True leaders realize that, by definition, the word “leader” places one at the front and not the rear. Yet many, many executives try to lead through fear and intimidation. This isn’t really leading at all. It’s pushing. Those of you with time in the military probably understand this concept well.
In startups, leading from the front means that you are not afraid to get your hands dirty, pitching in to get the job done. If you are the type of leader that likes to sit back and delegate, you shouldn’t have left your nice job at American International Group (AIG), unless you had no choice, of course.
Delegation is a great skill to have, but you have to lead effectively to earn the right to use it. Intimidating or berating other team members from a position of power doesn’t work in lieu of leadership. If one of your executives hasn’t learned that, you need to get rid of them. Otherwise they will kill you in the end, one way or another.
In every startup, people are expected to wear multiple hats, each and every day. An effective leader that wears many hats easily creates loyalty. This is a quality that cannot be bought or bullied. Loyalty must be earned, and startup executives who earn it generally do the following:
- Communicate and demonstrate a clear sense of purpose
- Provide great coaching, mentoring, and tutoring
- Recognize, praise, and reward achievement
- Ensure credit is given where credit is due
- Consistently dependable and knowledgeable
- Always accessible
- Treat people fairly
- Listen well
- Have patience and humility
- Helpful and quick to expedite important matters
- Demonstrates loyalty by standing up for his team, defending them to other executives, and when necessary, to customers
Funny thing about loyal team members – they respond very well to being led from the front. Your team’s level of motivation and attention to detail is always going to have a fairly direct correlation to your ability to keep things moving forward, despite the cyclone spinning around you.
People will make mistakes, so accept it now – certain tasks, even critical ones, can get lost in the noise. The 100% solution is never attainable – so forget about. Strive for 90% and try to get that part right. The rest will come in time.
Communicate effectively and constantly with your team. No news is not good news in times of crisis. Tell the truth even when it hurts. Don’t be caught stuck to your chair while the storm is swirling around you. You must stay on top of everything and everyone. And guess what, you will miss things, too. Get over it.
Unfortunately, a crisis often drives leaders to retreat behind closed doors instead of advancing to the source of the problem. They withdraw to their desk, get inundated with data, overwhelmed by numbers and lose the connection with their people. Witness the recent management problems in the financial and insurance industries.
It’s not only the financial industry that is in crisis today. Our whole health care system and many business areas are in the same boat. Now is the opportunity for real leadership. Leadership is about being visible and setting the right example out front on the firing line. There is a saying in the military that generals who lead troops from the safety of the rear, should have to take it in the rear. That’s not a comfortable position for anyone.