of like management and leadership. Um, you will have people say completely different things. And the reason they're able to say completely different things is because of context, like it's just, everything is so context dependent. So what I would say is like the next time someone gives you advice, I would ask them, can you tell me, uh, a little bit more about like how you came upon that advice or like that way of being, um, and maybe tell [00:45:30] me the story of that. And so what I would do is not say things like, you know, everyone should, you know, it's funny. We had, um, uh, we had, um, the author of the first 90 days, uh, come on the podcast and he was one of the most, um, I would say like, uh, like he, he was one of the, like the most interesting thinkers that we've had on there.

Aydin: And he, he was very contrarian. And so he said like, something as basic as everybody [00:46:00] should have the mission statement, right? You, you, you would agree, right? Like everyone should have MIS mission statement and like, that's something you should develop. And then we go through examples of like, where there are cases where you should absolutely not do that. Imagine you're a CEO parachuted in, and your, your job is to like pivot the organization and like lay off half the staff. Like that's not a priority. Like that is not something that you should do. I mean, it's a very extreme example, but the point is that you really, uh, like all advice is context dependent. What I would say is like taking, [00:46:30] taking all of the advice, understand where the advice comes from, why those rules exist. Uh, even the basic thing that we said about values, right?

Aydin: So now hopefully like the listeners will know, like, here are some of the reasons why you might need these things, but it does it mean that like before your company has product market fit and that you, you even have a real company, like you should sit down and, and do your values. I'm not saying you shouldn't, but maybe you might have some other priorities. And so this is the really important thing. Advice can be [00:47:00] dangerous if taken out of context. And it's, it's more important to understand what the, why behind advice versus the advice itself. And I would say like, that's the, the most important thing because you and I both know how many books there are out there about management and leadership, how many videos, how many trainings, like, uh, how many podcasts, right? Like, so it's just, you have to be really, really careful, but all of these things are data points and the more data points you have, the more pattern recognition you have, uh, you will be better, but it's not a [00:47:30] not, and I'm not saying advice is wrong. It's just advice is very dependent. And, and that's one thing that I would, uh, that I would keep in mind. Um, and of course I have to say this because I'm CEO of Fellow is like, also learn how to run effective meetings and, and use Fellow, and we will help you do that.

Fahd: <laugh> definitely make sure to check Fellow out. That would be, uh, amazing to see if we can help you be better with your teams at meetings. And I love that last piece of advice, um, to not, you [00:48:00] know, take all advice face, you know, and, but take it with a grain of salt and, and, and contextualize it. Aydin, thank you. Uh, so much for being here with us today, this was such a pleasurable conversation to hear your thoughts, to hear your opinions, to hear your journey and, and where all of these insights have come. And even to hear some of these synthesized insights of your podcast, right? Some of the key patterns that have now emerged as you've interviewed, um, uh, you know, many, uh, folks in, in different leadership positions. Um, thank you so much for being here with us today. Uh, appreciate you. And that's all for now.

Aydin: [00:48:30] Thanks for having me.

Fahd: Thank you, uh, Aydin for joining us in our podcast, unicorn leadership podcast today, and thank all of you for listening all the way through. I hope you enjoyed it. Take some of the insights and the actionable pieces to your own organizations. If you have any questions as always, please send them in any topics that you would like us to discuss with any guests. Uh, anything that you're interested in us covering in this unicorn leaders' podcast, please feel free to connect with us on Twitter. On LinkedIn, on Instagram, you can find my handle [00:49:00] FOD AAB or send me an email fahd@unicornlabs.ca. Thank you so much for tuning into our episode, the unicorn leadership podcast, you can find the show notes and transcript at unicornlabs.ca/podcast. And if you like the content as always be sure to rate it, to review it, subscribe so you can get notified when we post the next episode, and please tell all your friends and fellow managers about how awesome it was and all the things that you took away. And I'll leave you with one question to think about [00:49:30] who has the right answers, but I ignore because they're not articulate, perhaps sometimes it's people in our teams and people we work with. I'll leave you with that question. Think about it, who has the right answers, but I ignore because they're not articulate. And on that note, thank you.

Subscribe Now