To race a car, you need people in the pits. You need everyone to play their part in making sure you don’t just complete the race, but smash it, not literally. In a start-up, you need ‘people in the pits’ too. A start-up is hard work and the people around you become your support and inspiration; your pit crew. Without this, your quest becomes so much harder.
One of your main goals as a leader is to tap into your team’s potential – to get the best out of them. You have already seen some potential in these people – that’s why you hired them. Now, working with them, you have to take this to the next level and not just see the potential but also inspire potential.
I once had a leader who would never let me settle, but always allowed me the opportunity to make mistakes and grow. He expected a lot but this very person is the one who has inspired me to go after what I believe. He has also taught me how to successfully lead others who have joined me on my journey.
I love this quote from Mark Twain, which sums up what I’m saying: “Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great.”
So, here’s the challenge: you’ll be investing so much effort and work into your start-up that sometimes it’s difficult to surrender control – to allow others to flourish. There’s always a natural worry that others are going to ‘screw things up’. Never give the people around you the impression that you don’t believe in them. What will inspire them is the knowledge that you believe in them and that you’ll give them space to do their best work. Daniel Pink’s Drive sums up the three most important motivators as: ‘Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose’. If you’re micro-managing, all you’re really doing is killing motivation, and without motivation it’s hard for people to do their best work.
Work to inspire your team to reach their full potential by making sure they know exactly what’s expected of them. Give them clear goals and don’t be worried about expecting a lot. The fact that you probably expect a lot from them, and yourself, means that you’re always growing, reaching and aspiring. Do you remember a time when a leader or a teacher gave you more than you thought you could handle? What did you do? You rose to the challenge and you did a thing that you never thought possible. (Of course, don’t take this to extreme and make things impossible – allow for some flexibility.)
Being a leader means that there’s a lot of attention focused on you. Your start-up is your vision, your dream, your ambition. Don’t allow your ego to strangle the potential of others. A great leader doesn’t have to be a know-it-all or a do-it-all. A great leader is one who inspires, and knows just enough to be dangerous, but in a good way. Don’t be worried about sharing yourself with others – let them know the challenges you’ve faced and still face. This keeps you human and it will draw people to you. After all, who wants to deal with a leader who never owns up to their mistakes? Acknowledging your own weaknesses gives others a chance to flourish – you actually inspire potential with your own example. Own it.
Have confidence in others that they’re doing their best. We all need a measure of independence to flourish and if people are being constantly ‘fixed’, they are never going to give their best. In Drive, Daniel Pink calls this “the purpose motive”. You give others a direction, a time-frame and then the authority to take action.
Just a word of caution – always keep your own ego in check. You are going to inspire some amazing people and help them find potential that even they didn’t know they had. They might even start outshining you. Let it happen.
In the end, you’ll have a fantastic team who are intrinsically motivated and striving to do their best. Now, what’s wrong with that?
Ben Roulston – Start Up Junkie