I recently discovered a new show on the Syfy channel – Naked Vegas. The shows follows Red Belmonte and her crew of body painters as Red tries to build her business in Las Vegas. A tall order considering the foundation of her service requires that her clients be willing to get naked. As I binge watched the series on Hulu, I was struck by the fact that this creative, off beat company was actually a sound model for how a business should be led.
Before I reinvented myself as a writer, I was in technology management. I began as a web designer at the birth of the World Wide Web and rose up the ranks to Vice President of Technology. During that time, I learned a lot about running a successful business unit. I also learned that we don’t live in a society where creative thought is welcomed in the executive ranks, but that’s a whole different post. Anyhoo … I was extremely successful – no failures on my record – because I believe firmly in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as it relates to employee satisfaction.
Over the season, I saw Red consistently do exactly what I learned over my career was the key to running a successful business.
- Be a leader, not The Boss
One thing I learned very quickly is nobody likes The Boss, but everyone desires a good leader. The Boss is close-minded and believes they can do no wrong. A Boss wants things done the way they want them done just because it came from them, screw whether or not it’s the best way to do things.
I’ve consistently worked for Bosses, not leaders. I remember once, when I was a director of a diamond replacement service, my employer had this conversation with me:
Boss: “Listen to me, just do what I’m asking you to do.”
Me: “I understand what you’re asking, but that doesn’t work. Look at the numbers, they support the strategy I’ve implemented. We’re up 20% over last year.”
Boss: [long pause] Let me tell you a story [long, boring, irrelevant story]. So you see, even when I’m wrong, I’m right.
Me: I can appreciate what you’re saying, but in my professional opinion this is the wrong course of action. I won’t do it.
Boss: If you want to keep your job, you will.
In actuality, I never implemented his suggestion. I did what I knew was the right thing to do and let the $1.2 million dollars I brought into his business shut him up.
The thing that was so refreshing in watching Naked Vegas, was to see that Red leads her team, she doesn’t boss them around. As the owner, she recognizes that the buck stops with her, therefore she sets the vision and goals. Over the season, I consistently saw Red bring the team together to strategize as a whole, yet she never relinquished her role as leader. For each build, she takes their input, considers things and then makes a decision. She leads her team and she takes both responsibility and accountability for the decisions she makes. She also endures the shit when it hits the fan, supporting her employees and slogging through the trenches with them.
Employees don’t need a Boss, anyone can give orders, they need leaders. Those are much harder to find.
- Respect your employee’s expertise
No one knows everything. We all have areas that we excel at and areas that we’re not so great at. For instance, I am very good at logistics and management. I am also a usability/user interaction expert. I studied this. I understand the principles. What I’m not good at is hardware. To me, my computer is just a really pretty hammer. I use it to do things, I don’t care how it’s made as long as it does what I want it to do. Well, in technology management, the wrong hardware can sabotage everything you’re trying to do. My lack of expertise in hardware was a liability. Period.
To fill that gap, I always ensured I employed hardware experts. I also didn’t ignore their advise and expertise, I embraced and implemented their suggestions. They were the hardware experts. That’s what they were there for. It never makes sense to me when Bosses hire you for specific skill sets you bring to the table, and then ignore everything you say.
Red is a body painter, but her team brings in skills that complement her own. Wiser is an expert in perspective, Nix in prosthetics, etc. On one of the episodes, they needed to create a steam locomotive across three models. She leaned heavily on Wiser for that build. That was the right thing to do. She recognized her employee was an expert and let him do what he does best.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses
Going hand in hand with number 2 is knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Today’s management seems to think posturing and pretending you are a tower of power and have no weaknesses is being confident. It’s not. It’s egotism and leads your team off a cliff. My main weaknesses are my interpersonal skills. I dislike and avoid interacting with strangers – a major weakness when part of your job description is building the business. I also have a very short attention span and don’t like to sit still for long periods of time – again, a major weakness as you rise up the ladder and meetings become the main focus of your day. The net result is I come off as abrasive, aloof, and uninterested. I learned to compensate for these things over the years and built cohesive teams and businesses alike.
Red intimately knows both her team’s and her own strengths and weaknesses. She’s an artist who formed a business. Many people in this situation attempt to run all aspects of their business. Red hired a business manager to handle her day-to-day operations so she can focus on the product. Very smart! She also made sure to hire artists that filled out and complemented her own skill set. Also, very smart! The net result is a team of artists and business people who are experts at what they do, and do them well.
- Credit where credit is due
This last one is huge and management’s lack of graciousness mystifies me. There was one lesson I learned very quickly as a manager, it didn’t undermine my standing to announce that a good idea had come from one of my team because I hired that person. Therefore, ultimately, I always got “credit” because I was smart enough to bring them into the team!
If your own skills and expertise are so lacking that you have to steal ideas and take credit for work that isn’t yours, you aren’t going to be successful and you don’t deserve the position you’re in anyway. Giving your employees recognition and credit is a win-win. First, it incentivizes them to keep doing what they do best, not slack off. Also, it creates loyalty to you as their employer because it’s a gracious, generous, and empowering act. Being recognized is a feel good experience for the employee and only benefits the supervisor by creating a synergistic experience for the team, and therefore the company.
Red never fails to recognize and empower her employees. The net result is a harmonious team who respect each other and whom are loyal to Red and her company. You can’t lose with this recipe.
I don’t know what will happen with Naked Vegas, the produce is highly niche, but I can say this. The company is a model for sound business principles, especially how to lead a productive and harmonious team. If more companies employed these methods and principles, turnover would drop, and employee satisfaction would inherently lend itself to healthy companies.
It’s a win-win people!