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Here are the leadership lessons I've learned in 10 years

When you start a company at 25, there's a lot to absorb


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When I think back 10 years ago, it seems a little bit like a foreign world. Facebook was a nascent company; it had only recently opened its doors to anyone over 13, instead of the college-only population it had served in its first three years. In June 2007, the iPhone was released, and we were on the edge of something new and extraordinary: the ability to carry around in our pockets the answer to any question.

Things outside the technological realm have changed in a decade, too: in Denver, in the PR and social media landscape, and in my own leadership style.

Denver’s evolution from cow town to cosmopolitan has been fascinating to watch. It’s no secret to Denverites (both natives and transplants) that the city has been transformed in the last decade. It used to be that cities on the coasts—New York, LA, San Francisco, Portland—were seen as the major innovation centers in the country. Now, Denver is included as an innovation hub and a fertile environment for entrepreneurs and startups. That culture has permeated creative agencies, who need to be forward-thinking. Today, Denver-based companies expect that of agencies, too.

The culture of agencies in Denver (and across the country) has shifted in these 10 years, too. In the late aughts, the typical agency model tended toward really large agencies who were all things to their clients: media relations expert, media buyer, event manager, you name it. Today, the trend is skewed more toward boutique agencies that are highly specialized and integrate with other partner companies to round-out a brand’s marketing arm.

But apart from the evolution of Denver and the communications industry, I’ve learned the most about leadership. Turns out, when you start a company at 25, there’s a lot for you to pick up along the way.

First: I’ve learned that I don’t need to be friends with everyone on my team. I am remarkably close with my all-women team, but people want a leader, not a drinking buddy. Being a friend isn’t always my role, and I’ve learned the utility of drawing a line between friendship and business.

Transparency is key. It isn’t that we share every little detail with our team, but my team and I have been transparent about the vision and mission of our company since the get-go, and shared growth goals to both inspire our team and get everyone aligned in working toward the same end result.

Despite the fact that I am literally a professional communicator, navigating how to effectively communicate with my team and clients has taken time. I have found it immensely helpful to institute clear PR and social media metrics and analysis for both our internal teams and our clients, which gives everyone on the project a sense of what goals they’re working toward and what priorities they should be communicating to one another and to the client. It’s the best way I’ve found to eliminate confusion, both internal and external.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: I’ve learned to trust my gut. Whether I’m choosing a new member of our team, dealing with a client challenge, pitching a new account, or anything else related to business (and, for that matter, life), my gut usually has a pretty good sense of what direction to go. For all the data in the world—which is important, and should certainly be consulted when making decisions—sometimes, as a leader, your gut is your best guide.

Aubrey Cornelius is president and founder of Sprocket Communications, a Denver-based public relations and social media agency that creates provocative, award-winning campaigns. Sprocket is celebrating 10 years in business this year. Learn more about Sprocket at www.sprocketcommunications.com.

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