20 Business Leaders Share Valuable Lessons Learned From Employees

Employees possess a wealth of knowledge that can shape the way a company grows, improve decision-making processes and enhance organizational performance. Conventional wisdom might say that all important lessons come from those in higher positions, but employees are shattering those preconceived notions.

Below, 20 Forbes Business Council members reveal some of the most important lessons their employees have taught them. These employee-inspired lessons have transformed not only individual mindsets, but also the way entire organizations function.

1. Use A Bottom-Up Strategy

Having a culture of collaboration and aggressively seeking advice from employees at all levels of the organization was one of the most valuable lessons an employee taught me. We must advocate for a bottom-up strategy shift, wherein all staff members are encouraged to offer suggestions for how to better the company as a whole. - Myrtle Anne Ramos, PlaceWar

2. Look To Frontline Employees To Identify Changes

Employees on the ground—your salespeople who talk to the actual clients or customers—are the first ones who normally notice if something major has changed. Whether it is through their gut or through analytics, they are able to give a new picture of the business from where they stand and how it is evolving. Is the product or service demand changing? They can tell you that. - Zain Jaffer, Zain Ventures

3. Give Employees Autonomy

One of the biggest lessons I learned from a low-level employee was that people are not just numbers on a spreadsheet. They are unique, dynamic individuals capable of taking initiative independently without being micromanaged by an executive. I took this to heart and decided to give my employees more autonomy in decision making in their day-to-day tasks. - Erik Pham, Health Canal

4. Invest In Marketing

I learned a valuable lesson when a mid-level employee questioned top management about whether they had 100% interest in the product they were making. This happened when we told our product team that we are not satisfied with the results. He pointed back saying that we did not invest enough in marketing and that this is not the era of organic marketing. We realized the need and mandated paid marketing after that incident. - Raj Maddula, Global Squirrels

5. Recognize Your Impact

I hosted a team holiday gathering and asked each team member to share a professional and personal highlight from the year. I was struck by the impact I had on them as their leader, as each shared how they felt supported and were grateful to work where they can grow, contribute and feel valued. It reinforced the impact we can have when we leverage and celebrate strengths to drive business impact. - Christine Marvin, Marvin

6. Allow 'New Eyes' To Give Input

When it comes to innovation, it is inevitably the nonexpert who elevates a fact or data point into a breakthrough insight. They see with "new eyes," unburdened by jaded experiences. We insist that junior employees provide their input on problems and solutions first. Senior employees must speak last. It's rare that this doesn't lead to better ideas than doing things the traditional way. - Udaiyan Jatar, Tecton

7. Focus On Quality First

The most important lesson I learned from an employee is "Quality does not cost extra money or time, delivering it is a habit to be cultivated. Once learned, there is no other way of doing things." This has been a lifelong lesson for me, and we strictly adhere to it in our operations. We have developed instincts and processes that reject things that do not meet our quality standards. - Beth Worthy, GMR Transcription Services, Inc.

8. Streamline Department Processes

One case changed my perception of ownership in the organization and its relation to a “title.” One of our customer support representatives came up with the observation that dealing with billing issues along with other requests is not effective both for the customer and the company. They proposed their own way of handling such requests, resulting in the creation of a new department. - Mykola Tymkiv, Gismart

9. Focus On Collaboration And Teamwork

Early on in my career, I learned that one of the most valuable business lessons that an employee can teach is the importance of collaboration and teamwork. I then understood that working together to achieve common goals could bring a fresh perspective to the workplace and inspire others to do the same. This lesson can have a significant impact on how a business operates. - Liana Zavo, ZavoMedia PR Group

10. Value Customer And Frontline Feedback

One valuable business lesson I've learned is to always listen to feedback from customers and frontline employees. This is because they are the ones who interact with your products and services on a daily basis. Therefore, this lesson has influenced my programming to prioritize user feedback and incorporate it into my language generation algorithms. - Salvador Ordorica, The Spanish Group LLC

11. Approach Networking With A Focus On Connection

One of the best lessons I learned from a colleague was about demystifying networking. He was just so natural and effortless in the way he approached networking and business relationships. He wasn’t sales-y or formal. The magic was simple. He said, “People just want to work with people they like, so that’s where you start.” It was great advice. Go in with no agenda, and just focus on connection. - Anne-Marie Rosser, VSA Partners

12. Value Work-Life Balance

My belief in constant work was challenged by a fresh-out-of-college employee worried about burnout. We tested "unplugged" hours and regular breaks. Surprisingly, employee satisfaction and work quality improved, teaching me the value of open-mindedness and work-life balance. This experience also taught me that great insights can come from anyone regardless of rank if one remains open to new ideas. - Dario Markovic, Eric Javits

13. Let Things Go

I’ve learned to let go quickly. This lesson can apply to either people who couldn't fit in with our corporate culture and pace or the ideas and projects that didn't gain traction. Sometimes it is critical to be decisive and act without hesitation because waiting wastes precious time and resources. - Egor Kirin, Agro.Club Inc.

14. Celebrate The Wins

An employee taught me the important lesson of celebrating wins as much as possible. In an owner's seat, it's easy to focus on what needs to be fixed and overlook all the great things happening. So, when an employee brought that to my attention, it really opened my eyes. It's extremely important that employees know their good work is being noticed and appreciated, as it affects the whole team's morale. - Melanie Ammerman, VaVa Virtual Assistants

15. Be Open To Taking A Support Role

You’ll find smart, worth-listening to people at any pay grade—this is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. True leaders should stay humble and remember that the best teams are made up of a lot of domain specialists. In most cases, those "under you" will know more about their area of expertise, so back off, let them operate in their zone of genius and provide support and consultation when they need it. - Zach Boyette, Galactic Fed

16. Listen Because You Don't Know Everything

The most valuable lesson I've learned is that I don't know everything when it comes to people management. My employees, through sharing their opinions and expertise, have taught me that there are experiences outside of my own that could indeed be quite impactful in a good way. That is, if I choose to listen—so I did. Ever since then, my employees keep on enlightening me. - Ivan Popov, Vipe Studio

17. Set Boundaries And Expectations

One invaluable lesson I've learned is the power of saying “no" to customers. It's about setting boundaries and managing expectations. Surprisingly, this approach has boosted our customer satisfaction and results. It underscores the importance of prioritizing quality over quantity in our service delivery. Always remember that doing less can often mean accomplishing more. - Andrei Neacsu, HyperSense Software SRL

18. Allow Your Team To Resolve Issues

Recently, a customer was out of line with someone on my team. I was furious, but a VP suggested that I let their people calmly handle the issue. It's an example of what I call the “Patrick Swayze rule” inspired by the movie Road House: “Be nice until it's time to not be nice." Let your team try to resolve a situation. If their niceness doesn't work, you'll then need to step in. - Dr. David Lenihan, Tiber Health

19. Value Different Viewpoints

Employees have taught me the value of diversity in teams and the necessity for a leader to balance out various viewpoints and working methods. In the end, I've learned from these experiences that a successful leader is always looking to grow and learn from others, no matter their position in the company. - Udi Dorner, SetSchedule

20. Build New Offerings With Diverse Internal Input

After launching a new product, an employee once pointed out a pretty obvious gap in how customers were supposed to use the product. This led to a rocky adoption period that could have been avoided had we allowed our internal stakeholders across different teams to get eyes on what we built. The takeaway was to stop building things in a vacuum and to welcome input from diverse sources. - Ty Allen, SocialClimb