Leadership in an Age of Startups

We are living in an age of startups. Every day new entrepreneurs start their own companies, despite the odds that are against them. Startups need to face with goliath every day. The competition is fierce and this inevitably causes a shift in leadership and management paradigms.

In corporate firms there are many managers whose job is to make sure the individual departments work properly. If a manager’s department is performing poorly, it is easy to change him. You can either appoint someone else or hire someone else. In corporate firms there is in most cases a cadre of leaders who shape the future of the company.

In a startup, in most cases, you do not have the luxury of hiring managers for departments. Again in most cases your departments are a one-man army. Leadership in startups mean that the CEO must be a leader and influence your troops, also you must a be a manager that oversees their works and performances.

This necessity, forced startup CEO’s to think outside of the box and inevitably shifted the paradigm of how to run a business. Every day we read another startup success story. Quintessence of these stories is how leaders maneuver and succeed on their everyday quest to challenge goliath.

 

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Conventional vs. Unconventional leadership

Conventional forces are like a regular army. There is a chain of command and subordinates follow the orders of commanding officers. Unconventional forces on the other hand are formed by different groups and they do not answer to a unified command, basically there are no chain of command.

In startups there are different approaches to chain of command or leadership. Different arguments battle with each other, some say a strong and influential leadership is essential while others say a communityship is better for startups.  

Also keep in mind there is no “5 step guide to become a leader”. Experiences of successful entrepreneurs will provide you with valuable information but in the end you need to draft your own road map.

As mentioned in the introduction, a combination of both is a necessity. Do not forget that titles and positions are constructed. Just because you are the supreme commander that does not make you a leader. There are many generals who were relieved from command because they were incompetent and could not lead their troops.

[Tweet “Being a #leader in a #startup require a different approach than a #corporate #Entrepreneurship @cloudnames”]

Video gaming or ditch digging

As a metaphor for leadership we use “video gaming” and “ditch digging.” In video games you always solve complex problems and overcome challenges in a rapidly changing environment.

Ditch digging is the opposite, there is no complex problem to solve or a challenge to tackle. It requires effective and efficient teamwork to achieve results with limited resources.

Over the course your startup will force you to change your leadership style. The early stages of a startup are like playing video games. Individual effort and talent makes a big difference in video games. This is not a problem for the early steps of a startup. Infact this approach overlaps with the definition of the Lean Startup.

The Lean Startup is a very common terminology that you should study when you are an entrepreneur. According to www.theleanstartup.com,  the textbook definition of a Lean Startup is this: “The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers’ hands faster.”

The Lean Startup favors an innovative approach over a linear approach. This is why early stages of a startup is like video gaming. Over time, if your startup takes off and become a successful one, you will need to introduce ditch digging.

When companies grow, operational execution becomes more important than brilliant solutions. Therefore long run success depends on digging bigger ditches in shorter time and more economically.

 

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Be Ready for Everything

People are good at different things. Some people are video gamers, some are ditch diggers, and a very rare breed is good at both. A good leader should assess the situation and deploy right people on right tasks. A video gamer can become a distraction and cause conflict while digging a ditch. A ditch digger can miss good opportunities.

Startups have relatively flat structures and this prevents a visible hierarchy to be established. The lines are usually blurred in a startup, sense of family kicks in and creates informal bonds.

In the early stages of a startup blurry lines provides necessary freedom and autonomy for video gamers to be effective. This structure is not preferred by ditch diggers, operational excellence is provided by a strict hierarchy therefore ditch diggers do not like blurry lines and a flat hierarchy.

The real dilemma for leaders start here: How to establish a culture that embodies both ditch digging and video gaming? History of Warfare proves over and over again conventional forces cannot succeed over unconventional forces. That is why armies all around the world, without any exception, have special forces command.

Special Forces are unique and highly trained and very small military units, they can operate in any climate and under any circumstances. In short they are the video gamers of conventional forces.

This is only one example but it proves it is possible to establish a culture that can support both video gaming and ditch digging. Remember there is no “5 step guide to become a leader” so you have trust your instincts, carefully examine the successful startups and draft your own road map.

[Tweet “Different challenges and different competitive position equals different leadership in #Startups @cloudnames”]

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