Entrepreneurship23 December 20205 min

#WisdomWednesday: the 3 secrets of strong leadership

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We all know leadership is a huge factor in company performance. This counts even more for startups, who are usually trying to build up various aspects of a business with a small team. Just a small minority of startups make it long term, so it’s good to understand what kind of leader tends to succeed. This #WisdomWednesday we’ll share some secrets of leadership that help startups swim instead of sink:

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More heads are better than one

The path to success is full of obstacles, and how you handle them as a leader makes all the difference. It’s not enough to have an ingenious mind and a talent for problem solving yourself, because an overly founder-dependent startup’s days are numbered. It’s all about how you solve problems together with your team. That starts with creating an environment that encourages your team members to speak up about problems. It’s important not to develop an “everything’s OK” atmosphere often seen at established companies, where juniors are often encouraged to stay upbeat no matter what’s going down.

A well-functioning team has a sensitive radar for potential problems, and the key is to nip them in the bud. So encourage your team members to be proactive about reporting any potential concern. Take these concerns seriously and be careful not to label anybody a worrier or a complainer. Your team knows what is getting in way of working more efficiently and producing the best results, so clear the path for communication on possible solutions. Then take action so that your team knows you take them seriously.

Your team’s input is also essential to keep innovating and adapting to a fast-changing world. Integrating all their points of view is your best strategy for staying on top of shifts and continuously reinventing your company to stay ahead of the curve. Encourage a constant stream of fresh ideas to inform your thinking, even if you don’t act on them right away. It’s all a process of putting your heads together so that you don’t miss any blind spots and come up with novel solutions.

Shore up your stick-to-it-iveness

Of course every good leader has to have a stubborn streak as well. That doesn’t mean ignoring the opinions of others, but rather sticking to your vision even if others aren’t ready to grasp it yet. We know that starting a new enterprise takes a lot of hard work, but you also have to be tough-skinned enough to sweat through rejections, disruptions, and setbacks. Sometimes it’s a question of changing course, and sometimes it’s a question of not giving up. It’s helpful to stay open minded to the opinions of others, but ultimately you are the one who decides.

Having clear goals is important, but it’s just a start. How are you planning to get from point A to point B? Set your macro goals and then plan out on the micro level how you are going to make it happen. Share it and discuss it with your team so that everyone is on the same page. Then monitor progress and take the time to communicate on how things are going. Take away your lessons learned and then focus on the next step. This will help keep your priorities straight as well. As a leader it’s easy to get distracted by all the demands on your time and energy. Having a system to track progress helps you stick to the plan and cut out all the noise so you can keep your eye on the goal.

Blood, sweat and tears aside, there is a point at which you have to take a break. Remember, you may be building robots, but you are still a human being. That means you have to keep an eye on your own health by getting sufficient rest and sticking to healthy habits. This counts for your team too: it might seem good for productivity to push everyone to work long hours, but sooner or later it will cost you. The work till you drop mentality is so 2015. The word of the day is wellbeing, and it’s not just because it makes people happier. It also makes them more effective and ultimately more productive. And guess what: a healthy, clear-eyed team is more creative and innovative too.

Dare to make mistakes

This element of success is partly about self-awareness and knowing your own limits. The best leaders know their strengths as well as their weaknesses. They don’t try to hide their weak points with false confidence, rather seeing them as areas of growth. Knowing what your weaknesses are helps you identify the right people to join your team and complement or compensate for your own abilities. Being honest about failures and mistakes also helps you learn and grow.

The key is to listen to feedback, even if it isn’t pretty. Dare to be wrong. Listening is a hugely underrated skill for leaders, who traditionally have been encouraged to radiate authority. Paying attention to your team’s feedback creates an atmosphere of trust where team members feel they are being heard, which is the best motivation for anyone to give it their all. At the same time, strong leaders often need to make difficult decisions, fast. Ultimately it’s the leader’s responsibility to make the tough calls, and you don’t always have time to take everything into consideration before taking action and moving forward. Being a good leader means daring to make mistakes too.

What are your ingredients for leadership success? We’d love to hear them!