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10 Biggest Leadership Lessons We’ve Learned as CEOs During the Last Decade

Marketing Manager

The worst-case scenario when founding a company? A bank debt and a shattered dream. But giving up? Never!

Turning the idea of your own agency into reality is not always easy. It involves a great deal of passion, hours and hours of work and stamina. But when blood, sweat and tears pay off, the joy is all the bigger. Ten years ago, four young designers had this dream. Today, their dream is reality, and if you ask them: “Would you do it again?” Their answer is: “Anytime!

If you follow our podcast, you might have already gained some tips on leadership, but if you're more of a reader, we got you covered with this article!
To learn what lessons our CEOs have drawn from their leadership positions in the last 10 years, continue reading.

Lesson No. 1: Trust in Yourself and Others

Let's be honest: starting your own agency requires a lot from you. Eight hours of work a day is not nearly enough, especially in the beginning. Maybe you're lucky enough to have co-founders that can take some pressure off. But in order for everyone to reach their full potential, you need to let them have their freedom and trust that they can do it without you – even in a crisis. You probably like to do things a certain way, but dividing responsibility – you'll get more perspectives on certain topics.

Lesson No. 2: Hang in There!

Remember that it can't always be uphill. Even when times seem tough and hopeless, patience and stamina pay off – making decisions head over heels is never a good idea. The important thing is to be clear: Where do I want to go with this? What other options do I have? What perspectives do I need to include for my own decision?

Lesson No. 3: Leave Your Ego at Home

I know this works differently for many companies, but hear me out: it doesn't have to be crystal clear who the boss is as soon as you enter the room. Being feared is not the same as being respected. Trying to be in control of everything is not only incredibly exhausting, but it’s also completely pointless – especially when you reach a certain size.

Lesson No. 4: Hire the Right People

The plain truth is, you can't be a professional and exceed in every business area. Why would you even want to do that? The goal is to hire people that are experts in their field, that do certain things better than you, and in the end, to succeed together. To achieve that, you have to be aware of your weaknesses and your strengths.
Combining strengths and having the same goals in mind when working together has proven to work the best for us. You should try it out!

The leadership team is constantly working on team building.

Lesson No. 5: Culture Is King

Agency business is people business. Our assets are the people we have – a team only works if everyone respects and trusts each other. You have to give everyone the chance to grow, try different things out, and have fun while working together. At the end of the day, the time we spend at work and with our colleagues is a lifetime.
You know that COBE stands for Creators of beautiful experiences, right? Even though you might think this only refers to creating beautiful products, it actually refers to developing a beautiful company culture too.

Lesson No. 6: Something Is Off? Act Fast!

When you, as a leader, sense that something is changing, something off is happening, you have to pull the trigger. Figuratively, of course. Find the root of the problem as soon as you can and deal with it. That gives you time to fix a situation, rather than have someone leave due to something that you could've worked on.

Lesson No. 7: Work With Tensions

We've established a culture where employees feel comfortable and where no one has to hold back on their opinion or disagreement. For our team in Munich, Holacracy is the ideal, “go-to” organizational model for that. On one hand, you give away some of your “power”, while on the other, you give impact to every single employee. In Holocracy, each employee can address any tensions they have at all times.

Lesson No. 8: Get a Mentor

Involve a mentor, an advisor, or however you want to call it, as early as possible. Having a person on the outside to assist you, give you advice, and analyze you and your business is worth its weight in gold. Overestimating yourself and thinking you'll figure everything out somehow is not the right strategy.
Mentors have the experience that you just can't have at the beginning. A mentor can help you, as a founder, or manager to grow, broaden your horizons, and to think about new ideas.

Lesson No. 9: You Want to Be a Leader? Then Lead!

It's great to see yourself as part of the team. There’s nothing wrong with communicating at eye level. But as a founder you have set a goal in mind, and you have to guide people accordingly, so that they find their way too. Sometimes, you have to accept not being in the middle of it, but leading from the outside.

Lesson No. 10: Find the Right Leaders for the Right Role

When one thing gets too big: Give up control. With the right person at the lead, any project takes off. In the case of COBE Osijek, that person was Ines. Different locations require different leaders who understand not only the culture, but also the people, and get the best potential out of everything.

"Giving Ines the power to change things, to have impact, was one of the best moves we made in our history." - Felix

"Would I do it again? Yes, I would do it again!"

Sure, it's sometimes hard to always see the positive when it is difficult. But the path to the goal is also important. Looking back at the last 10 years, our two founders are grateful: “The experiences, the projects, and people we met were worth fighting for and not giving up. We're here to have beautiful experiences together and to create beautiful experiences for others. The experiences we gathered and the people we met are priceless. We're proud of all we have established and the team we built.”

That’s it! We hope our CEOs inspired your leadership journey, and if you want to dig even deeper on the topic, make sure to reach out.

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About the author

Norina is a Marketing Manager. She is always thinking about how to make new ideas shine. Besides constantly looking for new content, she enjoys cooking and gardening.


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