Startup Leadership: What it Takes to Be Successful

Aaron Vick - Startup Leadership: What it Takes to Be Successful

For a new company to be successful, effective startup leadership is essential. Let’s take a look at the roles startup leaders play through the growth cycle.

It’s conventional wisdom in the startup world that 9 out of 10 startups fail soon after their creation. This oft-cited statistic is meant to serve as both a cautionary tale and a source of inspiration.

Creating your own business is extremely difficult and extremely risky. Knowing that 9 out of 10 startups fail should help you understand that you need to have superior startup leadership. You need to be on your A-game.

To beat the odds, you need to be the best leader you can be.

Startup Leadership 101

Getting your business off the ground and leading a team of employees to the promised land is an arduous task. But on this quest, we can step on the shoulders of the giants of industry that came before us and use their wisdom to guide us.

Below are some tips on how to provide tremendous startup leadership from Day One.

Understand Why Startups Fail

Before you even consider starting your business, it’s important to understand the commonalities between most startups’ failures and avoid them like the plague.

A company called CB Insights recently dissected 101 post-mortem essays by startup founders about why their companies failed. They found that, among these companies, the most common reason they failed was a lack of market need.

So before you even hire anyone, you need to think long and hard about whether or not anyone will actually want to buy your product or service. No amount of stellar startup leadership will save you from that.

The next two most common reasons for startup failure was a lack of capital and hiring the wrong team for the job. Finding solid investment and a good corp of employees are imperative building blocks for creating a successful company and providing fantastic leadership.

Actually Listen To Your Team

Okay, now that you understand the factors of failure and you’ve hired your team, it’s time to provide some concrete leadership. One of the most important things to do as a leader is to really listen to your employees.

As the leader of a company, it’s easy to get ego-maniacal and become myopic and singularly-focused. It’s natural that you’ll have blind spots, which is why it is important to listen to your employees when they express concern over an issue with a product or the company culture, for example.

Not only should you listen to them when they come to you, but you should also be actively seeking out their feedback.

You can do this by having one-on-one meetings with your employees at regular intervals as well as creating a channel where they can submit candid, anonymous feedback.

Don’t Be Scared of Experimentation

How you conceive of your company or product, and how it works for your employees and the outside world are two different things. Unless you’re a genius, you’re probably not going to get everything right on the first try.

This is why it’s crucial that you be flexible in your approach to leadership and your company’s product or service.

To use a silly example, imagine if you instituted a company policy that required all of your employees to sit on yoga balls instead of traditional chairs. Then, a few days into the creation of this policy, everyone on your team started complaining about their back pain, you need to be able to correct course.

Not every idea you have in terms of your leadership or product/service design is going to be a home run, so you need to accept constructive criticism and adapt — it will make or break your company.

Adopt Full Transparency

If you’ve ever had a job before starting your company, chances are you’ve had a boss that had a stunning inability to be honest with you. You could tell when he was giving you the company line about a given issue and when he wasn’t giving you honest feedback.

Despite how common it is, doing this does not inspire confidence in your boss. Now that you’re the boss, you should be doing the opposite.

This means that whether you’re giving your team news about the company itself or providing specialized feedback to an employee, you need to make sure you’re being completely transparent. This will not only make them trust you, it will also inspire them to provide you with similarly authentic feedback.

Transparency is a tremendous leadership value. Many companies have folded due to a lack of it. Don’t make yours one of them.

Maintain Your Outside Life

Nurturing your company in its early infancy is vital, but don’t make it the sole focus of your life.

This is important because maintaining healthy relationships with loved ones is vital to any human’s happiness and neglecting them for work makes those relationships crumble over time. And there’s nothing worse than dealing with a clinically unhappy boss.

Also, broadening the scope of your life will allow you to manage your company with a clearer head. Every issue you come across at work can feel monumentally important if your work is the sole focus of your being. Putting this much pressure on yourself and your employees can be incredibly draining.

On top of that, by making your life outside of work a priority, you’ll show your employees that they should be doing the same. This will contribute to their happiness as well.

The company should be important to you and your employees, but it shouldn’t be all-encompassing.

Need More Startup Advice?

There is much more that goes into running a successful business than startup leadership. You could be the next Steve Jobs and your leadership won’t matter if other aspects of your business aren’t functioning well.

If you’d like more advice on how to run a successful business, check out the rest of my startup page. Whether you need advice or marketing or acquiring funding, I’ve got information for you.