Over my nearly 20 year career, I've seen leadership up close, in politics and now in tech.  I've begun to see a pattern in what I like to call 'perceived leadership' -- that's when folks elevate someone to leadership levels because they came up with something cool.

For some reason, folks seem to canonize inventiveness and conflate it with leadership.  We've probably all observed the storied unicorn founder who ultimately crashes and burns because they are a terrible leader, think Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos or Conrad Parker of Zenefits. A innovative product and shoddy leadership are not a long term winning strategy.

I'll be blunt, a great product does not equal great leadership.  They are two totally different skill sets. Real leadership is knowing to play to your position and strengths.

In the world of startups good or bad leaders can make or break an organization. There are four leadership mistakes to avoid when thinking about what leaders need to do to ensure their product successfully launches but more importantly, that their people thrive and innovate. 

1. The Untrustworthy Leader

I once had a manager where you couldn't trust a word they said. They'd reverse positions from one minute to the next. It was like operating in quicksand -- you never had sure footing and the environment was less than psychologically safe.  

I feel like this should be a given but trust is paramount.  Without trust, everything erodes - consumer confidence, employee morale, innovation is stifled -- all because the leader can't be trusted. 

2. The 60,000 Foot Leader

Often we look at people as numbers, human capital.  Employees aren't chattel or beans to be counted, they are people and they are complex. Leaders need to see their people like they see their customers -- with value.

I'd caution leaders - your people are more than just numbers on a spreadsheet.  One of the worst things a leader can do is not "see their employees".  There is always a human cost to every action that leaders take.  Take the time to know your employees - their interests, birthdays, anniversaries, births/adoptions, pets, and other milestones that people care about. 

Go deeper, look at demography, geography, employee surveys and other data points to understand just as you would analyze the market.  Your employees are microcosm of the business you're trying to win. Truly see your people so you can best lead.  

3. The Soloist

The worst type of leader is the glory hound. You know, they take all credit but none of the responsibility.  Real leadership is 360 ownership of wins and losses.  

Mary Barra, CEO of GM once said, "I have worked for a lot of really great leaders and mentors that I felt provided me, along with many of my peers - many of them women - opportunities."

Further, real leaders also create opportunities for their people to thrive and shine.  As a leader, you're only as good as the sum of your parts. Failure to recognize talent is a huge inhibitor, leaders who don't fully see their peopie don't generally see their talents because they are looking at them one dimensionally. 

I make it practice to know my people, their talents and give them the space to be great.  I believe in them and their talent so I give the opportunity to chase stretch projects, even when they think they can't.  

4. The Blocker

The blocker is the inhibitor of progress.  They erect unnecessary challenges to optimization by having a bias for why instead of why not.  Leaders should not stymie their people.  If a leader views their employees as competition, they should not be in a leadership role.  Leading from a place of insecurity is suboptimal, real leaders view their team as complements to their leadership.

Real leaders lead, create opportunity, share the credit and make sure the team becomes better in the process.

Published on: Sep 10, 2019
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