Lessons in leadership: the three essential qualities founders need to grow successfully with their team

Starting a business is tough. And then it gets tougher.

Founders face a huge challenge as their leadership role evolves with their company’s growing success. And more often than not these challenges come from within the growing team rather than from a hostile, indifferent or inflexible market.

How open is your vision, your blueprint and your mind to change, criticism and co-opting?

Which is, to a large extent, to say: are you a leader as well as a founder?

Some people are born leaders.

  • They guide and inspire.
  • They command respect without ever commanding.
  • They invite and accept.
  • They are decisive but also inclusive.
  • They step back without ever becoming aloof.

For others, being a leader is not something that necessarily comes naturally. But this doesn’t mean they cannot quickly learn the leadership skills and qualities that will make them excellent managers of people.

Good leaders embody a set of skills and qualities – and keeping these front of mind as the standard by which you assess how you are performing as a leader is the best yardstick and way to judge the appropriateness of your behaviour in any situation that should arise.

Simply because it is also the yardstick and way that your behaviour will be judged.

Let’s outline the three essential qualities you need for effective leadership.

Decisiveness

Learn to make decisions quickly and consistently. Too often leaders can’t pull the trigger in an information vacuum and an inert leader doesn’t inspire any confidence.
Abri Coetzee, Founder  

You will, of course, trust others in your team to make decisions. An effective leader most certainly does not have the monopoly on decision-making (or the time to make every decision).

But there are certain decisions that need to be made by the leader. It may be that it’s too large a call for anyone else, impacts across multiple teams or simply that no decision has been taken and any more drift cannot be tolerated.

Founders need to be BRAVE- prepare to make decisions alone and be brave enough to stand by them. But they also need to remain HUMBLE enough to accept when they are wrong, and to know when to listen to others.
Bridgette Cameron, Founder     

Any decision inevitably affects more people than the one making it. So, being decisive is not enough – you also need to accept and own the aftermath.

With employees, stakeholders, partners, customers, suppliers all having different objectives, interests, hopes and visions that may be at play, every decision needs careful consideration.

Which is not to say that a good decision must please all – it will consider all without allowing this process to fester.

Decisions need taking rapidly as well as considerately.

  • Making a difficult decision usually means that someone will feel short- changed.
  • Making difficult decisions nearly always engenders some level of ill-feeling.

Handling the aftermath of decision making with integrity and respect is what makes a decisive leader into an effective leader.

And owning up to bad decisions and working to put things right is what makes a great leader.

A great leader has strong opinions, weakly held. Indecision costs both money and time but you often lack data to inform your direction of travel. How to balance this? Be committed but validate along the way.
Stefan Durina, Founder

Honesty

Integrity, humour and honour will see you through your darkest moments and make your brightest ones more enjoyable.
Bridgette Cameron, Founder     

Being honest starts with being honest to yourself.

  • What aspects of the business do you struggle with?
  • What parts of your role are really eating into your time?
  • Are your goals realistic?
  • Is there a reason that you are holding back from moving things to the next level?
  • Is your workload realistic?

But your honesty goes well beyond your self appraisals.

Share openly with your team. Too many firms keep everything confidential. When you share with your team, it is funny how much more trust and confidence you will generate.
Mark Posniak, Founder

Consider this:

It is an act of trust for someone to work for or with you. And this trust needs constantly renewing.

It is your own honesty and trust that will renew this essential bond.

An effective leader does not spin situations or always try to paint a rosy picture. Whether it’s a performance review or a business update you need to be frank.

Frank about the good, straight up about the bad and transparent about the ugly.

Honest leaders have honest employees. Most employees will appreciate a culture of trust and respond with the same. Honesty is a self-fulfilling prophecy and organisations where employees feel they can’t be honest very quickly see small issues develop unchecked into major roadblocks.

Honest feedback thrives in the right settings. Groups are not where honesty best thrives, it needs smaller, more comfortable, less threatening environs. This is why establishing regular one-to-ones is not a drain on leadership time but essential to establishing a productive, functional working culture.


Trust is huge – if your team know you trust them, it helps them build confidence, accountability and pride in their work.
Diane Perlman, Founder


Humility

Never assume you’ve got all the answers. It’s so important to continue to expand upon your knowledge, listen to other people’s ideas and take on new ideas and ways of working †no matter how successful you become!
Andrew Fennell, Founder

Being humble as a leader really boils down to two things:

  1. Knowing and admitting that you don’t know everything.
  2. Recognising that without others you would have achieved nothing.

Accepting full accountability is essential. Accept accountability when things go wrong and share it with your team when things go right.
Stephen Gorman, Founder

With this as your ground zero a lot naturally follows:

  1. You will listen to others and respect their experience.
  2. You will recognise when you need help.
  3. You will always seek honest opinions and offer honest assessments.
  4. You will avoid micromanaging like the plague.
  5. You will let people thrive and flourish and step back to create space for them to do so.
  6. You will start with questions rather than suggested solutions.
  7. You will never feel too ‘big’ to be accountable.


A little humility goes a long, long way.


Give them as much autonomy as possible: no one appreciates a leader who micromanages; give your team membership true ownership of their projects and be there to support them when needed.

Diane Perlman, Founder

The flexible founder

The leadership skills that a founder needs radically change as their team builds around them.

It is a fact that leading people isn’t easy.

But it is also a fact that for all the hard business, tech or design skills you may have brought to the table it is a much softer set that will see you lead the team who will make everything happen.