How to lead a startup team successfully
Having a strong reliable team is at the heart of building any successful sustainable business that is why investors say they invest in people not ideas. Many entrepreneurs overthink the ideas, the plans, the strategies, and underestimate the importance of building the team of people who will actually execute and turn these ideas into reality.
Having agreed on the importance of an A team on your side, it is important to point out that having an A team is inseparable from having an A leader in the sense that if the leader-team dynamic is not effective or positive, then skills and potentials will be wasted and lost.
It might be challenging to lead a team of people in a small business; some of them might be just starting out their careers, some might not be professional or really passionate about the business altogether, the environment might be stressful and demands a high level of adaptability, big resources might not be available in order to attract and keep employees interested.
Being the founder/the CEO of your startup means that you have enough passion and energy to beat challenges coming your way in order to build and see your vision coming into life, and leading the team successfully is definitely one of these challenges.
Challenge accepted? Let us list some qualities of a successful leader
What are the qualities of a successful startup team leader?
Smiling and having a good sense of humour is absolutely great, but this is not what positivity is about. Positivity is an attitude and a mindset. Positivity is about finding solutions rather than blaming others or complaining about their work.
Positivity lies in your ability to see the good in your team members and employees and enhancing it even when they cannot see it themselves.
How to adopt positivity?
Try to adopt a positive attitude toward your business and life in general and this will be reflected in your attitude toward the team and what they are working on.
Activate empathy towards the team members and try to see things from their perspective.
Do not rush things and keep in mind that good results need enough patience and time before they bloom.
Always look forward and avoid getting stuck in certain ideas/mistakes/events.
You do not have to be a total extrovert in order to have a deep belief and gratitude for your abilities. True confidence lies in actually believing in something; its potential, its quality, its uniqueness, and its chances of success.
Confidence is required in any leader of any organisation but it is more so for startups’ CEOs and for entrepreneurs. Since the business is still small and there are not that many external factors to boost the confidence of the team members working with you so it should be 'shining from within', as it were.
You should be confident enough about your abilities, your business, your strategy, your decision, and your team.
How to show confidence as a team leader?
First and foremost, confidence cannot be faked, you need to put in enough time in creating and improving every aspect before being able to be truly confident about it and for your confidence to be reflected through your behaviour and speech.
Be open about your decisions and strategies and do not leave untapped or 'taboo' areas.
Make sure you praise what should be praised. Letting an employee in your team know that they have done something right is probably the most effective way for motivating them to do their best and a very good way to show that you are confident enough as a person.
Great leaders make the right decisions!
This is a true very general and all-encompassing statement because after all, everything boils down to making the right decision, but how can this relate to you as a startup CEO/team leader?
First, you need to be making the right decisions regarding your business plan and strategy. Things like deciding what products to launch, what markets to enter, what customers to target should be thoroughly thought-out because they will constitute the basis on which everything is built.
Secondly, you should be making wise decisions in team-building choices; hired employees, fired employees, and everything in between.
Thirdly, you need to be making the right decisions in day-to-day operations. As a startup founder, you will probably come across many difficult choices throughout your workday. These might be questions your team members are asking. For example:
1. Should we focus on pursuing this partnership?
2. Should we start with the task we have been discussing immediately?
3. Should we follow this specific marketing strategy?
Decisions like these will build over and will make or break your business over time.
But after all, what is a 'right' decision business-wise?
This might be a bit subjective, but I think all founders and CEOs agree that the right decision in the business worlds is a decision that has these three qualities:
a. Data-driven and logical
b. Practical and leads to good results
c. Aligns with the ethics, values, and vision of the business
Showing and earning the respect of your team
Your ability to show respect and gain respect is the key to a successful relationship, but it is one of the most important leadership traits.
How can you earn your team’s respect as a leader?
Present yourself in a way that demands respect
This could be as simple as adopting good manners. Being respectful towards your team and towards customers and other parties will lead to being respected back.
Present your skills in a clear way without showing off
You should present your personal intellectual and business skills in order to gain the respect of different kinds of people in your team. Do not be afraid of showing your abilities while maintaining your healthy and essential level of humbleness and modesty. A balanced mixture will do the trick.
How can you show respect to your team members?
Listen actively to their feedback
Listening to your team members’ opinions and discussing them with them and with other team members will show that you have respect for them and value their thoughts as people and as employees.
Acknowledge their efforts
Give credit when credit is due. Whether in person or in public, acknowledging a colleague’s efforts, will show your respect to them and will also result in an environment of respect among the team.
Call them out when they make mistakes
Treating your team members as responsible and accountable human beings and holding them to certain standards shows that you owe them respect and pushed them to do their best.
Having strong personal relations with your team members
Knowing your team members is absolutely a strength, this helps you build a strong relationship with your team.
Being close to your team and listening to their problems and views is an important leadership trait.
Does your connection with team members as a leader have to be restricted to business and work?
This might be a little problematic, but there again, a healthy balance is the goal. You need to keep the boundaries while marinating a friendly and comfortable connection with your employees.
How can you maintain a strong connection with your team members as a leader?
1. Ask questions
2. Be understanding
3. Support them and help them grow
4. Communicate (and not on the surface level)
5. Recognise their needs
6. Accept differences
7. Invest enough time and effort in building a bond with them
Strengthening the bond between you as a leader and your employees might be challenging among the million responsibilities you have in mind, but it goes a long way and makes a big positive impact on the business and the value it creates.
A great leader is able to take the appropriate action to keep his team on track even in the middle of unexpected events. Flexibility also means being able to recognise opportunities and seize them.
It is vital for a startup CEO to be flexible and adaptable. The journey of a startup is full of ups and downs and it is never predictable, and this is why you need to have enough flexibility in order to lead the business in the right direction and even make use of the chaos to create new innovative solutions.
You also need to be flexible when listening to criticism and feedback from your team. Recognising and applying good advice when you have the chance to receive it is a quality of successful leaders.
How to be more flexible?
Practice flexibility in different areas in your personal life
“Charity begins at home,” as the saying goes. If you think you are lacking in flexibility you might want to start practicing it on a beginner’s level first with decision related to your personal life before expecting to miraculously becoming more flexible when taking big business decisions.
Widen your horizon by letting more info in
Read more and listen more. Bring in more perspectives. Read about other startups’ success stories. Listen to other entrepreneurs talking about their small business’ journey. This helps you in considering new possibilities and in staying open-minded.
Having great and responsible team members is super important for your small business’ success, but being able to lead your team successfully and to create a comfortable and nurturing work environment is your responsibility as a startup team leader.
Owning this fact and working on acquiring good leadership skills is the only way one can become a successful CEO. One cannot 'be' a great leader, one 'becomes' a great leader.