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Lift Your Legacy: The humility of leadership with Constructor CEO and Co-Founder Eli Finkelshteyn and Rabbi Jacob Rupp

Eli Finkelshteyn is co-founder and CEO at Constructor, an AI-first search as a service provider trusted by Walmart-owned Jet.com. Eli got his start as a data scientist where he worked at Tumblr, Shutterstock, and FactSet. What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it? I don’t like […]

Eli Finkelshteyn is co-founder and CEO at Constructor, an AI-first search as a service provider trusted by Walmart-owned Jet.com. Eli got his start as a data scientist where he worked at Tumblr, Shutterstock, and FactSet.

What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?

I don’t like to talk about it, but my step brother died in a car crash when I was in college. That was an incredibly trying time. I never fully overcame it. When we were little, I remember always feeling like we were competing in a zero-sum game where one of us could only win at the expense of the other. That was not a very satisfying way to live and did not demonstrate to him the love I felt for him. After he passed, I tried to make a point of ensuring any success I had was shared with the people around me. Life is not a zero-sum game, and success is much more pleasant when it’s shared with others.

What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?

Leadership means being selfless and letting others be the hero. This is the quality I most respected in my favorite managers and most strive to emulate. The biggest anti-pattern in some leaders is claiming the successes of the people working under them while deflecting the team’s failures to those same people. No one wants to work for a person like this, and they wind up only being able to hire B and C players. A true leader strives to hire people who are better than them, to respect and trust those people’s ideas, and to give those people credit for their successes. Prioritizing and lauding the ideas of others over your own is an incredibly difficult and uncomfortable place to be from the perspective of ego, but this is the challenge of leadership. Let the people who work with you shine and give them the credit they deserve. If you need to be the hero, let someone else lead.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

This probably is not the answer you’d expect from an engineer, but I was lucky to have a series of English teachers in high school who I credit with a lot of the success I’ve had later in life. I remember beginning high school hating anything that had to do with writing and having a hard time expressing myself in a way that made me feel understood. Thomas Johnson, J.J. Hurley, and Joani Reese taught me to love writing, but more importantly than that, they taught me to empathize with my audience. Achieving success means helping the people around you achieve success and aligning incentives so that that success is shared. You can’t do that without being able to empathize with people and intimately understanding what success means to them.

Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?

Over the last four years, I take the most pride in two continuing achievements: being able to build the trust we have between the Constructor team and our customers, and being a father to my son. Between those two commitments, I have little time for anything else and have had to give up most of my hobbies and a lot of sleep, but the satisfaction from the time spent in those endeavors is more than worth it. Life honored me with these two incredible opportunities, and every time I have a second to stop and think about it, I can’t imagine anything that would bring me greater fulfillment.

Can you share some advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?

Achieving balance between work and personal life is something I’ve struggled with and where I should be asking for advice more than giving it. The two things I’ve started to do that have most helped me are:

  1. Work with people you trust and setup schedules such that there are dedicated times when the business can survive without you. This is not only something that the business needs to scale — you as a leader should strive to keep yourself from being a bottleneck — but also something you have to do to make the people and activities in your personal life a priority.
  2. Separate yourself from your laptop and cellphone often. It can sometimes feel like if you’re away, everything will immediately go wrong, but giving your team the opportunity to solve problems without your input will show them you trust and respect them, and will let you give the people you care about outside of work the time, energy, and focus they deserve.

About the author: Jacob Rupp is a coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and rabbi. He is the founder of Lift Your Legacy, a community that helps people live a more authentic life. He has a regular, syndicated column that appears in ThriveGlobal and Medium magazine. To learn more about him or to listen to the Lift Your Legacy podcast, search iTunes or visit his site: liftyourlegacy.live

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