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10 Ways "Leaders" Limit Success

By: Paul Walker

Being a leader in any capacity is not easy, but being an effective leader in a self-managed environment (in Holacracy, the default team leader is called a "Lead Link") is especially difficult. What separates a traditional manager, the handful of people with absolute power (which we no longer have, but the majority of companies still do); from an effective leader, someone who is truly an equal part of the team and helps guide their team to success? Transitioning to this new way of thinking is a struggle for those in these positions. Finding the sweet spot between giving your team the freedom and trust they need and ensuring there is still some degree of accountability for expectations is no easy task. Thankfully, here are ten tips that may help you be a better team leader (for both the work and the workers) in a self-managed environment:

1.Being a bottleneck: Do not make all the decisions for all the work. If you have a team, you should trust that they know how to do their jobs and will make good decisions. Allow them to drive their own decisions forward. Do not expect them to run anything by you, unless it is a decision YOU alone have the authority to make, your company still requires certain decisions to be run by team leaders, or they are just looking for advice.

2.Not effectively delegating: If you find that you are way too busy in your "leader" position, it may be because you are taking on more than you should. Delegating work, responsibilities, or authority to other people can improve the success of your team and your company, and free up time on your own plate to pursue what you are the best at. Delegate work if:

  • You are not skilled at it - Terrible at budgeting? Statistically, someone in your company is great at budgeting. See if that person wants to do it!
  • You are not passionate about it  - Doing work you are not passionate about is not helping your company. Find someone else who will do that work the justice it deserves.
  • Someone else can do it better -It is never fun to think about, but no one is the best as everything. Even if you are skilled and passionate, but someone else is even more skilled and passionate, it may be better to hand it over.
  • You do not have the time - It seems simple, but most people will take on way more than they have time for in an effort to help, wanting to feel like they are contributing, etc. This only slows the company down and overworks you. Prioritize your work and give up what you do not have the time for.

3.Not holding people accountable: Holding people accountable is often perceived as micromanaging. In a self-managed world, this claim is chastised as often as it is misunderstood. If nobody is accountable, it will not be long until there is no company to be accountable to. Holding our colleagues accountable for their commitments and work, and doing so early and often, is vital for success in self-management. Holding people accountable is simply the other side of the decision that comes with making a commitment to work and not meeting that expectation.

4.Not giving constructive feedback: Within self-management, a leader giving feedback can sometimes be misconstrued for trying to command and control. This leads to leaders hesitating to provide feedback, which only damages the learning and overall success of the team. If you dislike something, you don’t have to keep quiet or even just flat out explain that you hate it with no commentary … Try liking the idea for a few seconds, then offer open, respectful, authentic, and constructive feedback to help make their idea bigger and better.

5.Not leading by example: Leaders, specifically their personalities and behaviors, are highly contagious across an organization, but especially in their own teams. It doesn’t matter if it’s negative or positive, a leader’s traits will be imitated and used to justify other decisions. Here are some tips that may help you lead by example and guide your team down the best path:

  • Focus on self-awareness - Are the things you are doing and saying the same things you would want your team to do and say? Do you think those decisions are truly right? What mistakes have you made that you can learn and grow from?
  • Seek feedback from others - Terrible at budgeting? Statistically, someone in your company is great at budgeting. See if that person wants to do it!
  • Be in the trenches with them - Your words will always go further if you are "one of them" and understand their hardships and opportunities. Do you hold yourself to the same standards and expectations as the rest of your team? Do you do similar day-to-day work as they do, or are you only there to "lead"? Being a part of the team, as opposed to the pseudo-manager, gets you more respect from the team and allows you the opportunity to inspire more.

6.Assuming others automatically know how to self-manage: The entire concept of self-management in the workplace is relatively new to many;. It is complex and rather challenging for everyone, even those who feel like they just get it. It's never going to be as easy as saying, "Make your own decisions!", and leaving it at that. Hold yourself and your colleagues responsible for pursuing growth and learning, and provide assistance or resources to those in need. We are all in this together, and leaving one person to struggle without giving them the tools needed to succeed is only slowing everything else down.

7.Not having the right people doing the right work: There is not much reason to keep people around that are not the best people for the work they are doing and the work that is needed. In fact, it is a disservice to the individual and your company. Many times, it is not even about the work itself, but instead their personalities/attitudes conflict with the organization's ideals (such as Zappos' Core Values). Do not hesitate in getting these people off the bus, but make sure you are also being respectful about it (and, ideally, helping them find a path that suits them and the company better).

8.Not effectively monitoring the team's health: In a self-managed world, where it’s easier than ever to pursue new ideas and passions, it’s also easier than ever to get distracted by shiny objects that lie in your path. It’s important to understand and remember that everything you do has to provide value to the organization. To help alleviate this constant concern:

  • Accurately define the work, then set priorities and strategies that ensure your team will make the best decisions to move the organization forward in the best way.
  • Effectively allocate resources (from money to headcount to time) to the right areas that provide the best value to your team.
  • Define what data your team needs to know how successful they are and make sure this information is regularly shared so everyone knows how the team is doing. This allows you (and the rest of your team) to learn from their mistakes, capitalize on their successes, and evolve quickly.

9.Not fully utilizing transparent systems: In Holacracy, GlassFrog (this is what GlassFrog looks like for HolacracyOne, the company who created Holacracy) is the most common way of doing this, but there are limitless options on how to accomplish this same end. It is extremely important to make sure you (and the rest of your team) are using some sort of GlassFrog equivalent to:

10.Creating environments of fear and anxiety: Especially when initially transitioning from a traditional hierarchy to a self-managed system, many people will fear their old managers, or others with previously established power. Whether it’s the fear of speaking up, the fear of retaliation against a decision or idea, or fear of just about anything else, it simply sucks. In order to succeed at all, youhave to open the doors of communication, and this goes both ways. Have valuable conversations that create safe environments, and focus on building trust and respect between one another.

Hopefully this helps you to become the best possible leader during a time where being a leader is more about guiding and supporting than it ever has been.

Culture is


Great culture leads to employee happiness. The same way a toxic culture leads to unhappiness. Happy employees means higher engagement, profitability, and low turnover.

Culture is


Our culture would not be what is it today without the people, past and present. We are all protectors and cultivators of the Zappos Culture; it's what makes it unique and something that changes every day.

Culture is

Being Yourself

I love that I get to be me all day. The culture encourages you to be the same person you are at work as you are at home. I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not, which makes Zappos a comfortable place to be.

Culture is


Every company has a unique culture that's all their own. Just like every person has their own personality, every company has their own culture. Building a culture is a special process that can't be taken lightly. It's the responsibility of every employee to represent and foster culture.

Culture is


Work can be fun! We have 2 annual parties at Zappos. Our Vendor Party where we invite all of our brands to thank them and celebrate our partnership. And, our employee holiday party. Past epic party themes have ranged from Mardi Gras and old-school hip-hop to a Hawaiian luau at a waterpark. Each has had its own twists and tricks to surprise and delight partygoers. This year, we invited our vendors to run away with us to the “Untamed Circus."

Culture is


Your culture doesn't stay the same, it will continue to evolve. Having a defined set of values will serve as your guide to continue your culture's growth and evolution in a positive direction.

Culture is

Not Always Measured

A strong culture means lower employee burnout and therefore, lower turnover. It leads to higher employee engagement and higher profitability. But really, companies should focus on their culture because it matters. Because it's just the right thing to do. To quote Tony Hsieh, "Just because you can’t measure the ROI of something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. What’s the ROI on hugging your mom?"

Culture is

Work-Life Integration

Companies and employees worry about work-life separation or work-life balance. But why? Wouldn't you rather be a company where your employees easily combine their full self into everything they do? Wouldn't you rather work for a company whose focus on culture allows your job to integrate with your life? It shouldn't be a struggle to find a balance between life and work where you are truly fulfilled and happy.

Culture is


Your vendors have the same objective as you: to sell their product, be successful in their work, and maybe have some fun while doing it. Something unique that Zappos does is allow brand representatives access to all the same sales and inventory information on their products that Zappos has. By working as a team, by partnering, you are setting the stage for success!

Culture is


Your company has a culture. You may not have "planned" it. You may not like it. Or maybe you love it. But it's there. It is real. You can choose to be thoughtful about your company culture. You can set values and identify the behaviors that you want to be the core of your culture. That part is fairly easy. The hard part, is committing to the values once they are set. Living them.

Culture is

Core Values

Values are more than just words, they're a way of life. They are the foundation of your company culture. We know that companies with a strong culture and a higher purpose perform better in the long run. As we continue to grow, we strive to ensure that our culture remains alive and well.

Culture is

Your Brand

A company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand is just a lagging indicator of the culture.