Lean Startup

Creating a Leadership Style That Grows With Your Business

To go from a company of one to two to many means you’ll need the right leadership style to scale your business.

It’s exciting to add new members to your team. Going from a company of one to two to many means your business is growing and succeeding.    

It’s also terrifying.   

Once you hire people, you’re also on the hook for motivating, teaching, coaching, and inspiring them. You need to grow right along with them. You must also resist what I call “founderitis.” It’s your company and your dream. You might have a bias toward micromanagement and being overly proscriptive on how your team does their job.

Don’t. They’ll hate you if you do that.

Instead, move toward principle-based leadership. Lay out clear, actionable guidelines for how you’ll lead your people and what they can expect from you. Leading your people is a core aspect of my leadership maxims approach – one where you articulate your leadership philosophy on one piece of paper. You do so by answering some simple questions and distilling your philosophy down to straightforward maxims (rules of behavior).

To lead your people effectively, you need to answer four questions about yourself and your leadership style:

What is your natural style?

If you can quickly define what kind of leader you are, your people will trust you more because they know what to expect. My style is “kick up, kiss dow.” Translation: I protect my people from silly decisions made by higher-ups (kick up), and I praise my folks and give them credit for great work (kiss down).

How will you remember to treat your team members as individuals?

People don’t want to be referred to by title. They want you to know things about them at a personal level. I use a maxim of “he drinks 7Up,” because I once had a soldier in my platoon who drank 7Up. When I bought him a can of it, he was pleasantly surprised that I knew something simple yet personal about him.

How will you stay connected to their reality?

Your people want you to get your hands dirty and demonstrate you understand their jobs, their challenges, and their capabilities. You need a regular reminder to do that. My reminder is the time I crawled under my tank to pull maintenance on it. When I did so, my soldiers knew I had a good feeling for their jobs and I cared about the work they did.

How will you commit to their growth?

People don’t just go to work for money. They want to be challenged and build their skills. You, as their leader, owe them those opportunities. Figure out a way to remind yourself to consistently give them new challenges, opportunities, and places they can fail (yes – you need to let them fail occasionally so they can learn), so that they can ultimately succeed beyond their own expectations.

Once you’ve articulated what your people can expect from you and identified the stories that help explain those expectations, you need to explain that part of your leadership philosophy to them. Sit down with them. Explain your guidelines. Tell them the personal story behind your philosophy.

When you share your personal expectations and your stories, they’ll have a better understanding of who you are, what you want from them, and what they can expect from you. If you do this successfully, you’ll find your leadership philosophy scales up as you hire. In other words, your expectations are the same whether you’re leading one person or one hundred. You’re just applying that philosophy over a broader base.

As your business evolves, your leadership philosophy will adapt and evolve with it. Review your philosophy on a regular basis (once a year, after a major business change, etc.) and ensure your principles still apply to the way you lead. If they do, keep living them every day. If not, revise them, communicate them, and adapt.

The more solid your leadership philosophy and the more broadly understood it is by your team, the better the odds of you leading your people in a way that motivates, excites and inspires them.

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