For a startup founder, early business leadership looks a lot like leading by example. You may be running with a small team, but even with people to manage, you’ll spend a small part of your time in the weeds of management compared to the amount of other work necessary to get operations off the ground. You lead with your vision, decisions made in pursuit of the goals of a young company seeking investors.
But once your company reaches stability, leadership starts looking a little different. At this point, you’ll likely expand your staff, bringing on more employees to handle operations and building a core management team. You’re still pursuing your vision, but to some extent, you must trust the people around you to carry it out in your stead. It’s possible for you to outline every last detail of what you want from your company, but this is an approach that eats up a lot of time and leads to resentment among staff.
Instead, the best teams are those built on empowering employees. For leaders, this means accurately conveying roles, expectations and responsibilities. In a startup environment, each employee is entrusted with a wide range of duties. Competent employees may find themselves given more and more responsibilities, leading to burnout if leaders aren’t willing to communicate with them. Clear lines of feedback and well-managed expectations are especially important in these transitionary stages of business.
Even so, it’s frequently better for leaders to trust employees by default. That’s not to say that they should be given complete oversight to do their jobs the way they want. Rather, it means the expectation that employees can bring ideas to the table and have them fairly considered. It also means not creating a bottleneck where every facet of an employee’s work needs manager approval. If leaders can set these standards in place right off the bat with safeguards in place to reevaluate struggling employees, they’ll get better results from their workforce.
In a startup environment, flexibility for employees is even more important given the constant need to adapt and stay agile. You also have the potential to allow employees to weigh in on company initiatives without sacrificing your own vision. However, keep in mind that your conduct in developing new ideas is passed down the chain of command. If you shut down the ideas of your employees, they may stop innovating or trying new things. Conversely, if you pursue every idea, you may find your company mission becomes diluted or that an unnecessarily long time is being spent entertaining each idea.
To that end, decisiveness is valuable in all things. The changing needs of a company as it acquires investors and builds out its employee base means that a founder that is too concerned to delegate, wrapped up in their day-to-day responsibilities, might not be able to serve as effectively as they could. The solutions aren’t always easy, nor is the self-assessment to make the right decisions. It can mean making difficult changes to staff, replacing any members that aren’t a correct fit. It can mean giving up on tasks that you’d prefer to do yourself, or taking on ones you might not be as experienced with. And the rapid adjustment of business goals means that you don’t get the luxury of waiting months to make these changes.
But, like it or not, a business’s leadership needs will evolve with its goals. Every founder should be aware of the skills they’re bringing to their own business and work to evolve themselves in areas that it needs. This means soliciting feedback from employees and stakeholders while aligning your priorities with pressing milestones and opportunities. No matter what, you’ll have to make sacrifices in order to grow your business in accordance with your vision.