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Leading Your Startup

Styles appropriate to entrepreneurship

Leading Your Startup: First of all as an entrepreneur, leading your startup has to be from from the inside and managing with a strong reliance on your intuition. Of course, this has to be balanced by dated-backed pragmatism.

Do not be a slave to the management theorists (though if you must, visit Values Based Management where scores of them are briefly and well described).

Henri Fayol, the French engineer who died in 1925, described the six primary functions of management:

  1. forecasting
  2. planning
  3. organizing
  4. commanding
  5. coordinating
  6. controlling

But in the new economy the words might better be:

  • researching
  • appreciating,
  • experimenting,
  • networking,
  • facilitating,
  • evaluating.

In any event, an leading your startup is essentially a leader, both inside and outside the company. Leadership is a subject about which almost everyone has a view. Leadership styles can vary by situation (so-called situational leadership: telling, selling, participating, delegating) and may include any or more than one of these styles:

– autocratic – participative
– bureaucratic – servant
– charismatic – task-oriented
– hands-off – transactional
– human relations – transformational

Leaders, especially entrepreneurial leaders, do need to exercise flexibility, but they need to know themselves well and be authentic, rather than role players. Leaders and especially entrepreneurs are transparent and someone who lacks integrity will be spotted quickly.

Leadership or Communityship?

Henry Mintzberg, the business school professor reckons that, “Companies must remake themselves into places of engagement, where people are committed to one another and their enterprise.” He talks of community in terms of people’s sense of belonging to and caring for something larger than themselves.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, he says, “Young, successful companies usually have this sense of community. They are growing, energized, committed to their people, almost a family. But sustaining it with the onset of maturity can be another matter: Things slow down, politics builds up, the world is no longer their oyster.”

If you can really create and maintain this sense of community within your new venture business then you will be a long way towards making it sustainable. This is not just a matter of community within the business, but also among all the stakeholders, or all those upon whom it depends for its survival.

Leadership in all aspects of life

Leading your startup must involve a reflection of the appropriate style of leadership. It may need to break with the command and control approach that typified your previous employer. Stewart Friedman, the author of Total Leadership, describes the opportunity of four-way wins by acting with authenticity, integrity, and creativity in the four domains of your life (the image below is ©Total Leadership):

I suggest you read Stew’s book, or at least watch an interview with him at Knowledge at Wharton. His contention is that the best leaders balance and integrate their work and career, their home and family, their community and society at large, as well as the aspects of their lives that are normally referred to as mind, body and spirit.

When it comes to getting the job done, there are also different styles that may be appropriate in differing circumstances. They are often described as four quadrants:


when people are reluctant, and lack competence


when people are willing and know how to go about the task


when people are reluctant, can contribute but need support


when people are willing but need support at the same time

The problem for entrepreneurs is that they typically do not have an evolved management team and frequently rely upon people over whom they have no authority. Hence they, above all kinds of manager, need to be able to use skills from each of the quadrants.

A head or a headless leadership style

For entrepreneurs, the authors of The Starfish and the Spider have listed a new set of rules of the game of leading your startup; get the book and use it. They talk of centralized and decentralized organizational styles and contrast ‘The Spanish Army’ where there’s someone in charge vs. ‘The Apache’ where there’s no one in charge.

Of course in a new business venture, there may be no single person who is strictly ‘in charge’, but there will be a lead entrepreneur who must be aware of the starfish and the spider, especially in the Internet age, when they have to manage complex processes inside and outside the business.

Most startups are bound to have a very flat management structure. People are likely to be doing more than one job and are sometimes responsible for activities for which they have no training. They have to fly by the seat of the pants.

Informality is the rule rather than the exception. Small numbers result in intimacy. The founder of the business is necessarily in a very different relationship to employees than in a large established enterprise and mimicry of corporate behavior is likely to be decried.

Wise startups are likely to be lean and make use of many people who are not on the payroll and thus, over whom bosses have little power. Vendors sometimes have more power than buyers.

Five rules to lead by

For leaders who want to improve their performance in leading the startup, the challenge is to find their way through the plethora of leadership theories. One book that cuts through a lot of them is Leadership Code: Five Rules to Lead By:

  1. Shape the Future;
  2. Make Things Happen;
  3. Engage Today’s Talent;
  4. Build the Next Generation;
  5. Invest in Yourself.

PLEASE NOTE: There is tons of useful stuff on Startup Owl, a site that’s been going for a dozen years. So keep browsing, but know that the founder, Will, now devotes most of his time and energy to his new website that you should definitely visit:

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