Serve People First

The Pillars of Genuine Leadership

October 21, 2014 by Mark Kilens

A leader has a very hard job. They're being pulled or pushed in hundreds of different directions. What should consume the majority of a genuine leader's time and energy? The answer is the three pillars of genuine leadership.

I'm constantly practicing each pillar. I use them as guardrails, for focus, as a barometer. They serve me in my quest to always be serving the customer and the team.

A genuine leader needs to spend a lot of time helping others use each pillar to always be serving the customer, and the team.

1) Innovation

If you're not innovating then what are you doing? Kidding aside, innovation is at the core of a high-performance team. But how does a team innovate in a manner that helps solve for the bottom line and sustain happy, motivated team members?

A Genuine leader needs to appoint Directly Responsible Individuals (DRI) to different parts of the team's operating system. Small teams are ideal. Small teams are able to communicate very effectively and stay focused. Their number one goal is to serve the customer and support other teams.

The leader needs to define the team's inspirational purpose that guides the team when having to make decisions. Many important decisions a leader needs to make involve innovation. Decisions that involve innovation need to be made in a way to ensure the decision is helping the team come even closer to reaching its purpose.

Innovation keeps the team focused on always serving the customers with what they need. That's always the first responsibility of the team. Solve for the customer. 

HubSpot's Academy's purpose is to educate and inspire people so that we, together, transform the way the world does business.

We then use a core set of principles that are our innovation guardrails.  Each team member follows the principles to help guide them in how they should serve the customers and the team. The principles are our beliefs, our values

We use our management system to ensure the team is always innovating. I set a strategy for the team to follow and define themes that help the team decide how to prioritize projects. It helps me keep the team focused, creating a high output of innovation. It results in a team that's extremely passionate and proud.

2) Communication

The HubSpot Academy team has a 9 AM, 30 minute meeting, every Monday morning to review all of our upcoming projects. We set goals and milestones to help accomplish our projects on time and with excellence. We sit around a table and use Habitus to provide everyone with a very quick, 10 second update. Sometimes multiple people are impacted or are impacting a goal and a short discussion takes place. If it requires a conversation of more than 60 seconds or so the parties involved will discuss the matter in more detail after the meeting. 

Friday we always end the week with a one hour weekly delight meeting. The delight meeting has a beginning, middle and end.

The first 15 minutes are spent discussing delightful, nice interactions that occurred with customers that week. 

The next thirty minutes we go around the table and each person tells the team one thing they learned that week. It could be about a subject, a team process, or a customer. What was that one thing that really made you pause during the week?

The last fifteen minutes we talk about team member delight. Thanking each other for things we did to serve and support each other during the week. 

It's a meeting that has evolved over time. It's a very important reflection meeting. Reflection is a critical component of communication. I think at times it might be more important than actually communicating.

I challenge you to think about how your team uses this leadership pillar and how much communication is genuinely happening throughout the team. 

3) Education

A genuine leader should always be taking a pulse of how much their team is learning. Always be learning = Always be happy. Think about it. When are you the happiest, a lot of the time you're experiencing something new. What you're really doing is learning something new. About someone, about a subject, about the world. If you genuinely are interested in what you're learning, your happiness is exponentially higher.

I try to understand the personal goals of the people I lead to try to align their work to serve customers with what they personally are excited to learn. It doesn't always work. The point is a business needs to fundamentally support the idea of learning and empower everyone to always be learning. 

Education is the driving force behinds a team's ability and motivation to innovate to better serve its customers.  It serves the team with the ability to always be challenging the status quo. Ideally education is serving the customer as must as each team member. I try as hard as I can to first attract and hire team members with personal goals that I can help them grow and use to serve the customer. I use the Academy team's purpose and principles to understand if the person we might hire believes in our values and is actually practicing some of them before we hire them.

Remember, education equals happiness, and a happy team performs at a higher-level. They will be motivated, more committed and genuinely care about the impact that they're having and the results that they're generating. 


How much time per day and week do you spend innovating, communicating and educating? I believe it should be at least 80% of your week if not closer to 90%. What takes up the other 10-20% of your week? Email, travel, what else? Meetings are included in the 80% because you should be innovating, communicating and educating in all of your meetings.

Use a tool like Habitus to track and reflect on how much time you're devoting to using each pillar to serve the team and its customers.  

The pillars of genuine leadership work to delight the team as much they are there to delight the team's customers. 

p.s. Guess what, the pillars of genuine leadership are also the pillars of customer delight. Coincidence, I think not. After all, they both are there to always serve the customer, or team, first.