10 Leadership Traits and Skills Needed at a Startup & Small Business: Part 1March 26th, 2010 | Small Business,Small Business Tips | 3 Comments »
This is the first in a two part series on leadership traits and skills that can help increase the chances of startup and small business success. There are literally thousands of books and probably many more blog posts on how to succeed in a start up or small business. There are some great sites solely devoted to these topics like the Small Company Blog and StartupNation. Books on leadership in business are also everywhere including ones by like Jack Welch’s Straight from the Gut and Jim Collins who wrote Good to Great and Built to Last. This posts, however, actually tries to bridge these two areas and discuss leadership traits and skills that can help a startup or small business succeed.
In my time at Kikscore and also in conversations with friends, contacts and folks I have met at conferences like SXSW, there seems to be a consensus that the following traits really can help bolster your company:
1. Embrace Wearing Multiple Hats: Small businesses and startups have in their fabric that they are resource constrained. As a result startups and small businesses that often succeed are the ones where the owners are comfortable juggling multiple tasks that may straddle finance, marketing, technology, customer service, operations and business development. But even more importantly the owners need not just embrace the multiple hats, but also at the very same time constantly be thinking two to three steps ahead to determine when is the best time: a) that you need to switch hats and put on another operational hat or b) when you need to put on a brand new hat in order to ensure success in a certain area of your business. At early stages of startups and small businesses, the ability for owners to successfully wear these different hats can even determine whether a company survives or fails. This trait also dovetails with the fourth trait below because it is also important to know when to put down the hat and instead hire an expert.
2. Take & Give Feedback: Owners and leaders in startups and small business need to embrace literally 360 degree feedback. This is feedback from customers, from vendors, partners, investors, fellow employees, their management team and even their own families! A continuous feedback loop from all of these parties ensures that you, your business, your product, your team and your partners are having an open and transparent conversation to put your business in the best position for success. Instead of shying away from feedback, encourage and embrace it especially from your team and your customers. At first it may be uncomfortable but in the end if you have some level of detachment and a lack of sensitivity/insecurity to others’ comments you can really grow yourself and become a better leader. Continual feedback from your customers is also critical for building a great product that customers cant get enough of and keep buying!
3. Focus and Refocus: A startup and small business pulls owners and management in many directions. As a result, it is very easy to lose the focus of your company and your plans for growth because you let other external factors drive your focus. It is imperative to have a focused set of objectives/goals for the company. But as a company you need to do more than just have these objectives/goals. The best startups and small business keep these objectives/goals in the back of their mind in every action they take. Even more importantly, they measure what they did yesterday, are doing today and will do tomorrow against these objectives/goals. That is why it is critical that on a regular basis that startup and small business management track progress of the company and day to day tasks against these objectives/goals. Only by doing this will you be able to have a core focus and also continually make sure you refocus on the most important objectives for the business. We outlined the importance of keeping your startup focused in a previous post here as well as methods to maintain that focus here.
4. Hire and manage outsourced resources: While your role in the startup or small business may be to wear many hats, a critical job is to know when its time to call in an expert in a certain operational area. When it is clear that you need assistance for product development, marketing, strategy, customer service or even back office operations, its time to outsource. Outsourcing can save you valuable time, money and help you focus on your core operations and goals of growing your business. While you focus, your outsourced vendors can step in and help you. But too many outsourcing arrangements fail. It is not enough just to hire a vendor to perform an operational function for you. It is critical to the success of your business that you set expectations, train, and create defined deliverables that your outsourced vendor can understand and meet. It is imperative to set clear expectations, actively manage the outsourced resources and continually measure the value the vendor brings to your company. In the hiring and managing of these resources, you have to be comfortable with quickly and decisively terminating outsourced vendor relationships that are not working. Here are a few tools you can use to help manage outsourced technology developers.
5. Be a Great Teammate: Startups and small businesses are only as good as their respective teams. Therefore the team dynamic is instrumental in business success. As a result for your company, it is imperative that you support your teammates and you continually deliver great results in your role on the team. But that is not enough. Great teammates are the ones that go far beyond what is expected and are relentless in their pursuit of a great product and phenomenal customer experience. They step in and fill voids when they may exist but the void is actually not readily apparent. These teammates think two, three and sometimes four steps ahead and take on the responsibility to address the issues that will come up down the road. The best startups and small businesses are the ones where the teammates continually push each other so that they can each grow to make each other better. That in turn makes the company and the product better. Great teammates also mean your fans and customers are happy! For tips on building the right team check out this excellent post on that topic.
Look out for Part 2 in this series that will be published next week. Until then, please tell us what you think about the traits and skills you have seen in successful startups and small business.