What makes you a great leader in your startup?
I always stress this with my partners, Morgan and David. EVERY decision we make, at our level, has consequences for the rest of our startup – positive and negative. No decision is too small. For example, just changing the type of pens that get ordered can have adverse effects. Let’s say your team is used to using Pilot G-2 07 pens (my personal favorite), you better have a good reason for making a change as it will cause undue disruptions. So how do you become an impactful leader knowing that every decision you make is important?
1. Realization that your position gives you inherent authority. Yes, for the most part, your position as the founder, CEO, COO, CTO, CMO, etc. is by nature just positional! But if you have to own it or be willing to step down as things get bigger and bigger. You are the day-to-day leader and your employees or your team will be looking up to you for answers, guidance, rules and boundaries – your leadership. It’s like being the captain of a an airplane. You’re the ultimate authority. You know more about your business, about your product, about your direction, about your goals then anyone else (… or aught to, anyway).
2. Unquestionable personal and business integrity. I personally believe you can make it without having to cut corners. I’ve done it twice, and we’re successfully on our way to do it a third time. This is not the boiler room and you are not Gordon Gekko. If you are surrounded by people like that, leave. You are talented enough to do what you’re doing and you’ll find something better and be happier for it. I would much rather make $10MM and be able to lay my head on a pillow than to make $100MM and bend my core values. Read Henry David Thoreau. Your team will respect you for it and you’ll attract the right of talent. Your integrity, if genuine, will always give you unquestioning followers.
3. Having the confidence to show your cards. These words will give you instant credibility: “I don’t know.” I recently read a blog about this topic and I couldn’t have said it better myself. Often, as leaders we are caught up in believing that we must know everything or that we must not lack knowledge or direction in front of our employees. Said who? I don’t know everything. If someone from my team asks me something about the company that I may not have thought of (which rarely happens) – I’m honest with them, “I don’t know, I’ll look into that and get back to you.”
4. How much you know. As a leader you have to be good at something so you can inspire by your actions. Let’s say you’re awkward with people but you have found a great product and now must lead a pack of developers. If you lack interpersonal skills or core leadership skills (i.e. giving compliments, providing support, being there for your team, etc.) you had better be the best developer there is. Zuckerburg is apparently notorious to work for/with as was Jobs. But the fact was they are/were so awesome at what they do/did that people are/were willing to overlook all the other deficiencies. That said, at the end of the day, after it’s all said and done, you had better be able to walk-the-walk. If you’re a marketer, you better be the best marketing person there is to your team. You have to get respected professionally to be an effective leader.
5. The ability to stop micromanaging. I always say, “I’m a nuts and bolts guy and I’m naturally very curious.” That combined with being absolutely passionate about my company and team, it often makes it difficult to keep up with every step in every project. And that’s okay. I don’t need to know all the steps, which is not the same as not knowing everything. That I insist on. I have to know everything that happens. Every good leader should, after all you’re responsible for everything. However, I also know that I shouldn’t stop a project’s flow midstream or ask for constant updates when there are none. Let me be clear about this: you should be asking for progress reports on projects and you have the right to ask questions – but appreciating the balance of when your questions turn into micromanaging your team member is crucial to their professional development and essential to your company’s goals.
6. Empower your team members. I make it a personal point to give my team members autonomy after they have proven themselves. I hire people who are smarter than me in their respective industries. After all, your hires are there because they are experts particular subject matters. Give them the respect they deserve and allow them test, succeed, or even fail. Giving this kind of autonomy instills a sense of ownership and responsibility. Therefore, each project will be handled knowing there are accountabilities at the end. You want to foster an environment that is not dependent on your existence. If you need to be away for a business trip, your team should be able to move forward with out your input – at least for a couple weeks or so ;).