Being a leader is more than sitting at the head of the table. It's creating a vision that inspires others to work toward. As a startup leader, your task is to create that vision and keep your team motivated to achieve it.
Much like the candidates in the current election, your job as an entrepreneur is to stir people up to campaign and to come out to vote for their vision of the future. Each of the candidates possess traits of great leaders and drawbacks to good leadership.
Trump's top-down style could stifle the creativity of his followers, Clinton's search for consensus could risk important projects, and Obama, the current leader of the pack, has been widely criticized on his ability to follow through on his vision. And much like candidates in elections, your leadership style, the way you present and execute on your vision, has a lot to do with the success of your startup.
Are you the kind of leader your startup needs? While you're thinking on that, consider these important qualities of company success and how leadership impacts them:
- Company growth: In growth stage, a startup needs a leader who's not only able to motivate employees but also to serve as a charismatic ambassador for the brand. Think about the connection we make with Zuckerberg and Facebook or ex-CEO of Tuning Pharmaceuticals, Martin Shkreli. The personality of a public leader directly impacts the perception of your company. Think carefully about the person who serves as the company's public face.
- Employee morale: When employees don't feel respected and valued by leadership, they don't respect or value leadership or their vision. If you've ever been in a miserable job, you know first-hand the connection between a bad boss and job satisfaction. A bad boss inhibits team performance. A bad leader does the same for company performance.
- Ability to innovate: Especially so for founders, as the original idea maker of the company, it can be even harder to trust employees to add innovation and make big decisions. Approaching you with a new idea for a product enhancement or marketing idea shouldn't intimidate employees. If it does, you've lost a key asset in allowing your baby to grow up.
A few ways to improve your leadership style:
- Discover. What kind of leader are you? Take this test to find out. Use the results as a starting point for understanding where you fall on the leadership spectrum.
- Ask. You can read every book on leadership and never learn more than you could from polling your employees or customers. Clearly, a painful process, it serves as the best indicator of how you're perceived by those who've already joined your mission. Use outside firms or anonymous research tools to gather and analyze objective feedback.
- Learn. Great leaders aren't born; they're developed. Once you understand where your leadership shortcomings lie, start working on fixes. Check out free online courses, podcasts, and webinars from top businesses schools like Harvard Business School, Wharton, and Stanford.
- Create community: Avoid being the talking head at the top of the mountain. Humanize yourself to your team. That doesn't mean posting pics of you and your dog on the company's intranet site. It's creating thoughtful opportunities, like happy hours, cookouts, and celebrations that give you and your employees a chance to get to know you and each other outside of cubicles and deadlines.
- Vamoose. Be big enough to step aside. You might find that your best role is as founder and consultant, not CEO. For many startup founders, this is the hardest pill to swallow. Trusting your baby to be led by someone else may be terrifying, but ultimately the right thing for continued growth.