Author Deborah Sweeney of MyCorporation inside her Calabasas, California, office. (Credit: Courtesy of the company)
Author Deborah Sweeney of MyCorporation inside her Calabasas, California, office. (Credit: Courtesy of the company)

I like to think of myself as a hands-on CEO.

Growing up, my parents taught me the importance of hard work. If you work hard and maintain an optimistic attitude, you become what you believe you will become. It was a lesson that stuck with me throughout my entire career. I was an attorney for several years before I purchased my own company in 2009 and made the leap forward into entrepreneurship.

As a CEO, I find myself just as hands-on in business as I was when I was a lawyer. That goes against the traditional stereotype that tends to surround CEOs — often depicted as invisible figureheads that do not spend nearly as much time at the office as they do playing golf — but I believe this tradition is starting to fade away. Out with the absentee boss and in with management that rolls up their sleeves to get to work.

Make Yourself Physically Present

I have my own office, but I rarely sit in it. Our company building is designed as an open floor space. There are a few side rooms created for conference purposes, but these rooms are largely empty. All of my team members sit out on the main floor in groups of threes (or ‘pods’ as we call them). I’m included in one of those pods, and I like it much more than being squirreled away in a private office.

Being out on the floor with the team makes me much more approachable than I would be in an office. Team members will email me with quick questions or get up and walk over to chat. They know when I get in and when I leave. Sitting in an office, even with the door open, may make it difficult for CEOs to truly embrace a hands-on approach because it’s harder to tell when they’re coming or going. If possible, try to make yourself physically present.

Don’t have an open floor plan? You can still walk around in the morning to greet team members and ask about their weekends or plans for the day. I also do this, from pod to pod, until I make my way back to my desk. I find that my team members love it, especially new members. Being physically present allows CEOs to connect to the lives of their team members. It’s a win-win for everyone. Employees start to feel more comfortable around their bosses, and CEOs become a bit more approachable.

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Develop “Sponge” Behavior With The Team

I asked a few other CEOs about their best practices. Andrea Loubier, CEO of Mailbird, agrees that getting on the ground with the team is a CEO’s first step in the right hands-on direction. Once you’re there, Loubier says to focus on being active with the team. A successful CEO knows how to deftly multitask. They can manage projects and keep up with their star employees.

For a hands-on approach, Loubier suggests getting started with a monthly meeting. Use these meetings to listen to the concerns of your team. Then, follow up monthly meetings with regular brainstorming sessions. You can hold as many sessions as needed, varying in length, to discuss innovative ways to grow the business.

Doing all of this does more than allow CEOs to become part of the team. It gives them the chance to establish sponge behavior. Once they’re around their employees on a regular basis, the best CEOs can soak up information about what each person does and how they do it, and empower them to move the company forward.

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Stay Close To The Product And Customer

I love this advice from Bethany Babcock, the CEO of Foresite Commercial Real Estate. A hands-on CEO, she says, is one that rolls up their sleeves to work alongside their team members, in addition to their existing responsibilities.

Don’t be afraid if the role starts to feel a bit raw either. You rolled up your sleeves. Now, it’s time for your hands to get a little dirty.

“Always take a few calls, handle a few clients, and do a few sales,” Babcock advises, “It’s a great way to hear candid, unfiltered feedback, understand the customer and frustrations of the team with processes, if there are any.”

Staying close to the product and customer gives CEOs insight into how business is run. CEOs that experience firsthand the issues that employee face — whether  that’s uncomfortable desk chairs or slow loading web pages — are now in a place to remedy the issues and make changes.

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Remember Your Mission

Does your business have a mission statement? Revisit that statement to see if you are currently following its values. If you find that you are not, and that the company has overall started to decline in its atmosphere, do not be afraid to hit refresh to get back to your roots.

Remember why you’re in business. What’s your greater purpose? Is the environment in your company one you would personally like to work in yourself? How do your team members feel? Never put the title of ‘CEO’ so far above yourself that you forget about the team. Encourage feedback from the team to better create a respectful company culture, meet with everyone regularly to see how work is progressing, and do the work yourself for a better understanding of the business. You built it. Now it’s time to nurture its growth onward and upward.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.

[Related: Read more posts by Deborah Sweeney]

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