Threats to your business don't just come from external factors like competitors or changing markets; internal problems like flawed leadership can be just as fatal. Stay away from these 7 deadly traits that keep struggling startup leaders from succeeding.
Great leaders are humble. It’s easy to hand off less desirable tasks to employees that are “in the trenches," and focus on high-level strategy instead. But by staying humble, rolling up your sleeves, and working alongside your team, you'll stay connected to both your colleagues and your customers. Making genuine relationships with your team makes them more likely to stick with you, something you’ll be especially grateful for when you hit rough patches (and you will). Staying humble means you’ll have help through the down times, and it also means you won't get so cocky during the good times, leaving room for an underdog competitor to surprise you.
Don't refuse to pivot in the name of perseverance. If you're captaining a sinking ship, it won't do any good to insist your team keep rowing instead of scanning the horizon for a new port. Keep an open mind, and a strategic move could turn a bleak prognosis into a million-dollar opportunity. After all, YouTube was originally a floundering dating site.
It’s easy to start measuring your success by the wrong metrics: the number of press mentions and interview requests, the size of your new office, or the number of products your logo is printed on. But don't let surface-level shine distract you from digging deeper to focus on what matters, and insist on the same from your team. Lead by example by prioritizing foundational targets like the number of active users, churn rates, revenue growth, etc.
It’s not that great leaders don’t have high expectations or demand a lot from their employees. But you can’t expect your team to do every task exactly as you want it, every single time. Even if they did, mistakes and miscalculations are an inevitable part of human nature. And when those situations pop up, you can’t fly off the handle.
So keep your team happy. Yes, your office should be professional, and so should your relationship with your team. But that doesn't mean your workplace should be cold, or that you should act like a drill sergeant. People are more productive when they're in a good mood. Happy people have more energy, creativity and motivation, make fewer mistakes, and work better with others. They fix problems instead of whining about them. A positive work culture built around your team’s happiness is just as essential to profitability as your product.
Good leaders need a confident sense of self. Independence and self-reliance are admirable traits, so be driven. Pursue your goals without distraction. But listen as often as you speak. Build relationships that will last — with your team, with investors, with customers. Selfish leaders ignore customer needs in pursuit of their own vision and run with their favorite idea without evaluating or asking for feedback. They refuse to accept ideas that aren't their own, reject constructive criticism, and see themselves as lone geniuses. Just remember: you can't do it all by yourself. Even Tony Stark had Pepper Potts and The Avengers.
Planning, launching, and running your own business takes a lot of hard work, and few people would accuse any entrepreneur of being lazy in the traditional sense. Pushing yourself and your team and taking calculated risks is at the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit. But once you've found success, don't get complacent. Even if your product has millions of happy, devoted users and your brand is a household name, you need to keep moving forward or you'll fade into obscurity. (Just ask Blockbuster, Pan Am, or Tower Records.) Always ask yourself, your team, and your customers: "What's next? What can we do better?"
Your vision should go beyond making piles of money so big you can swim around in them like Scrooge McDuck. People want their work to mean something. In a study by The Intelligence Group, 64% of respondents said they would rather get paid $40,000 for a job they found meaningful than $100,000 for a job they didn't. So create a tangible vision for the kind of impact you want your company to have, rooted in something meaningful, and keep it at the forefront of everything you do. You'll not only attract top talent that's dedicated to their work, you'll keep them around.
What companies are successfully avoiding these deadly sins?
Head to the comments and tell us which startup leaders you most admire! And if you're looking for a good read, pick up some more leadership tips in these 15 Books Every Manager Should Read.