How do you build a team of leaders for your startup? This is a team that is capable of jumping out of a cliff that is able to build a plane on the way down in order to survive.
Being a leader is great. Having a team of leaders working with you is even better. At least if you are humble and self-aware enough to realize that this is what will really not only take you to the top, but best serve the world and champion the problem you are out to solve.
So, how do you go about finding, building and developing a team of leaders?
Hire For It
Hire people who will be great leaders. Make leadership qualities one of your recruiting criteria. Let the competition take the sheep. If you want a company that is a leader in your industry. Hire a whole team of leaders.
That is regardless of age. Even if you are a young entrepreneur still in college. You can hire people much older than you who are experienced leaders. As well as those younger than you who have great leadership capabilities. Just don’t get stuck on hiring a team for a startup. You need to be hiring for where you want to go.
If you want to be a titan on the business landscape, you’ll need excellent leaders in fundraising, operations, product development, and design and more. In enterprise software, for example, you will need a team of rockstars on sales and you want them fully motivated.
Joe De Sena of the Spartan Race and Death Race founded these extreme endurance tests for what he said would filter out those with the strongest and determined minds. Those people he said could be used to accomplish anything, in any industry.
Lay the Right Expectations
Make sure they know your corporate purpose, mission, and guiding principles. Everyone needs to be on the same page, and working in the same direction.
Especially, if you’ll have a number of almost autonomous department leaders. Yet, make sure they know you expect them to step up as leaders too. Give them permission to lead.
It’s a tragedy when companies hire great talent and then muzzle them, box them in, and pull their teeth. They can’t lead if you don’t let them.
That means decision making power. It means not stepping in and teaching junior staff members to disregard their authority or chain of leadership.
They are going to mess up. You can almost guarantee it. Though they will also do better than you on other days. It’s worth it.
You’ll get more of the behavior that you reward. Just letting them lead isn’t enough. Show them the results and impact they are having. Thank them. Praise them in front of others. Do what you can, when you can to reward them financially.
If you are a lean startup that may just be giving them more responsibility and stock options. The latter can be provided based on milestones that have been achieved by the business which is ultimately a great incentive.
If you want great leaders on your team, model good leadership as a founder. There are many leadership styles. Just because someone comes from a managerial or executive role somewhere else doesn’t mean they are really good at leading in an industry or a team.
They’re style and the idea of leading may be much different than yours. Demonstrate what you expect your leaders to be like.
This is also a great strategy for developing from within. If you are already in motion you might have some great team members and cofounders you don’t want to leave behind.
If they are going to stay, earn their shares, and be able to continue to contribute value as you rapidly scale, they are going to have to become great leaders too. Some won’t have what it takes. Others have just never learned nor had the opportunity.
If you’re still figuring this out yourself, then find great leaders to model. Great leadership can be learned. Read up on great leaders, their styles and why they made the decisions they did. Watch for what sunk them too.
Surround yourself with outside leaders who can help. Get fantastic leaders on your board that will help develop your leadership team and you.
A substantial part of building a strong leadership team is your corporate structure and operating model. Warren Buffett has his own, so do the best sports teams and companies.
Find a model that puts the right people in clear roles, and fosters their leadership.
Help Them Think More Creatively & Stay Passionate
I personally haven’t been a big believer in fluffy team building activities and ski trips.
In the experience of my guests on the DealMakers Podcast, where I interview some of the most successful entrepreneurs, teams are forged in the trenches, dealing with challenges.
Yet, as a good leader, it is also your responsibility to help fuel creative thinking and passion. That can involve modeling. Show them what you do to keep your mind and attitude right and in the game, and ahead of the competition.
Show them the positive things. Like travel, taking time off and getting in their best creative zone. Show them what mentally strong entrepreneurs avoid in order to keep leading well. Give them the freedom to do what they need to operate at peak performance.
Remember that at the end of the day what people care the most is to know they are having an impact on their work and to see the metrics of the business growing in the right direction. That will be the best way to increase the retention of talent.
Entrepreneurs who are serious about building leading startups also need to be focused and serious about building a team of leaders. It may require some investment in developing you’re on leadership too.
This list will give you plenty to think about for finding, recruiting and nurturing a culture of leadership that will carry your venture where you really want it to go.
If you are interested in fundraising, M&A, or leadership you can find more in my own personal blog here.