Most books I've read about leadership talk about ideal situations. For instance, a common lesson is hiring only the best people. While this makes sense, there are times where this isn't possible. An example would be if you're bootstrapping your company and have to deliver a product in two months or your customer will leave you. When you're in that predicament, you're going to get whomever can help you. You are not going to wait and have your startup die slowly.
There are tons of examples like this, which is why there is no exact formula to being a successful entrepreneur. We all face unique challenges that define our company's success.
When your startup starts slipping downhill, you have to throw out most of the common leadership advice you get. Being the captain of a sinking ship is one of the scariest roles to be in, but it's also the most crucial. You have to be willing to make people mad, micromanage, and push people over their limits. Will this hurt your company culture or work relationships? Maybe. But when you start worrying about keeping the lights on, you're not thinking about long term. You need to know how to make it to next month and ride through the rough waters. Here are a few tips to use when it seems like the walls are caving in for your startup. I hope this advice helps steer your ship in the right direction.
1. Find the problem and destroy the bottleneck
I've always been a huge fan of CEOs actively helping their employees learn. Not everyone is going to the most talented. With that said, being willing to try new things and wanting to improve are essential to success. In wartime, however, you don't have the luxury of waiting for people to learn. You have to make changes quickly, and get the problem solved before it's too late. In these scenarios you want your most experienced and talented team members to take control. And when this happens, your less-qualified members will only slow them down.
Unfortunately, this is where you have to get rid of the team members who are holding you back. In wartime, you don't have the time to sit down and coach someone. You need solutions, and fast. This is tough, because often there is nothing wrong with the employee. But as the leader, you've got to identify who's contributing to the problem and get them out of the organization. Not doing this may help you keep a friend, but will also risk the entire organization going down.
2. Make a decision and start moving
I once read a book that was meant to be a how-to guide for CEOs. One piece of advice was to include as many team members' opinions as possible before making a decision.
While this is great when things are going well, when you're going through a crisis this is the last strategy I recommend. Reason being, it'll take way too long for you to come to a decision about what to do. Arguments will arise, people will dwell, and nothing will get done. As the leader, you've got to be able to step and make a decision even if everyone thinks your wrong. If they're great team members they'll suck it up and roll up their sleeves.
Are you going to make people upset because you won't listen to them? Yes. But it's much better to make a decision and be wrong than to do nothing at all.
3. Put on your best poker face
The CEO is one of the few people in the organization who really understand how bad things are. They're the ones who speak to investors, clients, and the executive team. Because of that fact, everyone looks at their leader to see how scared they should be.
When things start going wrong, you have to lie to yourself and put a smile on. A bad launch or failed investment opportunity are perfect examples. I remember how hard I used to take it whenever I would lose a sale. Sometimes, it'd be in the back of my mind the entire day. Whenever this happened, the other members of my team could tell I was down. This affected the entire culture, and the motivation was drained from all of us.
If your startup is on the brink of failure, you've got to first convince yourself that you can battle through. When you believe it, everyone else will. The moment you give up, the entire company is doomed.