By Tim Chaves, founder & CEO at ZipBooks.
What does it take to be a good leader? This topic has been approached so often that much of the advice has been reduced to clichés. But where do these phrases come from? Some of them likely started out as useful ideas with compelling results, but over time, the symbols traveled farther than the substance. After all, it's easier to champion a phrase than implement a successful strategy. Here are five leadership clichés I've found to be true -- and why they're important (with some caveats).
'Do more with less.'
When you own a startup, every dollar counts. And when you're in the earliest stages, this comes intuitively -- so intuitively, that the cliché probably doesn't even bear repeating. But the whole notion of doing more with less gets really important once you reach just a little bit of success. Once you have some revenue coming in, or you've raised a decent seed round, it can be highly tempting to let go of the reins just a little bit. We've felt this temptation too after raising a couple million in our latest round. But don't! Until you're completely out of survival mode, meaning (at least) millions in annual revenue, keep finding ways to be agile.
'Lead by example.'
Too many leaders forget that their employees observe what they're doing and look to them to set the tone of the company. If you want to build a culture of hard work, consistency and results, then you need to be exemplifying those attributes.
When I worked at Google, employees were encouraged to be "Google-y," which meant humble, competent, ambitious, creative and honest. We also had weekly "TGIFs" where Larry Page and other senior leaders would give company-wide updates on what we were doing. With that visibility, it was clear that "Google-yness" reached the very top. If you remember to always lead by example, what you do will never get in the way of what you say.
'There's no 'I' in team.'
While literally true, this cliché has some metaphorical merit as well. Entrepreneurs tend to be comfortable with doing things on their own; otherwise, their company wouldn't have even been created in the first place! But I've realized that there's simply no way to accomplish the things we need to do without an incredible team working together.
Even at the earliest stages of our company, I realized that while I was competent at product building, getting early users was not my forte. Bringing on an experienced, smart and hardworking marketer early was the key to our first successes. If I could apply one rule here, I'd say that your early members should be pulling you along, not the other way around. If you find yourself pushing (even a little), you've got the wrong team.
'Lead by consensus.'
If your team isn't buying into your company's mission, you need to figure out how to get them on board or modify the mission so that everyone can feel like it's worth aspiring to. That being said, it's important to realize that, for some decisions, you need to make the call yourself and move on. When it comes to questions that belong to one function -- product development, marketing, sales, operations -- you want to be careful bringing in opinions from team members outside of that core function. It can be impossible to get stuff done if you're looking for unanimity.
'Hit the ground running.'
When I first got my company started, I knew that our industry would be highly competitive and fast-moving. Because of that, I took my final semester off from graduate school to build the initial version of our product and start pitching for an initial seed round.
That early work paid off, and I got a term sheet two days before graduation. Full-time work on my product started that same week. Amazingly, we saw some competitive efforts to counter what we were doing within a few months.
If I had waited just a little bit longer, I likely would have had a less compelling pitch both to investors and early team members. Because we made "hit the ground running" part of our culture, we've been able to stay one step ahead of our competition.
Tim Chaves is the founder & CEO at ZipBooks, a free accounting tool with built-in invoice financing, time tracking & payment processing.