Leadership in a Start-Up - It Begins with 2

Typically, the idea of being a leader is thought to mean only when someone has an entire team under them, an entire organization of people, or perhaps might be when trying to rally individuals together in the community. The truth is leadership starts when there is even just 2 people together for a purpose, such as in an entrepreneurial startup situation. Whether an entrepreneur realizes it or not, how she handles herself in creating and developing her business is very much an expression of her leadership style.

The idea of “leadership” creates various images in someone’s mind, depending on who you talk with. Kevin Kruse, an author and speaker on business excellence, I believe best describes leadership as “…a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” Under that view, even in a startup scenario, business partners can provide leadership to each other.

When entrepreneurs are collaborating together in developing a new business venture, it’s not unusual for debates to occur on defining the priorities, seeking resources, and identifying next steps. It’s in the process of Problem-Solving and Decision-Making when entrepreneurs can intentionally create a leadership model that will best allow the business to become sustainable and successful. Seeing how important and strategic this is now provides a very distinct market advantage down the road.

To be an intentional Leader, entrepreneurs actually may decide to adapt their normal style of problem-solving and decision-making. If so, here are some ideas to help:

1) Acknowledge the level of trust that presently exists between the business partners. If there isn’t much trust, it’s unlikely the partnership will be a healthy one. Talk openly about trust, what each person does that builds it and what each person does that erodes it. And never stop those conversations throughout the entire business partnership. Trust can be broken in a day, and take years to re-build. Leaders recognize this as either a highly effective or severely destructive force in creating a sustainable and successful business.

2) If you believe you have a healthy amount of trust between the business partners, then create problem-solving and decision-making conversations that openly allow a healthy debate on all relevant concerns, including someone’s behavior (i.e., does your business partner have a habit that you feel undermines positive efforts to be successful? Is there an unspoken agenda going on for anyone?) Ask them, don’t ignore it, and don’t be scared of it.

3) Create ground rules when you get together for any type of meeting. For example- will cellphones, emails, texts be answered while you’re meeting? How will you address issues of respect?

And 4) Identify ways that each business partner is comfortable with for follow-through and accountability. Each person can believe they understand their role, but oftentimes communications are not perfect, and it results in people interpreting the same message differently. This will often end up pulling away from and not towards the desired goals. Instead, re-check regularly if everyone is on the same page, and do so in person, not via email or text. Too much is lost without personal interaction.

When business partners in an entrepreneurial startup situation understand how they each can be an intentional leader, they can strategically design a cultural approach to success that will remain in place as the business grows. Then, as new issues arise, it will be their leadership style that assists in maximizing the efforts of everyone, and brings them closer towards achievement of their goals.

Mark Edington, J.D.

Founder & CEO

Intelligent Human Management Consulting