Behind the Hustle
Stories worth telling.
Stories worth telling.
LEADERSHIP IS NOT A POSITION; IT’S A COLLECTION OF ACTIONS
Building a team is not for the faint of heart. I say this because the act of gathering humans into a group is challenging in itself and because building a team is so much more than that. It seems that now more than ever, the world has collectively reassessed its non-negotiables when it comes to careers in the wake of the pandemic. In my opinion, this isn’t entirely a bad thing; however, the ongoing labor shortages in many industries would probably beg to differ. Nonetheless, I wholeheartedly believe that there are benefits to our shift in perspective about what it means to go to work every day and the implications our careers have on our overall wellbeing. In general, our standards are higher than ever before… and maybe they should be. It’s the people who are unwilling to compromise their happiness for a career in the past that we can thank for creating a better alternative for themselves and others today.
Working at DLX has shown me that building a team takes grit. Persistence. Self-awareness. Patience. Communication. Conviction. Building a team requires trusting your instincts, actively listening to your team, and making decisions that cooperate with what is best for the individuals and the business. Building a team is equal parts compassion and constructive criticism. Most importantly, building a team means having an opportunity to make an impact. This blog post will give a glimpse into how we do things around here, drawing on my experience for concrete examples to show that walking the Hustler walk is more important than talking the talk.
WORK HARD, PLAY HARD, TRAVEL HARDER
DLX was born, in part, out of a desire for better workplace culture and to create a safe environment where employees feel empowered to express their needs, wants, and opinions. The company was also built around the “Work Hard, Play Hard” ideal, ever reminding us that we are here to do our respective jobs first and foremost, but that (1) it should also be fun and (2) that it’s okay to take time for yourself. Pop culture has given “Work Hard, Play Hard” a connotation with a work-by-day and party-by-night lifestyle, but within our company, it has a more nuanced meaning (this is not to say we don’t like to bond over beers on Fridays). As we continue to grow and introduce new Hustlers to our culture, we rely on our OGs to show how they’ve interpreted the company’s ethos to best serve their comprehensive wellness along with the company’s. Check out the DLX traditions blog post for some of the things we do on the regular to liven up the Hustler experience, or read on to find out a little more about how we embody our own Work Hard, Play Hard experience.
Many members of our team spend almost as much time on the road as they do in the office, which means giving up time at home with loved ones in exchange for long hours, airports, and the general challenges of being away from the comforting familiarity of home. Making such a sacrifice says a lot about the commitment of our crew. “Work Hard, Travel Harder” might be a more pointed tagline than “Work Hard, Play Hard” for our globetrotting team. As a company, we believe work trips to be a personal benefit and a professional one. In ramping up for a busy travel season, DLX President JJ Urhausen recently reminded us that going on the road as part of the job presents an opportunity to see the world through a unique lens – one that is goal-oriented and automatically lends itself to forging friendships. Our first objective is always to get the job done; our secondary goal is to experience the culture of our destination while gaining relationships and worldly experiences as the result of our travels.
“Seeing travel as a challenge and a learning experience really brings out the good in you. People close to me have told me since I started working at DLX, I’ve become a more confident person. I realized that neither I nor many people like me, ever get out of their comfort zone… never face themselves, never overcome, never learn to be alone or to develop mental strength and emotional toughness,” said Santiago, a LATAM Sales Ambassador. He explained that each trip is a step away from his norm, providing him with something more profound than a stamp on his passport and a paycheck. Santiago’s reflection gets to the heart of an original DLX ideal: if trusted people are given great opportunities and a platform for personal development – they are likely to become their best selves.
While filling our workdays with a balance of productivity and pleasure (on the road and in the office) makes the Hustle more enjoyable, we also encourage our crew to find moments to pause and disconnect. Whether this is through using vacation time, taking breaks, or paging through a novel – we acknowledge that we must take time to fill up our cups before we try to pour from them. At DLX, we strive to create a space where people can feel fulfilled beyond paying their bills, build meaningful relationships, and enjoy their day-to-day work life without feeling overextended. To achieve this, sometimes our “play hard” ethos translates to “take a mental health day.” When building a team, it’s easy to get tunnel-visioned on productivity and forget that we are people with different challenges and joys that fall outside of our careers. Taking moments to learn about your coworkers and teammates by asking about their lives outside of work is a helpful step in humanizing each other and is a strategy to monitor when someone’s cup might be nearing empty. Equally important is that leaders practice what they preach and fill up their cups, too. Some of the best leaders I know practice self-care unapologetically and give their employees the benefit of the doubt as often as possible. As we at DLX continue to build our team, understanding that we are active participants in our wellbeing and that of those around us is a special ingredient for our recipe to success.
Anyone who’s had a job, been on a team, or in a classroom can probably remember a time they were in a psychologically unsafe environment. If you can’t: shout out to the people around you for being more emotionally intelligent than most of the general population. The saying “you don’t always remember what someone said, but you always remember how it made you feel” is a good sentiment to reflect the importance of this topic. Before we dive in further, let’s break down what “emotional intelligence” and “psychological safety” mean in the context of a workplace.
The list of these behaviors and characteristics is as long as we humans are diverse. The truth is, psychological safety is a multi-faceted spectrum, and how we experience or perceive situations as an individual vastly impacts our beliefs around what makes a space safe or not. What is congruent, however, is our role in creating that space for those who are around us. Anyone in a leadership role will probably agree that overseeing the productivity of other humans is… well… complicated. While that is true, the people being managed can also point to the intricate nature of maintaining a positive working relationship with their boss. Regardless of our roles or the different personalities on our team, we all play a part in creating safe spaces for those around us. Call it the butterfly effect of psychological safety.
Coming into a leadership position exacerbated some difficulties managing my stress and emotional response to situations. I put enormous pressure on myself and wear my heart (and emotions) on my sleeve. While these are character traits, they’re also fuel for creating a psychologically unsafe environment for my team if not handled with the same care as a live flame near a gas tank. I knew I had two choices: continue as I was and risk having a negative influence on the people I work with, or find solutions for the problem preventing me from being the best version of a leader I can be.
With this in mind and some help from DLX’s newly adopted continuing education program, I took a seminar on psychological safety, which included a comprehensive assessment of my emotional intelligence before the class, and again 90 days later. Through this endeavor, I discovered that by putting emotional intelligence and psychological safety at the root of what we do as a company. The same can be said about myself as an individual. I could write pages about various dimensions of emotional intelligence, how we can measure and practice these skills, or how doing so has helped me professionally and personally. However, I will keep it simple and leave you with a fact: Research proves that psychological safety is the most critical dynamic of high-performing teams. So ask yourself: how are you contributing to your company’s culture and environment today?
COMMUNICATION WORKS FOR THOSE WHO WORK AT IT
Without strong communication, even the most well-intentioned teams can crumble. Communication conveys respect or lack thereof. It’s one of the cornerstones of creating a psychologically safe environment and the root of most workplace frustrations. Information is power, and when staff feels like they’re all on the same page and have the knowledge they need and deserve, they are better positioned to be successful and focus on the task at hand. On the other hand, nobody likes to feel left in the dark, and when we do, it creates a breeding ground for assumption, annoyance, and overall toxicity. So how can we craft a culture built upon good communication? With a leadership role comes the responsibility to set an example and communicate effectively or suffer the consequences. Sometimes this means picking up the phone even when the conversation might be difficult or simply when something calls for clarification. Sometimes it means taking an extra second to reply to that email, even if it says: “I received this and don’t have time right now, but I will circle back.” Sometimes it means sending out an all-staff memo in multiple languages to ensure no one is left out. Sometimes that means giving yourself an extra moment to pause and consider that your initial reaction to something might be emotional. And sometimes, it means giving your teammates grace when they don’t meet the communication mark. Of course, we are all human. Perfect communication is wishful thinking. Nonetheless, when we all make an effort to practice deliberate, clear, and respectful communication and establish these patterns with our coworkers, everyone will feel empowered (not to mention equipped) to do the job they set out to do.
FIND YOUR FLOCK
I became a Project Manager at DLX a little more than a year ago and have since added team members and watched others decide the role wasn’t right for them. Building a team that loves what they do and are excited to come to work each day involves respecting each person’s path to their most authentic self looks different… and that’s okay. Day-to-day tasks are not all that define our careers and finding a job that provides more than a paycheck is a pathway toward fulfillment. Someone great once told me, “We work to live, but we don’t live to work.” We live to love. We live to find things that set our souls ablaze and make us feel a deepened connection to ourselves and others. We live to make a difference: whether it be in our own lives, the lives of few, or even in the lives of many. And if we’re doing things as we hope at DLX, our work, our lives, and our loves will be able to exist in harmony and even have some healthy overlap.
When I first started at DLX, our headquarters was positioned across the street from an expansive field-turned-wetland in the winter. I started in March, just as the seasons began to change in Oregon. One morning as I pulled up to work, I saw a massive flock of tiny black birds flying in perfect formation above me. “How does each flapping wing, so delicate yet deliberate, know just where to go?” Struck by their trust in each other, I wondered how they could follow the one before them, seemingly blindly, to a desirable destination. Then, as quickly as they appeared, they vanished over the tree line and out of sight. It took some time, but soon I realized that what we do at DLX isn’t that different than that flock: We trust our team. We help each other stay on track. We fly near and far with a goal in mind and change course when we need to. We communicate about the obstacles in our way. We follow those ahead of us who’ve proven they know where they’re going. Then, when the sheer gravity of our work or the world feels like too much, we know that we can rely on those around us to make sure we don’t get left behind. If you ask me, that’s what building a team is all about.
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