10 Leadership Traits and Skills Needed at a Startup & Small Business: Part 2April 9th, 2010 | Small Business,Small Business Tips | 2 Comments »
This is the second in a two part series on leadership traits and skills that can help increase the chances of startup and small business success. We discussed the first 5 leadership traits in a recent post. This post covers the next 5 skills.
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:
6. Always Think about Costs: Spending too much money too fast can kill your startup or small business. Paul Graham, a partner at well-known incubator Y-Combinator lists the failure to control costs as one of the main mistakes that can destroy your business. So it is critical that a startup or small business constantly be thinking about the costs of running their business. This may sound like it is obvious, but I have found myself at times just saying with our startup – “We can afford that, lets go for it!” That is dangerous thinking because if that thinking takes over your business, before you know it the business is bleeding money. So instead, for every expenditure a leader needs to ask: 1) Do I really need to spend this money?; 2) Is there a cheaper way for me to accomplish the same goal? and 3) What do expect to get out of this investment? Then its also important to follow up and assess whether the money was in fact well spent after the fact. Check out this post on 16 Strategies for Cash Stapped Businesses by Marissa Levin at the Women Grow Business Blog for help in this area. Also check out these 10 Money Saving Tools for Small Business.
7. Be Accountable and Demand Accountability: For startups and small businesses, it is easy to avoid accountability because teams are small and if something does not get done someone else steps in to pick up the slack. But this lack of accountability can decrease morale, create tension between partners and lead to the business not achieving its full potential. Therefore members of startups and small businesses need to create a culture of accountability for both themselves and the team. Amber Riviere writes at WebWorker Daily that an Accountability Partner is a good way to make sure you stay on track for your own goals. Startups and small businesses need to make sure that each teammate serves as an Accountability Partner to each other. Therefore you can demand accountability for yourself and also across the team. This skill is also intertwined with Trait #2, Take & Give Feedback! Accountability goes hand in hand with accepting feedback.
8. Have Clear Milestones & Objectives for the Business: The accountability that we just discussed has to be based on something. It based on clear goals, milestones and objectives for the startup or small business. As we have covered before, these items are key to keeping a company focused. The milestones and the objectives, if clearly defined, also allow the various members of a startup or the small business to stay on the same page. As the Small Company Blog discussed in a recent post, all of this is critical in order to maintain a shared vision of the company. It is the role of the members of a startup or a small business to measure everything that they are doing for the company against these milestones and objectives. Even more importantly, it is critical that company goals are reviewed and appropriately updated to take into account new business opportunities or changes in market conditions. A static set of milestones and goals can be just as deadly as none at all!
9. Over Communicate: In large companies, its almost a staple for managers to be trained to over-communicate to their staff, especially in times of change. On the flip side, startups and small businesses can slip into the path of having information remain tightly held by founders and owners. This is one area where startups and small businesses should strive to do exactly what management gurus recommend. Communicate. Communicate. And keep Communicating!!! To who you may ask? To everyone. Communicate with fellow partners and employees in the company. Communicate with vendors, partners and outsourced contractors. And finally, go well beyond so you over-communicate with your customers. When in doubt, pick up the phone and call or email and check in with your customers. The ability to communicate is critical to a success of a leader at a startup or small business.
10. Always Seek out Guidance: As a startup or small business owner you should come to grips with the fact that many people have been in very similar shoes as you are. So why not seek out guidance from those other people about the challenges you face? Chances are they may have faced the same challenges that you are dealing with right now. Paul Mullan at Bloggertone uses the great saying in a post ““To know the road ahead, ask those coming back” when imploring people to Ask For Directions! The lesson from this is tap into your network and your friends of friends. At KikScore, we found out first hand that not only does our network help us out with guidance but through a simple 15 minute conversation with a close friend, we discovered a whole new channel opportunity for us. Startup and small business leaders should not be shy to talk to their contacts in order to get feedback on any assortment of items including strategic goals, marketing, partnership opportunities, management challenges, expansion of operations, hiring and a whole host of other items. All you have to do is be motivated enough to ask for the guidance! You will be surprised with how many people will Pay it Forward!
11. Lose the Ego: This is a quick bonus trait. As startups and small businesses grow, the dynamics of a team change. The dynamics of the leadership and management also change. Often the change can be traced back to growing egos, needs to claim credit and demanding recognition. Leaders should do everything to lose that ego. In the end, if they are selfless in their acts and are focusing on making sure they are doing what is truly right for the business and putting aside their ego, that will help the management and the company ease that transition to a more successful and growing startup or small business. Also it will save the business from the perils of dealing with egos and all of the baggage that is typically created from dueling egos or a super ego in the company.
So these traits and the skills we covered in the first part of this series are some of the key characteristics I have seen in my experience. Of course, these traits and skills are not the only traits you need for success. So please tell us what you think about the traits and skills you have seen in successful startups and small business.