Empathy — While we are expected to be tough that does not mean cold and distant. Quite on the contrary, I don’t think you can get very far as a leader, especially nowadays, without the ability to understand other people’s emotions and show them empathy. You will not be respected and appreciated as a leader and your company will be a short term stop on someone’s career path.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Alen Huskanovic.Alen is an entrepreneur with extensive experience in the field of software development and digital marketing. He just turned 30 but has been leading the company Async Labs, which he co-founded with two colleagues from college, for almost a decade now. He has faced and surpassed many challenges, both business and people management vise. Company culture, people and client relations are the most important thing at Async Labs and you get that impression when you shake hands with Alen for the first time. Practice has shown him the thing people of all generations value the most is transparency. That is why he includes his team in big company decisions, regularly informs them on finances, both good and bad, openly discusses their performance and requires feedback on him from everyone.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?One of my main responsibilities and also challenges as a leader is to do a type of work and pull the strings that will result in continuous business growth without stagnation. Last year, for example, was extremely challenging on different fronts but we managed to conclude it successfully.Therefore now, I am most excited about facing new challenges that we’ll try to turn around as new business opportunities, as we did so far.International market is a much larger pool than the Balkan region we are currently mostly present in, therefore our current focus is spreading more abroad and that truly excites me.We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?There are many great influential people who thankfully share their thoughts and insights to the public and it is not always easy to recognize true talent and authenticity you can learn from. One person who’s been standing out for me for quite a while now is Patrick Bet-David.What I value most about him is his approach towards work ethics, time management and discipline. I’ve always followed the simple mindset of “work hard to get far” and Bet-David is a real example that discipline and determination pay off when you focus on something.What I truly appreciate is that he shares the real-life challenges he faced on his road to success that are actually familiar to all of us. Procrastination, lack of motivation and difficulty to get out of an everyday routine to succeed, are issues very common in the modern world.Bet-David’s idea is that you have to find your focus and invest yourself fully in it and only then will you get closer to your goals. Otherwise you will end up wondering why you haven’t succeeded in life.Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?I would say I’ve learned the hard way that you have to accept, as early as possible, that some people are just not the right fit for you, your team and your company.People are the core essence of my company and I used to believe that if I show to each team member that I can listen and adjust to them and try to satisfy them, in the end, no matter the problem, things will work out.When it comes to people who are just not the right fit for your company, no matter the reason, that approach won’t matter because there will always be something that you as a leader can and need to do for them to make them feel better. They will remain dissatisfied, which very often results in a toxic working environment and reflects poorly on other team members.You have to learn to let people go for the sake of your team, your company and everyone involved.How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?Long before and shortly after I became CEO, I imagined this role implied that you lead people in a way that you assign tasks, direct and manage them. When I analyzed this approach years later, I realized that it was actually an implementation of my own view of direction I thought and wanted people to grow and develop towards. Thankfully, I quickly realized that is not the way to go.How I understand my role as a CEO and a leader now, is that I need to do everything that I can to enable people to evolve in the direction they want and that feels right for them. That is the only way for them to stay motivated and passionate about the work environment they find themselves in.Other than ensuring company stability, to make that happen, I’ve learned you need to trust people and be honest with them. Without that, it’s basically mission impossible.Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?I stopped directing people towards paths I found that made sense for them because I realized people thrive best when they have the freedom to use their skills, knowledge and creativity in a way they want to and that makes best sense to them.It seems to me the novelties the digital age has brought such as more business opportunities, different discourses and work habits, resulted in new expectations. People are now more appreciative when they are let to manage and use their skills the best they see fit other than just being told what to do.This can of course be quite challenging at times and requires a lot of understanding, trust and transparency on both sides. But when you learn to choose the right people and learn to trust them, you realize there is no limit to success you can achieve together.What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?I strongly believe in being transparent with my team as much as possible and I try to live by that every day. Mantra of our company is “Putting all our efforts into you, so we can all grow together” and from day one we’ve been working on enlivening these words into a work lifestyle from day one.We started openly communicating our expectations and providing feedback on regular performance reviews with team members. This was and still is, mostly centered on a person’s work and career progress, goals and achievements.But I realized that if we are to build a truly connected team that is together in all of this, I have to inform our people on business goals and strategies, plans and predictions, project successes and failures, etc.Finances for many are a tricky ground that is usually in the category of those who must not be named, but I realized that no matter what you say or do, people will still wonder, question and very often talk amongst themselves which might lead to misinformation.Why not proactively answer their questions and let them know they can come to me, truly no matter the concern or question they have.I was pleasantly surprised to realize that most team members truly appreciate honest information even if it’s not always positive. It shows them that they are being considered and appreciated as a valuable part of the company.What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?I can completely understand that it is sometimes difficult to let go of old habits especially if they worked for you in the past. However, when you make your priorities clear and understand the industry and the surroundings you and your company are in, it is much easier to start pulling different strings in order to achieve your goals.One simple rule that I believe should be timeless and non-negotiable is that in order for a business to grow and thrive it needs to be able to adapt and above all needs to take care of its people, their motivation, inspiration and satisfaction.Once you realize this and align it with your current business goals, decision making becomes clearer and easier.Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?Books, books and more books.Investigate, concentrate and learn from different leadership experiences and perspectives so you can find those most familiar and suited for you. We all learn from our mistakes and I agree that is the best way to learn, but books offer us excellent study material to learn from other people’s mistakes.What I’ve learned is that I am still learning and it seems to me I always will. You will always have some kind of an opinion and perspective on a certain thing and that will change and evolve with different experiences, mistakes and achievements.But having perspective on different kinds of perspectives, that might be different from yours, offers you an extra dose of knowledge and wisdom. Books helped me learn about different leadership and business perspectives and understand them even if I might not agree with them.Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.There are certainly many but I would point out these five as personally most valued ones:

  • Passion — I don’t think that I would succeed at leading people if they saw no passion within me regarding what I do. Specifically, I’m talking about passion for the industry in which you are leading your people. I imagine it would be hard for anyone to trust you, look up to you and truly follow you if they didn’t see a spark in your eye.Transparency — In the beginning I was not that transparent with my team members which led to them having many different questions. Unintentionally, this sometimes led to states of confusion within the team, even disappointment and anger which ultimately all resulted in lack of motivation and productivity. So I realised there is no need to withhold certain information since opinions will be made anyway. Why not just share the whole truth then, explain the context, the whys and the whos, and make sure the narrative about our company is the true story. I can really see that people appreciate that and have bigger respect for me as a leader. They know my vision and understand my expectations, so it’s much easier to work together towards the same direction.Accountability — I believe that leaders should stand behind their words. If you expect from people to be true to their word then as a leader you must do the same and showcase an example, no matter the challenges. As a leader, your every word and move are carefully observed and analysed. If you cannot account for your words and actions, no doubt it will backfire.Resilience — Managing business and leading people at the same time is extremely challenging, but what can even be harder is dealing with people’s or your own emotions. Leaders should be able to get back on track fast and to continue to strive further. This is no easy task because we are all human and no matter the context, as a leader you are always expected to be tougher than others which is one of the main reasons you are able to lead them. While some are simply born with this skill I believe you can learn and master it if you are surrounded with the right people.Empathy — While we are expected to be tough that does not mean cold and distant. Quite on the contrary, I don’t think you can get very far as a leader, especially nowadays, without the ability to understand other people’s emotions and show them empathy. You will not be respected and appreciated as a leader and your company will be a short term stop on someone’s career path.
  • American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.I am a strong supporter of that kind of mindset and try to implement it into my everyday life as much as I can. Although it is not always easy and has its challenges, striving to make the most out of your day, every day, can be extremely rewarding and lead to both small and big successes.I understand that people get down sometimes and they feel burned out, but to me, it’s an indicator of how you’re dealing with the current situation in your life, whether personally or professionally.If you do feel down, that is okay, but you have to realise you’re doing something wrong and switch it up.My strategy in those periods is to focus on a specific thing I can upgrade or optimise, usually regarding my work or developing new skills. When your focus is on one specific thing, it’s easier to feel in control and to reach a certain goal. The outcome is that I usually feel better and recharged to get back on track.What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?I want to encourage people and to aspire them to believe in themselves and their ability to succeed and to thrive both privately and professionally. The most important but simple mindset of working hard to get far is what I aspire to leave as my legacy.If my leadership and communication style inspires people, especially young generations that work at our company, to at least think about this mindset, I consider it as a job well done.How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?I love connecting and very often interact and make calls with people from all around the world that I met on LinkedIn, Twitter or some type of an event. So feel free to reach out on any social media page (I’m on all of them) and definitely check out our website.Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!