Startups are labors of love for entrepreneurs, yet many founders don’t remain the CEO after a few years. Many times, this is because founders often find the transition to becoming CEO strenuous. Becoming an effective leader overnight can be challenging, especially in the startup ecosystem where it’s all about learning on the go.
Here are the five most common issues brought up by founders in my coaching sessions and some effective ways to deal with them:
1. Clarity In Decision-Making Amid Chaos
From market conditions to consumer demand, change is the only constant. Add policy reforms and supply-side crises to the mix and you have the perfect storm for businesses. In such a volatile environment, it is hard for even big corporations to make decisions, let alone startups, which are often capital-starved and lack relevant experience or information. While this chaos may appear too messy to tackle, there are a few simple practices that can help you in your decision-making process.
Firstly, gather and analyze data to ensure you are equipped with the right context to take the right call. As there is no magic wand to address all simmering issues in one go, focus on taking crucial short-term decisions while keeping the long-term strategic priorities on the radar. Simultaneously, work on your self-awareness so emotions and biases don’t cloud your judgment. As the saying goes, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”
2. Limited Time And Resources
Constraints relating to financial capital, manpower and technology often make it difficult for startup leaders, who sometimes are solopreneurs, to allocate their resources. Moreover, founders are faced with multiple priorities including product development, fundraising, marketing and team management, which can be overwhelming and time-consuming.
Startup leaders should start by identifying core problems. Once you figure them out, you can allocate resources more efficiently. Another smart way to steer through a lack of resources is by using online tools for your business needs. The last but probably most important way to tackle constraints is by seeking out partners and collaborating with them. Connecting with other businesses and individuals who share your vision and values can help both parties achieve common goals faster.
3. Elusive Successor—How To Groom?
In the initial stages, founders take the driver’s seat, but as the venture starts to scale, it becomes important for them to cultivate the next crop of leaders. However, identifying and grooming a potential successor is often easier said than done. Many founders feel hesitant to give up control of their business. Some founders are also trapped with “like-me syndrome” and are biased toward individuals who are like themselves.
While zeroing in on a successor, there should be a heavy emphasis on culture, values and experience. It is also essential that the new head gets the support of the team and the board members. Apart from grooming the successor, founders should also focus on themselves. Cutting the cord on a business you’ve poured years of your life into can be painful, but moving on also opens new opportunities.
4. Difficult Conversations With Sensitivity
No founder looks forward to having tough conversations with the team, but you may need to confront underperforming team members, relay bad news to employees or investors, or deal with unhappy clients. While managing the emotional roller coaster of these conversations can be challenging, it is always better to tackle tough topics head-on rather than kicking the can down the road. As the saying goes, “No one is born with the gift of the gab; we all have to learn along the way.”
There’s just one pre-step before the actual conversation. Founders should give some time to reflection (or rather self-reflection) before engaging in difficult conversations with their team. It is crucial to think about the actions and choices that led to the conversation. To have a fruitful discussion, take your emotions and assumptions out of the equation. Have an open-minded discussion, because your words can either elevate a group or take someone down. Let your team know about the meeting and its agenda beforehand so everyone is in the right mental space to have a constructive discussion.
Avoid making vague (or blanket) statements. As a leader, you should focus on finding a solution rather than trying to prove your point or win an argument. Be empathetic but transparent while delivering bad news or addressing sensitive topics. Lastly, be open to receiving feedback authentically.
5. Filling Your Own Cup
The startup grind is real, and even though many of such ventures are passion projects of their founders, fatigue can set in with time. If you don’t have enough fuel left in the tank, one practical solution to keeping yourself invigorated and motivated is to ensure a good 6-hour sleep (at the least) every day. Cutting hours of your sleep lower can limit your capacity to think outside of the box.
Another efficient way to beat burnout stems from the age-old adage, “A healthy mind lives in a healthy body.” Seeking consultation and mentorship to vocalize concerns and gain insights is critical for self-growth. In fact, talking to coaching professionals at least once a week should be on your schedule even if you don’t feel burned out.
There is nothing stronger than a resilient spirit! The goal of resilience isn’t just to survive, but to thrive. Becoming an effective leader can be challenging, but these five tips can help you navigate the choppy waters and rise above them.