Karl Sakas | Crain's Raleigh Durham

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

Karl Sakas


Karl Sakas is a consultant and coach working remotely in Raleigh, North Carolina. Sakas and Company offers consulting advice in digital marketing, agency operations, strategy and leadership to clients across the U.S. and world. With a background in web design and digital marketing, Sakas has also authored several books on how to manage marketing and creative agencies.

The Mistake:

My mistake was putting results before team morale.

Through a leadership retreat in 2012, I got feedback from nearly a decade of former colleagues. The consensus was that I was good at getting things done, but not at making it fun. As one colleague said, “You can’t be a leader if no one wants to follow you.”

Originally, I pushed team members to get results, without connecting with them as people. That got short-term results, but it wasn't a sustainable approach. You can accomplish more on a long-term basis if the team is enjoying the process.

I took the feedback to heart and changed my priorities. This included adapting the warmth and competence framework from the book “The Human Brand,” where you balance effectiveness and caring about your team and clients.

The reprioritization paid off, and I could not have done it without pursuing a balance between results and morale. Through my work as an executive coach I’ve spread this message of warmth and competence to impact thousands of employees.

You can accomplish more on a long-term basis if the team is enjoying the process.

The Lesson:

I’ve learned that focusing on results is important but if everyone’s unhappy, that doesn’t count. You’re not going to get long-term results if people aren’t enjoying working on the team.

I ask team members on a quarterly basis for their feedback on what’s working well, what’s not working well, and I make changes based on that. I don’t think I have all the answers. I share the overall vision with my team, so people know where we're headed and why. When I assign a project, I share the values, goals and resources for the team members to consider. This helps them make better decisions while also making myself needed but not necessary.

When I’m advising my clients, who are owners of marketing agencies, I follow with what educator, author and businessman Stephen Covey said: “Start with the end in mind.” If you know where you want to go, you can work backwards from there and build a plan to get there confidently.

Karl Sakas is on Twitter at @KarlSakas and Sakas and Company is at @SakasAndCo.

Photo courtesy of Karl Sakas.

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