The Startup Corner: 10 Rules for Startup Leaders
"The thing is... they never said 'you can't.' It was worse than that. They instead told me what to do, and dismissed any different way that my 25-year experience and toolkit offered. This happened with everything. It wasn't a 'you can't'-- it was a 'we won't let you.' In hindsight that's what hurt me the most."
This wasn't a junior employee or newly graduated early-stage career report. This came out of a middle-aged, highly reputable and well-known female who was asked to help establish a start-up only to find when she got there that several others had rushed the strategy she was supposed to create.
Then, with years of start-up experience behind her, she decided to fill in all the rest of the holes and in doing so the team had the impression that she was an administrator-- the one who would facilitate and support and assist everyone. This, a grown, savvy and in many ways brilliant business strategist gladly willing to roll up her sleeves (because that's what you do in start-ups), completely misunderstood by the existing team who ultimately misunderstood why she was hired in the first place.
The start-up was bad... really bad. It was mostly comprised of sales executives who had never started up a company before. They were used to fully evolved forecasts, "secretaries" and administrative assistants taking care of their travel, and policies ready-made for them to simply sign.
The Board was no better. Hailing from big consulting firms, they all claimed to have start-up and commercialization experience, though underneath all of it their incessant requirement to overwork the seasoned executives with overdone analysis of everyone else's business (vs the start-ups business) showed their true stripes. They didn't know what they were doing any better than all those executives in the start-up.
And at the same time, they somehow shunned, dismissed and disregarded the one person who had truly been there / done that, the one person who knew how various functions operated in this particular industry, the one person without ego or fancy-fancy, who rolled up her sleeves and felt it was a good day when everyone on the team felt and looked good.
Ultimately, she left, started her own business, and now helps assure other start-ups don't make the same mistakes while still receiving calls of desperation from her previous team.
So here it is, for all of you who fancy yourselves as start-up execs:
Start-Up Rules for Start-Up Execs Who Think They Know What a Start-Up Is
#1: Know your vision. Make it Concise, Compelling, Competitive and long term. It is a vision.
#2: Know your mission. Make it focused on what you do, who you do it for, and why you do it. Purpose drives your mission.
#3: Know your values and live by them. Your early-stage employees are the ones who should be involved in creating your values. Refrain from the urge of telling everyone what you think the values should be. That means you don't believe in them, which means you don't lead by them. Step aside. You'll only ruin things for everyone else.
#4: Make your people and the processes and policies that govern your people a top priority. If those items aren't your top priority, your people will know it. They will feel it. And they will leave you (either mentally or physically).
#5: Your Customers are critical-- so are your vendor partners. Who you sell to is important. Who you receive service from is, too. Both deserve respect. Someday your vendor partners may be the ones looking across the table from you as they wonder if they should hire your firm.
#6: You aren't nearly as smart as your team is. Stop talking, stop telling them what to do. Your job is to open pathways for them, keep them smart and engaged, keep them fed and clothed.
#7: Your first biggest job is to communicate as much as you can, as kindly and as respectfully as you can, and as steady as you can. Keeping secrets will be the end of you. Not collaborating with your team will be your torture. The interesting thing is you won't know about either one until it's too late.
#8: Your second biggest job is to take care of your people. You only matter after they feel they matter. (see #4)
#9: Re-read #8, just in case you skimmed over it.
#10: Keep that temper in check. You aren't "passionate" if you are yelling or if you are talking over someone or if you are throwing a tantrum. You're just immature and unfit for your role. And it shows.
Start-ups and small businesses are both strong and fragile. There is no room for "bad... really bad" sentiments so early on. Abide by these rules or make up your own; either way, form your own philosophies on what matters most for collective success. You will surely fail if you do not.
We know that launching a new or transforming an existing organization isn't simple, but it can be easier with the right advisors and doers. If you have additional questions about this topic or how it can impact your business, contact us. Let's see what we can do for you.
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