Success for any startup depends upon how well a tiny core of startup leadership and innovations kick-start the engine and drives the idea towards success. Leadership for a startup is responsible for both the long-term goals and the daily task lists that produce visible movement of the needle on the dashboards.
In practice, the failure of leadership is a leading cause of the failure of startups. For example, in a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review, leadership (or rather lack of it in the context of startups) was voted to be among the top reasons behind the failure of startups that initially showed promise but sputtered to collapse in a span of fewer than four years.
However, when startups become a success, it is mainly because of how the leadership handled the team and made all the tough calls. So, in my opinion, out of these two, handling the team right is more important because it is the team that carries the startup to success.
Startups are a Team Sport
The probability of the success of a startup increases as the team behind it grows and matures. This is when the productivity and innovation of the individuals come together to contribute to the business’s growth.
As such, ensuring that the team members excel at what they do is an essential part of what startup leadership does every day. In practical terms, this means you, as the startup founder, must inspire your team to deal with day-to-day challenges and plan for the longer term.
Leadership is Not About Authority
In a larger corporate structure, there are cases where people become leaders only because they reach the top of the organizational chart. However, as Simon Sinek in his book “Leaders Eat Last” discusses, true leadership is all about respect people have for a team member. This respect motivates other team members to follow.
In a startup setting, you have the talent of all descriptions that come together to push through to achieve the vision. Leaders at all levels must understand that people are the greatest asset of a startup because they are at the frontlines, producing the code, executing the marketing campaigns, and dealing with the customers.
An autocratic or highly regulated environment is not conducive to the success of a startup, and any leader that tries to micromanage quickly sees the exit of good people with a predictable impact on the deliverables. Additionally, startups who have raised funding cannot afford to be late on the promised deadlines as this is often the first element current and future investors weigh when considering releasing the next round.
Leaders Make The Team Great
A common misunderstanding in the startup community is that the founder(s) has to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. This false belief lies at the core of the mishandling of the people as the founders strive to concentrate decision-making in as few hands as possible.
In a typical startup organization, very often, the people in the trenches have most of the information. Now, if the founders try to take all the decisions themselves, they would soon discover that they are not making the right calls because of a lack of information.
This lies at the heart of how some startup leaders become successful and why others fail. It all comes down to how the founders define what makes a leader.
I have come to understand that a good leader essentially understands that they do not know it all and that the people around them could add value to the decision-making process. Thus, being a leader is essentially about bringing a group of people brighter than you and then utilize their knowledge and expertise to plan and achieve milestones.
If you are a startup founder (or are planning to become one in the future), here is how you can inspire your team to succeed.
Determine the Gaps
Especially in the formative years, all startups are full of gaps in resources and skills. These gaps could affect the performance of the team and hurt morale. As a leader, it is your responsibility to identify the gaps and either fill them (if that’s possible) or come up with workarounds to streamline productivity.
Information is the lifeblood of any business, and it is perhaps the essential aspect of running a startup. From the daily sales data to the upcoming changelog, information derives from the needle. If you freely share information with all ranks, the team would feel empowered and view the startup’s goals as their own. This motivates them to set and then achieve personal goals that resonate with the startup’s long-term plans.
Share the Authority
Trust is perhaps the most important ingredient of the success of any startup. Trust comes from empowerment at all levels.
When people have information, they are often in a better position to make informed decisions. If startup leadership remove the bottleneck of having to secure approvals for every decision, the team’s motivation at all levels skyrockets.
Listen and Explain
An expected (but unfortunate) outcome of sharing information and empowering people is that they would make mistakes. In such cases, the best approach for startup founders is to Listen and Explain.
In simpler terms, this means that startup founders should collect all information and then explain their decision with proper arguments. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is how the startup leaders deal with incidents that make all the difference to the team’s morale.
Celebrate Small Wins
In the corporate structure, celebrations are often reserved for project completion (or, at the very least, milestone delivery). This means all the hard work done by the team often goes unnoticed. This severe blow to motivation could quickly bring down a startup team.
Small celebrations for small wins are an excellent way of keeping the positive energy up and letting everyone know that their contribution is appreciated and acknowledged as crucial to its success.
Hire For Cultural Fit
Every startup has a culture that motivates the team to power through the roadblocks. When adding a new member to the team, remember to match the person to the culture. If an otherwise perfect candidate does not share similar values, they would be a downer for the rest of the team.
Wrapping It Up
We at Social Champ have the vision to build the friendliest platform for social media automation. We went through all the usual troubles startups go through in the initial stages to realize this dream. During the process, we saw a lot of ups and downs and delays. We learned that it is our people that helped us deliver value to our customers.
Building a team and retaining talent is one of the core expectations from startup founders. As the team jells in and starts working toward deliverables, we prioritize placing people over everything.
This was not easy as discovering the right talent that fits within the organization’s culture is perhaps the most challenging aspect of running a startup (yes, I am including raising funds in the list). Keeping this hard-found talent motivated and focused on the targets is what makes running startups fun.