We asked 12 successful founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council which traits they believe--above all others--define great start-up leaders. After all, passion is one thing--but what actually makes a good leader great? Their best answers are below.
"No plan survives contact with the enemy." This variation on German Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke's original quote could not be more true. Leaders of start-ups need to be flexible and be able to alter (or even throw out) plans as their business rolls forward. And they need to be able to do it without getting angry, stressed, or insulted. Emotions like that from a leader crush company morale. --Matt Peters, Pandemic Labs
Whenever the company fails, it should also be the leader's fault. Whenever the company succeeds, it should also be the employees' fault. Your employees are not a vehicle to fund your ego. If you run a company, your employees are now your customers--and your top priority should be to serve their needs, not your own. --Liam Martin, Staff.com
As a leader it's easy to get off track with your investment, your time, and your energy. You want to go to every event, every speech, and every dinner. Focus is what really matters. You need to put time and energy into activities that are the most effective for your business and its success. Have a litmus test for what those are and only accept invites and spend time on what passes that test. --Susan Strayer LaMotte, exaqueo
The most successful start-up leaders recognize they do not have time to get all of the facts for the dozens of decisions they make each day. Instead, they just need to gather enough information to make sound decisions so the company can move forward. Some of those decisions will be wrong, but it is better to learn from those mistakes and try again than to be immobilized by indecisiveness. --Doug Bend, Bend Law Group
Starting a new company of any kind isn't easy. If you look at any entrepreneur, you'll see a willingness to work through the hard times, but among the greats, it goes beyond that. Seriously impressive entrepreneurs are willing to put in the sweat, even if others can't grasp the vision. They work through the different bits of a knot, rather than trying to rush through and cut it apart. --Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting
Vision is the most important trait of a start-up leader. The ultimate test, though, is instilling the dream: encouraging the people around you to believe in your vision and quest. A consistent message and constantly renewed energy will help others to live your passion. --Russell Kommer, ExcelHelp.com
7. Paranoid Confidence
Every start-up leader is different, so no single characteristic is the defining trait for everyone. But, that said, I believe the best entrepreneurs develop a healthy balance of paranoia and confidence. They're vigilant and realistic while, at the same time, never lacking the the gumption to believe their vision is right.
--Derek Flanzraich, Greatist
Great leaders, in any industry, will not let circumstances control their pursuit for making an impact. These leaders see themselves as arbiters of their success and regard external pressures as within their control. When something sets them back, great leaders persevere and take ownership of that circumstance.
--John Harthorne, MassChallenge
A positive mindset defines a great leader. If you don't buy into a bulletproof mindset of positivity, you won't make it as an entrepreneur. Business is constantly filled with ups and downs; if the captain of the ship is always positive, he will influence others to feel the same.
--Aaron Pitman, API Domain Investments
The ability to network and sell. Great start-up leaders are always selling. They are selling their employees to work for them, selling investors to invest in them, selling partners to partner with them, selling customers to buy their product. The greatest leaders all know how to sell and network. Tip: Read "How to Win Friends and Influence People."
--Peter Nguyen, Literati Institute
The best leaders have an acute sense of self-awareness; they know their strengths, and more importantly, their weaknesses. A great start-up leader is confident enough to be honest about areas for growth. Knowing areas you need the most assistance with allows you to identify the right people to join your team, as well as the best potential strategic partners for your business. --Charles Bogoian, Kenai Sports
12. The Ability to Listen
Listening is completely underrated in most business environments. In our hyper-competitive world, the person who speaks first--and loudest--is most often heard. But soliciting feedback and internalizing what you hear will always make you a better leader. Your employees will appreciate that you care about their POV and you'll gain trusted partners for the road ahead. --Brendan Mangus, Habidy