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Charlotte: ‘As the owner I had to learn to let go’

Dictator Charlie 2

Role at Bord&Stift: Owner & system and structure nerd.
Working here since: October 2014.
What do you read? “I am a complete reading monster: fiction, but also non-fiction about productivity, for example. The last thing I read is Grip, how you structure your workweek. I get a lot of inspiration from books like that. My favorite writer is Robin Hobb. She has written a 17-part fantasy series in which she has created a hugely ingenious world with profound characters.”

You own Bord&Stift, but you’re not the boss. How would you describe your position?

“I like to see what it takes to make the organization run as smoothly as possible. This can be on a very practical level – nerding out with ICT systems or finding a good structure for meetings – but also much more abstract: how do we ensure that all employees feel at home at Bord&Stift? It is not always immediately clear at what level the solution is. Sometimes you think there is something wrong with a computer system, when the problem is actually the lack of contact between people. Solving that puzzle makes me happy.”

Why do you like that?

“I want to do valuable work, in what we do and the way we do it. A company is actually a kind of garden. There are a few basic aspects that you have to arrange properly, then the plants are allowed to grow organically and you always look at what it takes to maintain them, without necessarily raking it tight every day. Each phase needs something different, you are never finished. If you take good care of your garden, it will take good care of you too. If you take good care of your colleagues and your customers, they will take good care of you too.”

It sounds like you want to be attentive to your business.

‘Definitely. And attentively with each other. Before every meeting we do a check-in, then everyone can tell us how they are doing. You don’t have to put on a mask when you go to work, you can come in here as yourself. That invitation is there again and again. And in addition to attention, I find trust very important. Bord&Stift is organized horizontally and I want there to be a culture of trust. I also had to learn that myself. Not that I was not trusting, but I just had an opinion about everything and wanted to join every team. I now know that I often contribute more when I am not around something. Others are just as capable of devising and setting up projects as I am. And if I don’t really let go as an owner, there is a risk that others will be less likely to take the initiative.”

Sounds difficult, to let go.

‘It absolutely was. But also very liberating. A year ago I thought I had to deal with the production process, back then I was still doing planning tasks. That was actually a very bad idea, I am not good at that. And that is putting it mildly. At Bord&Stift we do not have fully fixed functions, many people have a production role – planning, writing, drawing, editing, etc. – but also do all kinds of business-related things. What exactly, that depends on what makes them enthusiastic, that gives them energy. In this way you grow in your best role, as it were. But I had to do that myself as well. Practice what you preach. Not doing things I thought I should do, but things that make me good and happy: nerding out with structures and systems, and customer contact without the pressure of planning. Before, I was much more of a hub in the organization. Now the system is standing, also without me. I want to be appreciated for my experience and talents, and not for having the title of “boss”.”

Also read: Why don’t we have a boss?