When you start a business are likely to be very involved with your product or service, gaining investment and setting up your business structure. But how much thought are you giving to your leadership role and how you will handle becoming a leader?
Leading a new business gives you the opportunity to shape and influence it and, perhaps more nobly, to turn a vision and a dream into reality. Nevertheless, leadership is hard, and people often harbour unrealistic expectations about what is involved.
Let me share four things that entrepreneurs should consider before becoming immersed in leading a new organisation:
- Leadership will stretch and test you
Nobody comes to leadership completely unprepared. We all bring some skills and knowledge to the table – most of which will be useful in some shape or form. For example, if you’re good with numbers, this will help you make certain decision; if you’re good with people, it will help bond with your peers and your team; if you’re good at communication, your ideas will gain traction faster than would otherwise be the case.
However, you may not have all the skills that your role in your startup requires. In some situations you’ll have the opportunity to leverage your strengths into super strengths which, in turn, will mitigate your weaknesses. Despite this, it’s likely that at some point you’ll need to step-up and embrace new tasks and learn new skills.
It’s also likely that, as part of your entrepreneurial and leadership journey, you’ll learn a few home truths. For me, the biggest discovery was that I perhaps wasn’t as organised or structured as I thought I was. Structure and organisation matter a lot in leadership, especially when it comes to execution and I’ll touch upon this later in this article.
- Your attitude will matter more than your aptitude
As an entrepreneur you might be great at communicating with others, generating new ideas, or developing detailed strategies by analysing information – but you’ll judged more on your attitude towards your role than on your skills.
Particularly in a startup you’ll be juggling your leadership roles with other areas of our life and time is often at a premium. Attitude is about the way you tackle the challenges and constraints; it’s about how you approach your role and take on its responsibilities.
For example, if you’re somebody that likes to take things easy and finds it hard to be very responsive when communicating, you’ll rapidly need to become more proactive in everything you do. The impact of not responding to a message, missing a deadline or delaying making a decision can have a huge impact on whether you startup succeeds or not. But worse than that, it can impact on people’s belief and trust in you as a leader. If your behaviour demonstrates a poor attitude towards your role, then disillusion and disengagement will follow. It’s surprising how quickly people notice that something hasn’t been done, when it should have been, or that a request went unanswered.
Jumping both feet forward into your startup will definitely help you, regardless of your abilities. Nowadays, mountains of information on any subject are readily available, use these resources to plug any knowledge gap and find out more about your role and your many tasks. Waiting a few months and saying “I am just getting started” will not make a great impression and may impact the quality of your leadership. If you chose to lead, make some commitments to yourself and accept the weight of expectations placed upon you.
- Leadership is all about detail
The visible parts of leadership in a startup as well as other businesses are the grand visions, the speeches, meetings with colleagues, inspiring and motivating your team, seeing your vision realised – but behind this lies hundreds, if not thousands, of hours work, often spend discussing tiny details that may not seem important to a casual observer.
In my corporate strategy days, I often spent a lot of time looking for first-hand sources of information and double checking it afterwards. What’s more a colleague would check my own work once I was done and edits and reworks almost always followed. The process took time and wasn’t always rewarding. However, it was worth it as the result was fantastic documents that our senior leadership team used to drive the business forward.
Number-crunching and information gathering is a big part of strategic leadership. Small details, like how something is worded, can be of great importance, for example, in your policies and protocols . But remember, there is a line between too much detail and not focusing on detail at all.
- Leading can be costly – physically and emotionally
One of the things I enjoy the most as a leader, is travelling to meet other people across the UK. These visits are a unique opportunity to soak up knowledge while inspiring others and passing on key messages. But the travelling, being away from home, constantly jumping from train to hotel to train again – and burning the midnight oil to prepare for the follow day’s presentation – can be exhausting.
For entrepreneurs it is important to remember that while the physical cost of leadership can be mitigated with strong personal discipline and good time management, the emotional costs are more difficult to predict. Unintended conflicts, being let down, having to take on extra work to support a business partner – these can all take their toll. Decision-making fatigue is another key problem – sometimes even having to decide what to have for dinner can seem like a decision too far! So, make a commitment to look after yourself – if you allow yourself to get burnt out, you won’t be much use as a leader in your startup.
Human relations can be the hardest part of leadership; from disappointing friends to giving difficult feedback. Strong people skills and high emotional intelligence will help, but even this can only do so much. So be prepared for the strains that leadership will inevitably bring.
It very likely that you’ll find that your leadership journey is an eventful one. However, if you take some time to understand leadership in the context of your startup or growth business and act accordingly, it will help you power ahead with your entrepreneurial goals and dreams.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Florian Bay is District 91 Director of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org