Startup Leadership The Good & The Bad

Dear Brave Reader,

In his book The Heart of a Leader, management expert Ken Blanchard expresses it this way: “None of us is as smart as all of us.” It’s about the collective. He adds that “the key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.” You get more out of people who are on your side, working on the same unobstructed path, with the same motivation as you. That said if you fail to get people on your side moving in the same direction as you, well, you fail. 

The Good

  1. Encourage employees (and motivate yourself) to speak up

Mel Robbins, a CreativeLive teacher who is revered as one of the best motivational speakers in the world, created the five-second rule to help business leaders. She believes that we are only motivated to do what we want to do. The problem with this is that we avoid what we don’t want to do. We end up never scratching off items on our to-do lists. And we are consequently held back in life. Instead of sitting around and waiting to feel motivation, she says you can count down from five and then just do it. Don’t think. Take action. If you’re lying in bed and don’t want to get up, start counting down from five. If you have an amazing idea in a shareholder meeting but are afraid to speak, count down from five and then say what’s on your mind. You can inspire your employees to do the same. Explain the five-second rule to them and see how it transforms your startup. Employees will not be afraid to speak their minds and let you know what they truly think. If you encourage employees to be honest, they are going to feel like their opinions are valued.

  1. Flexibility

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” This variation on German Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke’s original quote could not be more true. Leaders of start-ups need to be flexible and be able to alter (or even throw out) plans as their business rolls forward. And they need to be able to do it without getting angry, stressed, or insulted. Emotions like that from a leader crush company morale. —Matt Peters, Pandemic Labs

  1. Focus

As a leader, it’s easy to get off track with your investment, your time, and your energy. You want to go to every event, every speech, and every dinner. Focus is what really matters. You need to put time and energy into activities that are the most effective for your business and its success. Have a litmus test for what those are and only accept invites and spend time on what passes that test. Susan Strayer LaMotte, exaqueo

The Bad

  1. Throwing unwarranted challenges at employees

Are you Han Solo, quick on your feet and always rising above every challenge?  Chances are many of your employees do not fit this archetype. It has been documented in books and movies where a startup leader throws challenges at a new hire hoping that he or she will stumble their way up and that once they meet the challenge, any other work will be simple. By doing this, you are ignoring the impact that the mistakes will have, both on the startup, and the newbie. You must understand that everyone goes at their own pace. Some employees are slow in the learning stage, but once they get the hang of things they can do better than anyone else. Others may learn fast but are not necessarily that efficient as performers. If you want to keep the employees you cherry-picked, you must understand who they are, and give them responsibilities accordingly. People want to grow in their roles and that requires a challenge. When you don’t know your employees, you might keep throwing what you think are doable challenges at them and they fail to do them. When that happens they get frustrated and their self-confidence takes a hit. As a leader, your job is to boost everyone’s self-confidence, not the opposite.

  1. Lacking Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is sometimes hard to muster when you are up against the numerous challenges that running a startup can throw at you. But without demonstrating motivation to those who work for you it will be almost impossible to succeed. In one study published in the Journal of Experimental Education, authors Brian C. Patrick, Jennifer Hisley, and Toni Kempler looked at how teachers motivate students. It was found that “among the teacher variables, enthusiasm was the most powerful unique predictor of students’ intrinsic motivation and vitality.” This principle has the same relevance for a manager’s interaction with the team. People respond to enthusiasm with positivity and belief in the leadership. Walter Chrysler, who founded the automobile company that carries his name, said “the real secret of success is enthusiasm.”

  1. Blatantly Ignoring The Competition 

I have heard many young startup founders say things like, “if my product is good enough and my marketing is good enough, I will succeed”. Not true! Competition is a crucial factor in the success and failure of your startup. You cannot encourage yourself and your employees to live in the world of blissful ignorance – not if you want to succeed! Competitive analysis is an important step in formulating your startup’s success strategy. It’s not enough to do well, you must out-do your competition. Okay, let’s try this: Name a successful company which had/has no competition? I bet you can’t. But, it’s amazing how many startups claim that their idea is unique and hence is the key selling point. 

Good startup leaders: 

– Analyze and learn from the mistakes of their competitors

– Work on understanding the successful aspects of their competitors and try to match up to them

– Work on differentiating themselves in the marketplace

Corey Hubbard
Corey Hubbard


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