When Harvard Law graduate, Sheela Murthy, started her own law firm specializing in immigration law she was putting in 16-hour days and expected her small team of paralegals to do the same.
Murthy was just getting her Baltimore-based company off the ground and was the only lawyer there but "was doing the work of three."
Then, in the span of one week, three of her four paralegals walked out the door, frustrated by Murthy's management style.
"I think they were telling me, 'Buzz off, bozo. You're stressing the heck out of us,'" Murthy tells The Story Exchange.
The Indian-born Murthy says she demanded too much from her staff, pushing them to stay past midnight, and expecting them to "work like robots."
Murthy's experience is not entirely unusual for a startup. According to recent research from The Kaufmann Foundation, employee turnover is 35 percent in startups compared to 15 percent in established firms.
While the reasons for that higher rate vary, one problem new entrepreneurs face in managing employees is due to the uncertain nature of the startup environment itself, says Monica Mehta, author of The Entrepreneurial Instinct.
"If you've been working in a corporate environment the roles are clearly defined. In a startup environment the plan changes all the time and things are constantly evolving." Mehta tells The Story Exchange.
And with entrepreneurs wearing lots of hats -- and trying to get their employees to wear different hats as well -- there's bound to be tension.
Murthy's motivation for starting her firm stemmed from her own negative experiences working with a lawyer to obtain U.S. permanent residence. For her own company, she envisioned a culture of "compassion and empathy and caring about people."
But while Murthy was constantly telling her staff to take care of the needs of clients with compassion, she wasn't taking her own advice when it came to her employees.
The walkout was a "huge bucket of cold water" that made her realize if she wanted to grow and be a better boss, she had to change her ways. "I had to eat humble pie, do the work, and really begin to ask myself what am I doing wrong because I knew the problem was me," she says.
Mehta says entrepreneurs need to understand that what drives them is different from what motivates their staff. "They need to make sure that their incentives are aligned."
She adds that there are a number of benefits small business owners can offer their employees -- such as flexibile work arrangements, and 'having a say' in the company's direction -- that can make their companies more attractive than traditional work environments.
Entrepreneurs should also ensure that they are hiring the right type of employees, which in a startup, Mehta says, means people who are going to thrive in a constantly changing environment. "Three traits -- optimism, confidence and problem solving -- make people adaptable. I wouldn't recommend that you start profiling people but hiring people that are adaptable is an asset," Mehta says.
For Murthy, she learned to see her employees' working lives through their point of view and not only hers. She also became more sensitive to their concerns and acknowledged that they "have lives" outside of the office.
"I had to make them buy into my dream, and share my enthusiasm and excitement for the firm, our clients and our mission," she says. She began holding meetings with her team where they could brainstorm about the firm's mission and what could be improved in the firm's working environment.
Murthy's improved management style paid off. Today she has 92 employees, including 22 lawyers and Murthy.com is the most visited law firm website in the...
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In 2012 when insurgents were unleashing a string of attacks across Iraq, who would have dared take on the task of bringing warring religious factions together in face-to-face talks?
That would be Alma Abdul-Hadi Jadallah, an immigrant to the U.S. from the Middle East and founder of Kommon Denominator, a Virginia-based consultancy.
"I believe that even the people who do the most horrendous things do them for a reason," Alma told The Story Exchange. "If you give them an opportunity to rethink what they are doing, there is opportunity for transformation."
Alma is a self-defined optimist, a trait that's vital in the tough business of resolving conflicts -- whether it's in countries torn apart by war or local school boards trying to ease tensions with parents and communities.
Her roots lie in the Middle East; Alma was born in Saudi Arabia and was raised in Egypt and Jordan, where she met her husband.
Growing up, her mother convened "outstanding role models" in the family's home: "Arab women who were educated, who were engineers, who were doctors, who were teachers. I believe that their role has been very powerful in my life," Alma says.
In 1989 Alma and her husband Sami - who had grown up in the U.S. - moved to America with their three children. An extrovert, Alma embraced American life, making new friends who would come for dinner, volunteering for non-profits that focused on mediation and conflict resolution, and becoming involved in her children's activities. Life was good, and a decade after she arrived, she decided to pursue her Ph.D.
In 2001, she was writing her dissertation proposal when terrorists attacked the United States on 9/11. She knew she had to change course in her studies because "everything else became irrelevant."
Her upbringing in the Middle East, her life as an immigrant, and her education in conflict resolution put Alma in a unique position, which led her to focus on the impact the attacks had on those working on conflict resolution.
After 9/11, she helped organize meetings of friends, colleagues and members of immigrant groups to talk about the tragic events and how to heal.
Like many Arab-Americans, Alma was put in the position of defending herself and others, as a combination of raw emotion, fear and suspicion threatened to take hold of many communities.
Four days after 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh Indian immigrant, was gunned down in Arizona, apparently because he looked Muslim or Arab. It had a deep impact on many immigrants, including Alma. "The attacks forced ethnic communities who were perceived to be a threat to the U.S. to explain who they are," Alma said.
Her thesis would be called "Reflections on Practice: The Impact of 9/11 on Conflict Resolvers" and its aim was to provide insights on practicing conflict resolution under conditions of trauma.
"What [the attacks] confirmed to me was that as a member of any immigrant community, you can not live on the periphery of society. People cannot speak on your behalf or defend you, if they do not know you," she said.
Her experiences would lead her to start Kommon Denominator, a conflict management consulting firm.
Last year she travelled to Iraq for the United Nations to bring together religious leaders from various communities and facilitate dialogue that focused on issues of tension and violence.
"Some of these groups have hurt other groups just because they did not understand their religion very well, or they stereotyped them, or they did not have a deeper understanding of the commonalities that they have."
Alma says that the workshops created a safe environment where these community leaders could begin to talk about difficult issues. Many who attended her workshops were deeply traumatized, having lost literally hundreds of people in their lives through violence. They were coming together and speaking for the first time since the war began.
After the workshops Alma went back for a follow up visit a month later to hear reports on their progress.
"When we came back we noticed that interpersonal relationships have been built, commitment to future collaborations were happening. I think the biggest highlight was the shift in people's thinking [as they questioned] 'what is my role in all of this?'"
Alma says she doesn't resolve conflicts, but instead provides people with the processes and tools to do so themselves.
"We facilitate the conversation so the people who are involved with something that is bothering them ... they are the ones who come up with the solution."
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