Lessons In Leadership from a Programmer-CEO

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The CEO of Polymathic shares tips for being an effective team leader (CEO) from her role model.

By Marcy Capron (Partner & CEO, Polymathic)

I started out as my company’s sole developer when I founded Polymathic in 2010, after a decade of production-related jobs where I wound up with so much pointed experience in photography, film, web and software that it seemed a shame to pigeonhole myself. I founded Polymathic as a way to build/make stuff but never be bound to one medium.  To be a Polymath is to be very-skilled in multiple arenas, therefore bringing a unique perspective to the table as we are neither generalists nor jacks-of-all trades but more like multi-specialists, and I’ve made both a career of this and of hiring others like me.

I made the internal move to pure management in 2012, focusing on talent management for the technical product sector.  Fast forward to today and we just turned 4 years old and narrowly missed having our first 7 figure year in 2013, though we did triple revenue from the year prior and double the size of our team.  It’s been a tough road but we’ve finally started owning up to our namesake, and 2014 should be a great year for us.

A “great” year is built from a great foundation, and my personal foundation comes from my dad.  I am the daughter of a programmer-CEO and watched my dad grow his 90s-era startup into a very successful product company. Today, he’s our primary advisor. This stuff is in my blood. I was raised to know that “money doesn’t grow on trees” and “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. My childhood was riddled with “dad-isms”, and years later I find myself telling my team on payday: “don’t spend it all in one place!” (a Papa Capron favorite).

In giving advice to fellow founders, I find myself preaching dad-isms (appropriated to be Marcy-isms) and talking lots about how my team is my family.  While I have a strong personal foundation to grow as an entrepreneur, the foundation at Polymathic is made up of our team.  They are who will create a “great” year with me, and I could not do it without them.

Protect Your Team and Their Morale

As my family, I need to protect my team, and that means I am in charge of their morale.  I could harp all day on what contributes to “good” or “bad” morale, but the most simple example is this:  the kids should never see their parents fight;  “don’t make something everyone’s business.”  If a kid thinks something is wrong, they will feel tangible blame and fear.  The same goes for your team.  Small teams have a tendency to over-embrace transparency.  If your hires hear you talk negatively about the company’s health, it will spread like chicken pox.  I am all about being honest and forthcoming with my team, but only once appropriate.  You cannot afford to worry your team; bad morale is a sign of lazy leadership.  There’s nothing wrong with something being “need to know” especially if it’s for the short term. “Loose lips sink ships,” my dad would tell you!

Don't Rush Decisions

Another habit I have as a TMI female with an ambitious personality is to rapid-fire answers to questions, as if it’s the only way to think on my feet.  My dad always told me to take my time, but if I had paid more attention to his sales technique I would’ve learned the arts of persuasion and deflection a bit earlier.  You don’t always need to rush to an answer or decision, and learning to buy yourself time is beyond helpful.  Simple lines like “I will get back to you on that” and “I need to think that over” allow you to keep an upbeat conversation without saying something you will regret.  Since I am always trying to act in the best interest of my team, I cannot afford to agree to something impractical.  So, if you need to buy yourself time, don’t be ashamed. Be strategic!

Everything is Negotiable

But, since everything you do is for your team and for your bottom line, careful decisions must be married with one of my favorite dad-isms:  “it’s only no until it’s yes.” Do what you have to do, iterating upon the options at hand, until the piece fits and you get what you want & need.  Everything is negotiable.  You must stick to your guns and listen to your gut, because perseverance and intuition are gifts!  They will make you a great leader. Trust yourself, because no one else can trust for you. If your team is your family and foundation, you’re never going to fall back to square one, so take a big breath, and trust the next step!  It’s your turn to have a great year.

Hear from Marcy Capron at Women 2.0 City Meetup tonight. Register here.

1400359_731365880182_625853869_o (1)About the blogger: Marcy Capron is Partner & CEO at Polymathic. She's foremost a maker and technologist, secondly an interior designer and baker of epic cupcakes. In addition to being raised in an entrepreneurial engineering family, Marcy currently resides in Logan Square and works in Humboldt Park, where she and her team build products for entrepreneurs & intrapreneurs as a group-effort CTO.