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



VP of product development and innovation, The Honest Company


Background:  

Actress Jessica Alba co-founded The Honest Company in 2012. While it’s perhaps most famous for its line of baby products, The Honest Company also makes personal care products, home care products, vitamins and supplements, as well as skincare and makeup under the Honest Beauty logo.

The Mistake:

Probably the biggest mistake I made, early on in my career, is assuming that it was incumbent on my boss to set the rules and tone for the working relationship.

One of my first supervisors was a very hands-on guy who was very friendly. His relationship with me was very laid-back, so I assumed he had no issue with how I worked and how I communicated. What I missed completely—and discovered later, unfortunately—was that he expected me to drive those conversations, and own that relationship, and be more assertive. He actually interpreted my lack of assertion as a lack of interest and drive. 

I found that out during evaluation time, at the end of the year, when it’s always too late, because then damage has been done. I also found out around the water cooler, when people start to talk and you learn by indirect ways how you are actually seen. How you are seen by your peers, you can correct that fairly easily, but once you are seen in a dim light by your boss, it’s a lot harder to correct. So I found out too late, and that relationship was, essentially, compromised.

That was a hard lesson. Fortunately for me, this is how I learn best.

You are 100 percent responsible for the relationship you have with your boss.

The Lesson:

Your boss may be your manager, but you are supposed to be managing that relationship; you are 100 percent responsible for the relationship you have with your boss. You’re supposed to determine the ground rules directly and assertively. It’s really key to a good working relationship.

There’s this magic that happens when you trust someone enough just to lay it all out there. You’re not telling someone, “This is how we’re going to do it,” you’re telling them, “Here’s what I want out of this relationship,” and you’re building something. It’s a very positive experience, because it breeds trust. Once you have that, you’re free to fail.

I think it’s really important to realize that the fear that you’re going to offend is actually groundless. To this day, I have trepidations when I’m about to go and state the ground rules. You obviously cannot do that in any offensive way. [But] I’ve never had anybody react negatively. 

You do have to finesse it. Sometimes you have to be blunt; sometimes you have to be really subtle, but you make it clear that you’re driving. Instantly: credibility and respect, every time.

Follow The Honest Company on Twitter at @Honest.

Photo courtesy of The Honest Company.

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