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Bad Bosses & Manage to Win CEO, David Russell, Interviews Stuart Crawford of Ulistic.  

Stuart, tell us a bit about your background and how you started Ulistic.

“I retired from the Canadian Military 20 years ago after seven years of service.  At that time, I began working as an IT professional in Calgary.  I was employed for four years, and decided to move on and start my own business—IT Matters, a Managed Service Provider (MSP) in Calgary.

We had great success, but I knew that there was a need for marketing in the industry.  So, after another seven years I started Ulistic. (Seven years seems to be my limit.  Then I start looking to change things up.) I began by focusing on marketing for small MSPs, and today, after seven years, Ulistic has 18 full-time employees and 22 contractors—And we’re still growing.  However, like any business, we’ve gone through some growing pains.

I’m always looking to bring on the best people I can find. Ulistic is a virtual company.  Our employees span the U.S. and Canada.  Unfortunately, our turn-over rate has been high due to poor hiring practices.  Some of the employees we hired didn’t have the experience they claimed.  And due to our fast growth, we had to bring people in quickly, rather than patiently waiting for the right people to come along.  However, we’ve learned from our mistakes, and always continue our search for the best employees.

Virtual work has its challenges.  We address this is by:

  • Holding a meeting every morning with our team leaders. They then hold meetings with their team members. Communication is the key to keeping everyone on the same page.
  • Implementing great technologies like Microsoft Teams to transfer and share files virtually, and using just the right software applications.
  • Inviting key team leaders to our office, and when traveling, stopping by to meet with them where they live. Face-to-face meetings are important when you work in a virtual business.

Ulistic is growing at such a fast pace we may go back to a brick-and-mortar business where most of our employees work in the same office.   We’ll still have some remote employees, but we are getting too big to work 100% virtual.”

What’s Your Core Strength as a Leader?

“My passion for what we do as a company. I’m driven to ensure our clients get the best possible service. And by leading by example, I hope to inspire our employees to do the same.  Coming from my military days, there were leaders who said one thing and did another.  I don’t do this.  I realize, there’s no one way to accomplish things, but I always strive to demonstrate my passion and determination to my employees to motivate them.”

What’s Your Biggest Weakness?

“Passion is also my biggest weakness. Being passionate sometimes comes back to bite you.  For me, it manifests as a “short fuse.”  I expect others are as committed as I am. And, like me, that they should get up early and go to bed late, working all the while.

I’m a quick learner, and it’s frustrating for me when others don’t have the same ability to learn a new software or technology. Thankfully, my wife, Melissa reminds me that not everyone can learn as quickly as I do.  She’s my rock and sounding board.  She keeps me grounded. We make a good team.”

Does Melissa run the operations at Ulistic?

“Yes, Melissa runs the operations now. However, she loves sales and may take charge of selling for Ulistic once again.  She’s very flexible.  She’ll be working on accounting in the morning, and help me with event planning in the afternoon.  She’ll do whatever it takes for Ulistic to succeed.  I’m creative but hate to put agendas together—To dot the I’s and cross the T’s.  Melissa jumps right in and keeps everything organized.  We just hired an executive assistant who works with both of us now, so we can focus on the tasks we’re good at. However, everyone must wear multiple hats in a small business.  It’s important to consider people’s skillsets and put them in the “right seat on the bus.”

What’s the worst example of a leader you’ve seen?

“In the military, we had a joke “D & D”—Delegate and disappear.  We had no guidance, so a lot of our jobs were redundant, which wasted time, energy and money. A leader should be trustworthy, honest and act with integrity. If not, you won’t be able to keep good people.  I speak openly—maybe too openly.  I can give some pretty brutal feedback, but it’s usually what people need to hear.”

What are the characteristics you look for in a good boss? 

“One characteristic is someone who can act under pressure.  You learn this in the military.  If you can’t work under pressure, you can get killed.  Also, self-awareness is a powerful trait.  It’s an ongoing process and something that I’ll be working on the rest of my life.  I ask myself, “How do my actions affect my employees?  What are the consequences of my actions, both positive and negative.’”

My father was a good role model. He has some great leadership characteristics.  He always gave me honest feedback, was very firm and fair, and offered me the chance to experiment and succeed, or fail, on my own.  You need to give people enough room to make mistakes and learn from them.  Some bosses will jump in and try to fix everything, but you’ll never grow a business with this attitude.

A good leader is receptive to learning from their people.  It happens to me every day. I ask my team to come to me with ideas because I surely don’t know everything. For example, my social media team leader came to me as she wants to hire three new people.  I gave her the go-ahead and put the job of finding these people in her lap.  If you empower people to do the things they love to do, it makes them feel valuable.

Lastly, I like to praise my team publicly. I’ll send an email to everyone saying that ‘so and so’ did a great job for our clients.  I might do this seven or eight times a day.  It makes them feel like a valuable member of our team.”

Do you have anything else to add, Stuart?

In closing, I’d like to say that at times as the boss and leader you feel alone, like you have nowhere to turn.  But, if you can find a colleague you can bounce things off of, this is priceless.  I join peer groups for this reason—This way I have a group of leaders I can talk to.  I’m always striving to find ways to be a better boss and leader. There’s no end to this process.  You can always learn something new.”

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