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The 5 Top Things I Learned About Leading Our Start-Up

The 5 Top Things I learned About Leading Our Start-Up

Recently a member of our team (Hi @only2pryia) suggested I blog more about the journey of setting up and growing Product2Market. Because we are a “people focused business”, the most important thing to get right on our path is how I’ve had to develop as a leader of people (sales people and sales managers). I love lists, so decided to try and put the key points of my learnings (mainly from mistakes I’ve made in this area) into a top 5!

One of the most important jobs every leader has is nurturing members of their team into the next generation of leaders. At Product2Market, I’m extremely lucky to have a wonderful group of talented young managers working with me. As CEO, it’s my duty to do everything I can to help them learn and grow so that, one day in the not-too-distant future, they can successfully take-up the mantle as the business leaders of tomorrow. I can’t stress enough how seriously I take that duty, and I’ll never forget the mentors that did the same for me when I began my own inside sales journey *cough* years ago.

In my opinion, leadership is all about trust. A leader who earns the complete trust of their team can enable that team to do almost anything. A leader that loses the trust of their team – an all-too-easy thing to do – is rendered completely ineffective. In the end, trust mostly comes down to honesty, fairness, and respect. Honesty in who you are, your own limitations, and in what you say and do; fairness in how you apply your authority; and respect in how you treat everyone around you.

But those core principals can be somewhat ethereal in nature, and so I find it often helps to give young managers more concrete examples of what they can do to build the trust they need to be effective leaders. With that in mind, here are five of my favourite lessons on how to approach leadership in practice, rather than just in theory.

1) Be willing to explain the “why.”

As a leader, you shouldn’t find yourself constantly questioned by your team, but don’t confuse that with assuming your team doesn’t have questions. Sometimes a task, when viewed in isolation, can seem illogical or wasteful, but makes complete sense when viewed in the context of the bigger picture. It’s important to remember that your team doesn’t always have the same view of the big picture that you do, so whenever possible, you should be willing to paint it for them. Whereas teams kept in the dark will inevitably start to question things and push back, teams kept in the know are more dedicated to the larger mission and are more willing to trust you unconditionally when you need them to.

2) Set clear goals – “what is success”?

There are a few things that can erode trust with unbelievable speed, and poor communication is one of them. An employee that doesn’t understand what’s being asked of them due to poor communication – and worse yet, then suffers a negative consequence as a result – will quietly question everything they’re asked to do going forward. And why wouldn’t they?

3) Be receptive and interested.

It’s rare that a project/program runs without a hitch from conception to delivery, and there are going to be times when every team needs resources or guidance that they don’t currently have, or where concerns arise that they need to express. As a leader, it’s imperative that you always be available to them and willing to truly listen to what they have to say. Drawing a line between the problems of the “workers” and the problems of leadership is a huge mistake. Your team’s problems are your problems – so listen to them as sincerely and carefully as you would want someone to listen to you.

4) Stay involved in the mission.

Some leaders let their high-level responsibilities wall them off from the day-to-day work being done by their team. It’s an easy trap to fall into because of the additional stress and accountability that often falls on a leader’s shoulders, but the best leaders find a way to manage those factors and still stay connected to the front lines. It doesn’t have to be a difficult thing to do either. Something as simple as scheduling a weekly meeting to catch up with everyone and exchange feedback on the project/program can go a long way. It’s important not to drown in the minutiae – or worse, to micromanage – but it’s also important that your team sees that you’re invested in their day-to-day work and that everything is understood from top-level view.

5) NEVER take yourself too seriously J

There was once a time when one of the prevailing theories of leadership was that there was an essentially uncrossable divide between those at the top and the workers below. But the days of class divides in the office are long gone, and a leader that wants to earn the trust, loyalty, and respect of their team needs to be willing to treat them as equals when appropriate. To be certain, it’s absolutely imperative to keep it clear who’s in charge and where the lines of authority lie, but being personable and sociable with employees is essential to developing strong connections and relationships. Luckily that’s often as simple as treating people with respect and dignity – something we should all be doing anyway – but if you can open up and show your team a bit of the real you, it can be a powerful trust-building tool.

It’s extremely important that you ensure that your team knows exactly what you need from them, because at the end of the day, as the leader, your job is to enable them to succeed. For the same reason, it’s also important that the goals and tasks you set for your team are realistic. Very few things will undercut your credibility as a leader faster than setting your team up to fail. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set big goals, but if you do, makes sure your team knows you have their back if things don’t work out as planned.

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