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CEO Reveals An Unconventional Approach to Leadership That Made Him a True Leader Use these unique leadership practices to create a company culture people love.

By Austin Mac Nab Edited by Maria Bailey

Key Takeaways

  • 1. Walk side by side with your employees
  • 2. Create an unmatched work environment
  • 3. Build authentic relationships
  • 4. Create opportunities for interaction and bonding

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We have all likely experienced a horrible boss. Someone on a power trip who micromanages, rarely communicates, holes up in a corner office and sets themselves apart from their team. The Horrible Bosses movies probably come to mind. That approach to leadership is a one-way ticket to disgruntled employees, a toxic workplace and poor business performance.

I have found that taking a more unconventional approach to leadership creates happy, engaged employees who come to work each day ready to kick butt. Leaders who want to take a similar approach can learn from how we are flipping the script on leadership at VizyPay, putting people first by:

Related: How to Retain Employees Through 'Servant' Leadership

1. Walking side-by-side on the journey

One of the hardest things to do as a leader is to help employees view you not as a leader but as a partner. This means ditching the mindset that you are the boss and it's your way or the highway. The best leaders want to learn and grow with their teams, walking next to them on the road to success — not in front of or behind.

While your team intuitively knows you are their leader, the key is for your interactions to make team members feel that you are someone who truly understands them, communicates honestly with them, is willing to listen to them and understands what makes them tick.

I personally hate the title of CEO. It is a daily reminder of power. I want everyone on my team to understand I am not in any way above them but instead a partner walking alongside them. I want to build relationships with my team and not be considered "above" joining in on activities like playing ping pong, having a beer or playing cards.

From the very beginning of our interview process, we focus on finding the right fit for the culture by throwing out resumes because it is far more important to get to know candidates on a level beyond their education or past experience. Additionally, no matter what role the candidate is gunning for, they always meet with the CEO (myself) or another managing partner to immediately establish a horizontal hierarchy and further solidify our place as their partner on their journey. I encourage other leaders to do the same.

2. Creating an unmatched work environment

Effective leaders also create a work environment that employees can't get anywhere else. Creating a work environment that is not cookie-cutter corporate is a massive risk, but it pays dividends in increasing employee loyalty. A work environment that provides freedom and a people-first culture is not something your employees are going to find in other companies.

The bottom line is that if someone can go out and find hundreds of workplaces like yours, you have failed to care for the individuals committed to your organization.

At my company, our work environment is the exception to the norm and might best be described as fast-paced, controlled chaos and a safe space where employees feel free to be themselves. There is a high level of accountability as well as a lot of perks, which aligns with our work hard first, play hard second mentality.

Untraditionally, I encourage other entrepreneurs to embrace everyone's genuine style, not just their professional personas. Building an unmatched work environment means allowing the lines of work and personal life to merge. Do not leave everything at the door when you clock in. Instead, encourage your employees to talk about their struggles and what's going on in life, be real with one another and get uncomfortable.

Related: How Much Does Leadership Actually Matter in a Startup?

3. Building authentic relationships

Bosses don't take the time to get to know employees. Leaders do. Taking a personal interest in the lives of your employees helps build authentic relationships and mutual trust. Making it a daily habit to connect and communicate with your employees is also a great way to encourage them to take risks, think outside the box and innovate, all of which accelerate professional growth. This regular interaction can help surface information on what employees need to succeed and how you can help them if they are struggling.

As a leader, I know the personal stories of every person on my team. I talk to employees and fist-bump them every morning. Walking around with a snack cart every other day is another way I connect and build relationships with them. An always-open door communicates to everyone that they can talk to me about anything without fear they'll experience the wrath of "the boss." I want everyone on the team to feel they are partners with a human being, not a jackass on a power trip. I want them to know that they are not a number or a cog in the wheel but valued partners delivering on our mission to help small businesses and disrupt the payments space.

If C-suite leaders are serious about making an impactful change in their workplace, they should just remove their office door completely.

Related: 12 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Sharpen Their Leadership Skills

4. Creating opportunities for interaction and bonding

As a leader, it is also important to create a fun environment where people want to come to work. Fun activities can help your employees destress and get to know each other better, creating a positive atmosphere that increases employee engagement.

Our people-first workplace culture fosters an upbeat, fun environment that creates opportunities for interaction and bonding. Two examples of this are weekly-themed happy hours and annual parties that encourage people to build relationships outside of work. To that end, our employees volunteer together, attend concerts together and support each other's families. These interactions and bonding opportunities make it easier for a team member to come to a leader for a difficult project or situation during the regular 9-5.

As a leader, I know that a company cannot achieve anything without happy employees, and that is why I put maintaining a positive, people-first culture above anything else.

It's time for a more unconventional approach to leadership that focuses on improving the lives of employees. Considering that we spend a third of our lives at work, all leaders should strive to make the work experience an enjoyable, engaging journey.

Austin Mac Nab

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

CEO, Co-Founder and Executive Leader

Mac Nab is CEO, co-founder and executive leader of VizyPay, a West Des Moines, Iowa-based provider of payment technology solutions. Mac Nab is an expert in the payment processing, bank card and retail industries. He's responsible for overseeing the company’s strategy & day-to-day business operations

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