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Leadership

How Do You Keep Track of Who's Working? Bill Gate Memorized License Plates.

Destructive leadership behaviors are also valuable learning opportunities.
How Do You Keep Track of Who's Working? Bill Gate Memorized License Plates.
Image credit: Michael Gottschalk | Photothek | Getty Images
- Guest Writer
Entrepreneur, Executive Coach, Author, Speaker
4 min read

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Once upon a time there was an organizational leader of a very prominent government agency who waited at the entrance every day to see who trickled in unshaven. Yes, I'm serious. In other words, he personally checked to see if Joe or Bob did, in fact, shave that day. Keep in mind that he was the CEO -- until he wasn’t, because he got fired. Go figure.

Then there’s Bill Gates. Instead of standing at the entrance or roaming the halls to see who was still working and who was reading Entrepreneur articles, he memorized license plates. "I knew everyone's license plates," he said, "so I could look out in the parking lot and see when did people come in, when they were leaving."

There are a number of leadership takeaways that can be gleaned from those at the top who have “been there, done that” -- some right, some not so right. Here are three lessons to be learned from destructive leadership behaviors:

1. Build trust

Everything begins with trust. Everything. Think of when you drive home, for instance. Every day you’re faced with oncoming traffic. You don’t know anything about who's behind the wheel. You don’t know how long they’ve been driving, how many squirrels they’ve hit or who they’re texting as they drive (such a pet peeve of mine). However, if you don’t trust them, you can’t get ahead. Progress ends. You stop the car because you’re unwilling -- not unable -- to move forward. 

Business works the same way. Without trust, there’s no opportunity for healthy dialogue (and “healthy” does entail conflict) and no freedom to make decisions. You build trust by trusting.

Related: Why Trust Is the New Marketing Currency

2. Forget about the hours.

One reason leaders roam the halls -- or the parking lots, in Gates’ case -- is to see who’s working and how. Gates was a workaholic but was also careful not to apply the standard he set for himself to others. Having said that, he still memorized license plates.

The thing is, being at work doesn’t equate to working. The important point for leaders and everybody who charges for a service is that results are more important than putting in time.

The common pricing strategy for most companies, coaches and consultants is hourly pricing. They work for a set price per hour and the customer pays for the total hours worked. Simple, mindless and completely ineffective. Pricing by the hour instantly creates a win/lose relationship between you and the customer. He or she must make a financial decision every time you’re needed. It makes you a commodity rather than a value-added. 

Forget about hourly pricing and focus on the outcomes you bring. Value pricing reflects the perceived value. For example, an hourly pricing strategy might look like this: conduct six interviews at a rate of $100 per hour. On the other hand, a value priced strategy might be: strengthen employee relationships and build trust through open dialogue, resulting in less duplicative efforts and wasted costs. Both entail interviews, but the latter explains how and why conducting interviews will help. Remember, people don’t buy information, they buy transformation.

Related: 5 Strategies of 'Psychological Pricing'

3. Let freedom ring.

Freedom to make decisions and freedom to lead, that is. By checking to see if his employees were following the rules, the “shave police” (the leader cited above) actually removed power -- and growth opportunities -- from everybody else. He assumed personal accountability for enforcing the rules rather than allocating it to his people and letting them hold others accountable. This is fine if you want your company to tank and your people to hate you, but if you want to stay in business as a leader and as an organization, then you want to spread accountability throughout the ranks. 

As destructive as certain leadership behaviors appear, they're also invaluable opportunities to learn.

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