A long time ago, my very financially successful grandfather told me that you can never really be friends with people you employ. For a long time I held to that and kept coworkers at an arms length. When I started my business many years ago all I had was the input of my family and friends to guide me. It took a long time to figure out how I wanted to run the business and what would and would not really work.


Here’s what I learned.


As we developed these ideas over the last many years we honed our hiring process and developed our practices, and these principles helped us grow a driven, independent, successful, and incentivized team.


If you’re not doing at least some of these things, perhaps you should rethink your approach as well.


No Matter Who You Work For, You Work For Yourself


The first aspect of this expanded philosophy deals with motivation. When a person goes out and gets a job, then works at that job, they do it for themselves. You are always working for yourself, no matter who you are working for.


So when somebody says something like “I’m working for the man” or “I’m making this guy rich”, they are deflecting; maybe they’re complaining because that’s just what people do, but they would not be there doing the work if there wasn’t something in it for them. At the end of the day, you’re always working for yourself. You, just like everybody else, have your own internalized metrics for what you believe is in your best interest. If the work you’re doing does not measure up, then you won’t stick around long.


So as a business owner, when somebody comes on with my business, everyone is called a ‘team member’, not an employee because everyone is working for themselves.


Why do people work here?


In my company, I believe that everyone here is here because they want to be here:


  • They want to work with a great team where smart, driven people help grow and support one another.
  • They want to see their efforts grow a company from which they grow personally and financially.
  • They want to work together to build something greater that contributes to the growth of humanity and goodness in the world.
  • And of course, they are being well compensated for their time.


On a legal level, there are technically employees and employers. Within the framework of the team, however, everyone is a team member and they’re all here because they want to be here.


And why do they want to be here?


Because this is a kick ass business to work with.


If you don’t feel the same about your business, then perhaps you should consider making it amazing before growing it.


But more importantly…


Team members want to be here because working here enables team members to meet their personal and professional life goals.


The Philosophy of Goals-Alignment.


What that means is when somebody new comes into the business, we have a conversation about what they want to accomplish in their life.


Not professionally, necessarily, but in their personal lives. For some, this involves being a good parent, spending time at home with their family. For others, the primary goals involve making a lot of money, traveling the world, or sometimes its just about growing tomatoes and doing more reading. There are innumerable possibilities, and everybody has something different that they want.


By making it your personal mission as the leader of the business to enable everybody on your team to meet their personal goals, then it becomes easy for you to align their personal goals to the goals of the business. Once that connection is made, they’re going to work hard to accomplish those business goals because it’s accomplishing their life goals.


If you want someone to work hard for you day in and day out, make it easy for them by letting them work hard for themselves.


Goals Divergence is Inevitable – Don’t Make a Fuss


To everything there is a season. In business there is a time to start and a time to end, and a time to say goodbye to coworkers. That time is when your business goals and your teammates goals diverge.

And that’s okay.

People get scared sometimes when it’s time to leave a business. But that’s life. Everyone comes and everybody goes at some point.

When a teammates goals are no longer aligned with the business goals, you can either work to re-align goals, or know that it is time to say goodbye. So when we bring people on, we make sure to tell them about this policy. We want them to prepare us as well if they need to go. By doing this, we end up with people that leave easily and give six weeks of lead time, sometimes more, ahead of their departure. This is hugely beneficial to both us and them. If you make it clear up front that this is what is expected, than moving on can be a lot less complicated and give you time to prepare.


Friends & Teammates


So back to my grandfather; it was a different time and he led his companies with an iron fist. It worked for him, and that has worked for other people as well. It’s not my style though, and I don’t think it is as effective either in this kind of business.

This method was impressed on me as a young business person and I thought for a long time that this was just how business was done. At a certain point I decided that if I was going to work day in and day out with someone I for sure wanted to be friends with them. In fact, if I couldn’t be at least somewhat friendly, I didn’t want to work with that person. So despite his success and how he did things, I decided to do things a bit differently. I am friends with my teammates.

Together we do things like:


  • Surfing in Bali
  • Rooftop bar partying in Medellin
  • Conferences in Bangkok
  • Roadtripping across the US
  • House parties
  • Weddings
  • Dinners and lunches
  • Taking each other out when things are tough, either personally or professionally
  • Taking care of one another


To name a few.


This doesn’t apply to every business, but in my business we’re friends, we watch out for one another, we work towards one another’s greater success, and we support one another.


I wouldn’t have it any other way.


When goals aren’t aligned


All that said, when a team member is no longer willing or able to support the team towards the greater company goals or other people’s life goals, or as noted above, a team member’s life goals are no longer aligned with the company goals, then it is time for that person go to onto something that is a better fit for them.


As the leader of a small business it is my job to understand when that time has comes and help that teammate figure out the best next step. That can be a difficult job or a difficult conversation, but inevitably, it is better for everyone.


How is your team?


I’m not suggesting that things are rose pedals and rainbows all the time here, and we have our share of problems as well. But these principles have helped me grow a great team enforced aspects of culture, and have helped me grow a team that understand it’s path and can guide itself. I hope these principles can help you and your team as well!



Jason Long


Jason Long is the founder and CEO of BrainLeaf. A self professed serial entrepreneur, he is always interested in new businesses, new ideas, and new ways to change the world. He has over 18 years of experience in design and development, he has served in a variety of different roles ranging from designer to CEO. Most of his time is spent working on the build and development of new ventures while trave