1. Work alongside your employees
At 77, Ron still runs his farm by working the land and the animals himself. He has employees, but he won’t relax and watch while the work gets done. Ron practices what Brent calls “participatory leadership.”
“My dad is a guy who always works, is always focused, always finishes what he has to do before coming home, always picks the hardest jobs for himself, and works alongside his employees so they can learn while watching him,” Frei says. “I saw the impact he has on those who worked with him as a farmer. His approach is so effective. I’ve seen people repeatedly come back to him as an example of how to work with people the right way.”
2. Believe in people’s ability
Frei says his father has a great way of motivating people. “He believed that people could do more than they believed they could do themselves, and that had a big impact on the outcomes,” Frei says. “When someone you respect has an expectation for you and belief that you can accomplish more than you know you can, you typically do [accomplish more].”
3. Put people in the driver’s seat
Frei says the next step of tapping employees’ full potential is to give them more responsibility than their role outlines. Smartsheet hires people for two levels ahead of the position they interview for. Frei says employees at the company will be doing something completely different in six months, so he hires people who will be able to move up. He got his first lesson on how to scale employees at the age of five–his dad would put him in his old pickup truck, put it in first gear, and Frei would steer around the crops while Ron sprayed the field from a tank in the back. Then the next year, Ron gave him more responsibility.
“When I was six, he needed to get a pickup and a tractor back home from a field that was five miles away, so he put my five-year-old sister and me in the pickup and pointed it down the road, put it in gear, and I drove it for five miles through a canyon and to the shop,” Frei says. “Boy, did I feel important. I felt like I was doing something super-serious and useful and that little example is something I think about at work every day. It reminds me to give people things that are actually important, even if it’s not in their skill set, and a lot of people will surprise you. For me, it’s never a surprise [though] because I know people are capable of more than they think they are–so, give ’em a shot.”