There is much talk about leadership and the different styles of leadership that work to build a successful business. Over the years, the question, “What style of leadership works best in a startup?”, has floated through panel discussions, conferences, webinars and textbooks.
The reality, however, can be quite different. For start-up founders or aspiring entrepreneurs, leadership is probably the last thing on their mind. “Leadership” may be a fine word to use in B-schools and large corporations, but in startups, there is simply too much to do – nurturing an idea, building technology, finding the right talent, monitoring sales and managing the cash, among many other things.
With the never-ending work of building a business comes hustle, humility and honest hard work - These values create the foundation of a leadership ‘style’ focused on building a team that is driven, nimble and most importantly, enjoys every part of their job.
Here are a few of my learnings about leadership & work culture:
- Passion is infectious: If a founder is deeply passionate about what they are building, it shows and spills over to everyone around them. It is hard to ignore and impossible not to imbibe. The idea and purpose that drives the founder acts like a magnet in drawing the team together.
- Perfection kills progress: Perfection – for builders, dreamers and non-traditionalists - is a trap. It is a threat to innovation, and focusing efforts on achieving it delays opportunities and momentum. Instead, urge your team to trade perfection for action, and lead by example.
- You cannot lead without getting your hands dirty: If you’re not there, tackling a challenge hands-on in the middle of a crisis (and crises are daily phenomena in this world), then that’s the example you’re setting for your team. The only way to drive ownership is to exhibit it.
- Values > Skills: Values are intrinsic, skills can be built. Hire a team that shares the same values as you. The values of the core team are what builds into a work culture of the organization, so cultivate them with care.
- A good leader is a great listener: One of the greatest virtues of a good leader is to be a patient listener. Listen to what your team has to say. Every single person in your team does something better than you do, knows something that you don’t and brings something unique to the table. Encourage them to share their perspective and let yourself and your business grow from it.
- Welcome diversity: Diversity is not just an equity-promoting slogan, it is an actual asset for organizations. Diverse organizations with a versatile employee base have been found to perform better than monochromous ones. When everyone in a company has the same background and experience, it limits the field of expertise. Bringing in people from diverse backgrounds helps to look at things and approach problems in a different way. It fosters innovation and new ideas, making your enterprise a unique one. These fresh perspectives can go a long way in offering unique solutions to everyday problems – be it internal issues, customer complaints or even product enhancements. Diversity is often identified as an important aspect of business accomplishments, much like profit and growth.
- Work towards attaining social justice: This is as important as having a purpose behind the venture. While the startup venture ensures economic progress of the society, ensuring social justice enables people to have equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. That makes social justice important because as a part of the society, it is our responsibility to be watchful of its progress.
- Nurture future leaders: There is no point of being wary of a potential leader in the team. In fact, having someone who possesses leadership skills can help you achieve multiple benefits. Such a person can help steer the organization in case you are on a break or start another venture. Nurture the talents who can troubleshoot creatively, motivate other colleagues, and help the organization scale new heights. Creating a pipeline of future leaders is an effective way to prepare the organization for a better tomorrow.
- Made a mistake? Admit it: Acknowledging your mistakes helps foster greater proximity with colleagues, establishes you as an honest leader and sets the right example. Not admitting a mistake may make you appear overbearing and uncooperative. When a leader owns a mistake, he/she is held in higher regard and sets an example for others to follow.
Having said this, leadership is the last thing you should worry about while building a business. If you are passionate, curious and compassionate, it will come to you naturally. If it doesn’t, I hope these tips help!