Creating and building a business is not a one-man show. It requires a team effort, or at least the ability to build trust and confidence among key players, and effectively communicate with partners, team members, investors, vendors, and customers. These actions are the hallmark of an effective leader.
Behind the actions are a set of principles and characteristics that entrepreneurial leaders, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, seem to have in common. Look for these and nurture them in your own context to improve the odds of success for your own startup:
- Clarity of vision and expectations. You must be able and willing to communicate to everyone your vision, goals, and objectives. Just as importantly, you have to be absolutely clear about who you are, what you stand for, and what you expect from everyone around you. People won’t follow you if they are in the dark or confused.
- Willingness to make decisions. It is often said that making any decision is better than making no decision. Even better than “any decision” is a good decision made quickly. Business decisions always involve risk, at times a great deal of it. Smart entrepreneurs always balance the risk with facts, when they have them, rather than their gut.
- Experience and knowledge in your business area. Effective leaders set a personal standard of competence for every person and function in the startup. It must be clear that you have the knowledge, insight, and skill to make your new company better than your very best competitor.
- Commitment and conviction for the venture. This commitment must be passionate enough to motivate and inspire people to do their best work, and put their heart into the effort. Behind the passion must be a business model that makes sense in today’s world, and a determination to keep going despite setbacks.
- Open to new ideas and creativity. In business, this means spending time and resources on new ideas, as well as encouraging people to find faster, better, cheaper, and easier ways to produce results, beat competition, and improve customer service. Be a role model and guide others to excel.
- Courage to acknowledge and attack constraints. An effective leader is willing and able to allocate resources to remove obstacles to the success of the startup, as well as removing constraints on individuals on the team. It is believing that where there is the will, there will be a way.
- Reward continuous learning. You have to encourage everyone to learn and grow as a normal and natural part of business. That means no punishment for failures, and positive opportunities for training and advancement. Personally, it means upgrading your own skills, listening, and reading about new developments and approaches.
- Self-discipline for consistency and reliability. An effective leader is totally predictable, calm, positive, and confident, even under pressure. People like to follow someone when they don’t have to “walk on eggshells” to avoid angry outbursts, or assume daily changes in direction.
- Accept responsibility for all actions. Everyone and every company makes mistakes. Good entrepreneurs don’t want to be seen as perfect, and they have to be seen as willing to accept the fact that “the buck stops here.” No excuses, or putting the blame on the economy, competitors, or team members.
The good news is that all of these principles of leadership are learnable. The bad news is that it’s not easy. Don’t assume that success as an entrepreneur is only about great presentations, killing competitors, or having insanely great ideas. It’s really more about leadership, understanding the needs of your prospective clients, and communicating your solutions with clarity.