A common misconception is that leaders can only be born. As many know from their personal experience - a leader can be made. It takes dedication, a lot of stepping out of their comfort zone, growth, and self-reflection. But the capacity for leadership is in anyone. Sometimes it just takes for someone to help us nurture it.
In the business environment, that someone is usually the immediate superior. In a corporate environment, there is usually a thorough and detailed development plan, KPIs, and action steps. There is structure and a steady pace. But a startup environment is very different - the pace is hectic, the growth is unstable, the progress is bouncy. You never know what the next day or quarter is going to bring. Nurturing leaders in this kind of environment requires a different set of skills and a versatile approach.
Luckily, all of this can be learned, developed, and applied. The best way to help your startup thrive, no matter at what stage you are in, is to dedicate time and resources to develop leaders across your team. Having strong, capable, and motivated leaders will help you share the burden, lighten the load and reach your goals in a more stable, scalable way. So, let’s see what you can do for your team, starting from today.
1. Recognize leadership potential - and act accordingly
There are no perfect person, nor perfect positions. What you do need is to allocate the right people in the right positions - and at the right time! That means knowing their capabilities, current challenges and motivations, desired career paths, and what their next developmental stage is. That way you can handpick the ones who have the drive and resources to be the leader you need in your startup team. Once you’ve selected the right team members, you are responsible for providing them with the right opportunity.
2. Offer plenty of opportunities for growth
Every single person in your startup should be offered plenty of chances to develop themselves. But the ones who are ready for the leadership role should get special attention, so that perfect moment won’t be wasted. If you allow them to work with a mentor, or a coach, to have access to plenty of learning materials, and if you include them in your plans and activities, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. They will grow into leaders dedicated to their work and loyal to your startup. There is no better recipe for success.
3. Include them in decision making
It is highly unlikely that you will be able to develop more leaders across your startup team if you offer only the option to execute, instead of to think, strategize, research, and contribute to the big picture. Leaders are meant to be included in long-term plans, in the cultural foundation, and in the entire vision for the company. The more they participate, the more they will grow in their roles, and be capable of cascading that knowledge further. This investment is one that carries a significant return.
4. Reinforce ownership and accountability
If you handpick your people, give them a chance to grow, and include them in your long-term strategy, you’ve done half the work. The other half is on them. Now they will have to use all of what was shared, and apply it. If you want them to develop as leaders, they will have to actually lead - be responsible for their team and for results, take ownership over decisions and accountability for the outcome. They need to feel like their success belongs to them, as well as their potential failure. The consequences of their actions will make them a leader - no matter if they make mistakes along the way. Your startup will grow as a result of them, and through everything they do. The more space you give them, the better the outcome will be.
5. Monitor, measure, reward
Of course, you can’t simply lean back and watch the show. Your role is to observe, to pay close attention to everything that is happening, and to monitor how actions impact your leaders and their teams. Everything that happens should be measured, because you can’t improve what you aren’t aware of. Keeping track of people and results sometimes seems futile, but it is the best way to determine if your initiatives are leading to the outcome you intend.
In the end, once you are aware of the current state, it is your job to reward. The ones who’ve implemented the new knowledge, made mistakes and learned from them and who are achieving their outcomes. And for those who're not there yet, don’t worry, they just need a little bit of support and guidance. Be there for them, and they will succeed.
Sometimes it’s difficult for startup founders to let someone else be in charge. Their projects, that sometimes lived in their heads for years, are finally being realized, and allowing others to run the show feels scary. And it is! But as the startup grows, so will you, and creating more capable leaders to help you develop your ideas is the very best thing you can do. Think of that not as of people who will take something from you, but as of people who will contribute their own skills and values to help you create something that is so much bigger than anything you’ve ever imagined.
Use the advice we’ve shared to provide them with the support and guidance they need. Their success is your success, and your company's success. Together you will grow your company to levels you did not think were possible.