Ten lessons I've learned on my journey to Managing Director

Josh talking in a meeting with the leadership team at Brightec

As I celebrate my 10th anniversary with Brightec, I want to share ten big mistakes I've made along this incredible journey and how they've helped me embrace our value of making things better.

Over the last ten years, the company and I have changed dramatically.

Ten years ago, I had just moved from London back to my hometown of Brighton and Hove. I had a year-old daughter and a whole lack of sleep!

Excitingly, I also started a new job at Brightec after a swift coffee with Andy in a cafe off New England Street in Brighton.

Ten years later, I've just celebrated my 10th anniversary at Brightec. The team made me cry by presenting me with a bespoke book; see this LinkedIn post (of the book; not me crying!)

It's fun to reflect on how those changes have happened and how I've personally changed and hopefully improved.

So, aside from my ongoing ability to make cheeky jokes, I've pulled together a list of mistakes I've made and hope they prove helpful to others on a similar journey.

Let's start with my biggest mistake.

1) Not seeking feedback regularly

I know it's somewhat cliche, but I amaze myself with how quickly I can 'protect' myself from feedback in the fear that I may find it uncomfortable.

One of my favourite quotes is from the book Leading with a Limp: Turning Your Struggles into Strengths by Dan B. Allender. In which the author states a core assumption:

"to the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed colleagues."

Of course, this begs the question of how you identify those failures. The most obvious answer is to ask for feedback regularly and often.

The biggest mistake I've ever made has been stunting my growth by not being vulnerable and intentionally seeking feedback from my peers, managers, and team.

Now, I have systems in place to regularly receive feedback from my senior leadership team, friends, and retrospectives where the whole team can provide input. This frequent feedback has enabled me to avoid major pitfalls, sharpen my skills, and grow as a leader.

2) Sticking my nose in where I shouldn't

If you're familiar with CliftonStrengths®, you'll understand that having 'Arranger' in my top 5 indicates that I can tend to involve myself to satisfy my own needs rather than for the team's benefit.

This means I would get preoccupied with adding the extra 5% here and there to other people's tasks and responsibilities to the detriment of their 95%, which would have been more than enough.

I've had to actively work on letting others do work without my involvement and be happy that I don't have to understand everything.

Since I've learned to do this, I've found new leaders emerging within the company who feel a sense of ownership and responsibility. They've benefitted from the deliberate space to make and learn from mistakes and try new things.

3) Forgetting to proof my emails

Can you imagine sending a client the word testes when you meant tests?

Well, I don't have to imagine that scenario, as I did this to our biggest client in my first few months at Brightec. A seemingly innocent project update became a hilarious anecdote.

Fun fact: I'm not the only person on the Brightec team who has made this balls-up.

4) Being a new business snail

I don't know why it took me so long to learn that the speed of response is so important in sales.

Upon receiving an enquiry, we'd schedule internal meetings about how to respond. We'd then have a call with the client, and shamefully, I'd ask, "Are you ok if we get a proposal over to you in the next couple of weeks?"

Meanwhile, another agency has had the calls, produced the contracts and started the work in those two weeks.

No longer! I now make it our mission to respond quickly and with energy!

5) Holding onto changes too tightly

I learned this early and wrote about it here. But I have had to get better and better over the years at holding my ideas lightly and allowing others to help form them early.

My dad put it well:

"The best process is second to a great culture. Make changes slowly — fast changes don't have a chance to embed themselves."

I've made mistakes in my leadership when I've attempted to make changes too quickly. I've tried to implement my "brilliant plan," only for someone to point out the glaring hole as soon as I presented it.

I now make it my mission to run ideas past senior people, such as Rob and Georgia, early and often. Getting their insight and perspective at the earliest stages has meant that plans are far more developed, rounded or even discarded before they become costly.

6) Taking my eyes off 'the work'

I can sometimes forget that Brightec is an 'engineering-first' company. I have had to learn not to be distracted by our other initiatives and aspirations for too long. Always returning to a laser-like focus on being the best and most dependable mobile app agency.

It's not a regular mistake for me or the Brightec team, but it has happened a couple of times and does creep up on me.

To combat this, we carry out weekly, monthly, and quarterly ceremonies to ensure we're keeping the 'main thing' the 'main thing', regularly reviewing the correct numbers and initiatives and keeping our focus on the work.

7) Not taking people on the journey

Rob Redwood once brilliantly told me:

"The longer we think and discuss a topic, the more normalised it becomes for us, but that isn't true for others".

When he told me that, it dawned on me that I had regularly troubled the team by not taking the time to determine what they should know and when they should know it so that news (good or bad) landed well.

Nowadays, I spend time working out how to articulate changes well to the team, regularly asking certain people, "What's the most anxious person in the room going to be thinking when I say this?"

8) I didn't realise the importance of personal brand

I've had my mind changed on this one.

For most of my career, I baulked at the idea of posting on LinkedIn or talking about "my story." Building the company's brand was surely enough; why on earth would I want to work on my own?

That was until Simon Brading sent me this podcast, which articulated that personal branding is just the "digitisation of your reputation".

Did I care that the company's reputation was well-represented? Of course! Then why not my own?

If you, like I was, are unsure about this, I'd encourage you to listen to the podcast and make up your own mind.

9) Wearing white shirts

I've spilt my drink so many times that, at one point, anyone spilling their drink was described as "Doing a Josh."

Caz started this endearing phrase but pointed out that at least I've learned never to wear white shirts at work.

10) Not letting others look after me

I am landing on a vulnerable one.

For whatever reason, I've struggled to let others look after me, which, let's be honest, I've needed.

I've been good at checking in with the team and (hopefully) supporting them well. However, I've really struggled to let that happen for myself.

Fortunately, Caz has been working on me over the years. She's regularly provoked me to work out the best ways to let others on the team check in with me and what 'pick me ups' look like.

She's gotten adept at asking the awkward questions that force me to give an actual answer to "What are you doing to look after yourself?" or, more often than not, admit I don't have an answer.

For me, physical activity/training has become my primary action to reduce stress. Helpfully, the CliftonStrengths® Instagram account recently posted some helpful content on how to reduce stress/burnout based on the domain you lead from. I found this post helpful: LINK

I have benefited from intentionally taking care of myself. I hope that the team has also benefited from my improved leadership, ensuring that a better version of Josh shows up each day.

A new decade

Reflecting on these lessons, I've realised they are a great testament to the incredible people around me. A whole bunch of people have helped shape me, and I'm really thankful for their input (and patience!).

The lessons listed here have helped prepare me for fresh challenges and new opportunities. They also reinforce the commitment to helping build Brightec with a culture encouraging feedback and growth.

There's still a long way to go and many things to learn, but I'm looking forward to another decade of lessons!

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