How To Nurture An All-Weather Leadership
All great leaders share similar characteristics. For instance, they actively demonstrate commitment, are able to inspire others and more often than not, are great communicators. But these qualities do not always solely contribute to the growth of a startup. The qualities that define business leadership changes according to the industry you are in, the stage of growth you are at and the competition.
According to John Suh, the CEO of LegalZoom, a business leader needs to be aware of their leadership style and where they are as a business. “If you are self-aware, for example, you will realize that what makes you successful as a startup CEO will destroy a more mature company”, he says.
He further notes that when LegalZoom was a startup, he relied on research, instinct, being scrappy and innovative. However, now he focuses on shaping decisions that ensures that the culture of innovation thrives and to make sure that people who execute experience very little friction.
In this article, we will take a look at how a leader could build a style that changes with what their business needs.
When you are just starting out with a handful of employees, it is not uncommon to find that your team shares similar outlooks and personalities. Even if that were not so, people in a startup tend to acknowledge their differences and work towards a common goal. At this stage of a business, an outward leadership style does not do a lot of harm.
Outward leadership is essentially a style where you project your inherent views and ideas on to your team. Do you believe your startup needs to be ruthless against the competition? It’s easy to hire people with a similar outlook and thus establish this as a goal for your team. But as your company grows, there are bound to be employees who may not share the same worldview. Outward leadership can create friction and could also potentially ruin the work culture for everyone.
An inward leadership style is one where you absorb the mindset and the worldview of your team members and arrive at a consensus. This may seem unrealistic for a large business with thousands of employees. But the idea here is to nurture managers and leaders at every level of your organization who can build an inward leadership style. As a CEO, your leadership is thus a sum total of everyone in your organization, irrespective of size.
A leader is someone who needs to be aware of their impact on others. Early leadership training focuses on a person’s personal objectives. While this helps a leader become more self-aware, it is important that these leaders also nurture an outward mindset over the long term.
Outward mindset leadership training focuses on nurturing a leader’s ability to account for their impact on others in the team. For instance, going back to the example of being ruthless against competition – as a startup, this helps pit your small company against the behemoths in the industry. Startups like Uber were able to succeed in their initial days thanks to this mindset.
Being ruthless is a gamble with high stakes. While you may scale high, there is also a chance that your company fails miserably. As the head of an organization that hires hundreds of employees, it is important to account for your impact on all these employees. A failure at this stage could mean a loss of livelihood for many workers in your organization. As the leader of a large organization, you may thus want to be more considerate while making decisions.
The role of a leader is to inspire your team and maximize their potential. Your style may thus need to be tweaked based on the industry you are in, and the worldview of the people in your organization. To understand this better, let us take the example of two industries that are culturally as far apart from each other as possible.
Niche, digital startups like BuzzSumo or MailChimp deal with customers and employees who are at the forefront of consumer technology. Your leadership in this case needs to reflect the youth and exuberance demonstrated by your team members and customers.
On the other hand, consider legacy industries like oil refineries or steel manufacturing. Many such industries are also heavily regulated. A lot of your employees are blue-collared workers who may not necessarily care about the youthfulness of your brand. Instead, the focus needs to be on traditional benefits like overtime hours, insurance, etc.
As a leader, you need to speak the language that your employees relate with. In some ways, this goes back to the inward leadership style mentioned earlier in this article. In short, it is important to assess your audience and nurture a leadership style and view that resonates with your audience.
There are however times when you may be mandated by the board to deploy a drastically different culture in your organization. This is never easy and may be executed with a step by step plan.
The first step in the process is to build confidence in your workers. This is in line with what we have already discussed earlier in this article. Nurture an inward leadership style tagged with an outward mindset that is customized to your industry.
Once you have won your employees over and have secured their confidence, the next step is to communicate the end goal. As a leader, this involves being communicative of the present challenges as well as the future direction. Communication is a two-way street and in this step, you may also be required to listen.
As a leader, you not only interface with your employees and customers, but also your employer (the board in the case of a large organization). The third step is create a middle-path between your employees and the board. Your leadership style in this case needs to be that of a negotiator and deal maker.
The final step is execution. This step may not only require you to oversee employees through the transformation, but also undergo a change in leadership style yourself. Assess the evolution in your business and transform your leadership style accordingly.
Being a leader has a lot of perks and challenges. It is important to always be attentive to your surroundings, your employees and customers in order to unlearn and learn styles that work for the betterment of your organization.