Jose Cruz | Crain's San Diego

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jose Cruz

Background:  

The San Diego Council on Literacy is a nonprofit that supports literacy in the region through advocacy, partnerships, resources and coordinated efforts. Its 27 affiliated literacy programs annually serve 179,000 residents at no cost.

The Mistake:

Not believing I could be a leader.

I was previously in a position where I could have transitioned into a CEO role, but hesitated because I thought that “the boss” had to be a certain way. I had worked for people who weren’t very fair or inspirational — the opposite of what I had expected — and the experience colored my perception of what leaders were supposed to be.

At the same time, I came from a culture where people were more subservient: You did what the boss said and made the boss happy. I had never taken a business class, or done any management training, which is probably why it was easier for me to accept the behavior of these stereotypically bad bosses and keep working for them.

So when it came time to potentially become CEO of the [aforementioned] company, I decided against it because I didn’t want to be that person. I was more of a collaborative person who liked working with others and sharing leadership.

I was later having a conversation with a coach about this issue, and how I didn’t want to be “that type of boss.” The coach told me, “Other bosses might be like that, but you don’t have to be. You can be a good, impactful boss ... and you can still be you.”

The coach was right.

I think that the organizations that do abide by this 'boss is always right' mentality need to show more humility.

The Lesson:

It took some encouragement, but I ultimately came to realize that, as an employer, I could maintain the things that I liked about the workplace. I could be that boss that I was looking for.

As a result, I’m not your idea of a typical CEO. Much like myself, my organization is collaborative by nature — it wouldn’t really make sense for us to operate internally as a hierarchy. Instead, we work as a team and share leadership, which creates an environment where people feel like they are a part of something. They all have a sense of ownership, which is good for the organization.

It’s not always easy. There are times where I’d like to say, “this is the way it’s going to be” without explaining why. But I refrain from doing that because I don’t believe that the boss has all the answers.

I think that the organizations that do abide by this 'boss is always right' mentality need to show more humility. It’s important to remember that our people are our greatest asset, and that when you give them opportunities and treat them as equals, you are going to get more creativity and productivity from them.

The San Diego Council on Literacy is on Twitter at @SDLiteracy

​Photo courtesy of the San Diego Council on Literacy

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