Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work by Piyush Patel
In Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, Piyush Patel offers an insider’s perspective on how to unify your team around a common purpose by uncovering your core values and transforming your culture. In this Tuesday Treat Q&A session, Piyush explains what readers can expect his book and shares some advice for entrepreneurs.
What can readers expect to learn with “Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work?”
After reading Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, entrepreneurs will have a solid understanding of how to build a culture that matters. Each chapter covers a different topic you’ll come across on that journey—coming up with values, onboarding new people and having uncomfortable conversations—in a way that is designed to inspire and help you get started right away.
How do you describe yourself and what you do?
My background is as a teacher. While I was working as a sixth-grade science teacher I taught myself computer graphics, which I then started to teach part-time at a local community college. That turned into a full-time gig teaching computer graphics.
I knew there had to be a better way for artists to learn computer graphics.
While teaching full-time, I went back to school and earned a master’s degree in adult education with a focus on e-Learning. At the time, there wasn’t YouTube. Streaming video wasn’t a thing yet. I still remember the first sale to a visual effects artist in Israel who covered the shipping of CDs—Digital-Tutors was born.
Even though I had a tenured position at the college, I decided to take the leap. I quit my position, hired my wife and two of my best friends who taught with me and went full-time with Digital-Tutors. Fast forward five years and we had become an industry standard with clients like Pixar, Electronic Arts (EA), Blizzard, LucasArts, Disney and so on.
In 2014, I decided to move onto the next chapter of life and sold Digital-Tutors to Pluralsight for $45 million. Over the course of 14 years at Digital-Tutors, people were always surprised when they found out how small Digital-Tutors was. At our largest headcount we had 42 full-time people and released new online tutorials daily to serve millions of customers around the world.
At Digital-Tutors, we were able to build an eight-figure company without any debt or help from outside investors, but the most important thing was that everyone who worked at Digital-Tutors loved working there. That’s how we were able to get stuff done that outperformed other companies with hundreds of employees. Our people were the secret to our success.
What inspired you to write this particular book?
“I knew there had to be a better way for entrepreneurs to build a great culture while still loving their work.”This leads into the answer from the previous question, but after leaving Digital-Tutors I had a bit of culture shock of my own to see a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with some of the fundamentals of creating a great culture.
I knew there had to be a better way for entrepreneurs to build a great culture while still loving their work.
The book pulls stories from my experiences at Digital-Tutors and other entrepreneurs I’ve coached to share practical steps any entrepreneur can do to start building a culture that matters at their own company.
What was the greatest challenge you overcame in writing Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work?
Getting the tone of the book right. I had lots of help from Dan and Derek who helped greatly by pulling in stories and lessons to fit a ton of inspiration.
How do you recommend people play by their own rules?
Playing by your own rules boils down to identifying your core values—your real core values, not aspirational ones. That’s an important distinction to make because it’s one of the most common mistakes I’ll see entrepreneurs make.
That’s why, when coaching a leadership team for the first time, one of the first questions I like to ask is, “What are your core values?”
The answer is usually something like “Quality” or “Honesty.”
Then those same entrepreneurs who claim “Honesty” and then be alright with lying to a customer about the real reason why their products or services aren’t working. Or they’ll claim “Quality” as one of their core values will scramble when a customer shows up needing something quickly. Quality gets thrown out the window to deliver on time. “Quality” isn’t a core value; it’s just an empty promise.
As a leader, your actions speak louder than words. Your core values aren’t something you aspire to be, they’re what you’re already living. Once you’ve identified your core values, those are the rules of your game. That’s how you play the game of running your business. They should be at the heart of everything your company does.
What are some of the ideas you share about how others can lead their tribe and love their work?
There’s two key elements that work together to build a great culture. The first are your core values and the second are the top three layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: belonging, affirmation, and meaning (BAM).
One of the most important lessons I learned at Digital-Tutors was how crucial your core values are for building a tribe. Just as important, what happens to your company when you don’t make conscious decisions about them. At Digital-Tutors, when I started to focus on the bottom line instead of the core values was when my passion for my company started to wane.
The same is true for your tribe.
It’s hard for your employees to be passionate about your work when you’re worried about whether their paycheck will be able to put food on the table or if you’ll even have a job tomorrow.
That’s where BAM comes in. Humans are hardwired to belong to groups—we want to be a part of something. That’s belonging. Affirmation comes when we feel those around us truly appreciate our contribution to the tribe we belong to. Finally, the ultimate goal is meaning. Everyone wants to feel like their work means something. You’re not just punching keys in front of a computer screen, but you’re making a difference in someone else’s life.
Every company gives their employees a basic paycheck, but few go further to truly meet their team’s needs beyond that. When you create a culture of BAM, you’re unlocking the passion that’s required for your employees to want to be the best they can be.
You’ve just been put in charge of a tribe of ghosts to make a hotel more haunted so human patrons would have a spooky-good time to increase customer experience. How would you lead these ghosts?
Well, I can’t say I’m familiar with what drives a ghost to do what they do, so I’ll have to pull from my experience with humans.
My role as CEO at Digital-Tutors wasn’t to focus on the customer to meet our bottom line. Instead, my role was to make sure my tribe was taken care of so they, in turn, could take care of the customer. Then the customer took care of our bottom line.
An important part of being a leader is hiring the right people (or ghosts in this case) who fit into your company’s culture and can do great work. Then your job as a leader is to let them do what they do best and work to remove any roadblocks that get in their way.