Developing leaders in a time of crisis

Your staff members are working from home and you’re adapting to running your business in distributed mode. You need new leaders around you like never before. Here’s some thoughts on how you can enable that.

Most of your startup team members will fall into the camp of individual contributors, especially in young companies where you hired, typically, young people against specific tasks and goals.

Creating a network of leaders to help you scale your business is one of the most efficient way for you to build a strong and sustainable fabric and leverage your powers 100X over.

You can create the conditions under which this happens, and nurture your best talent into leadership. I’m not talking about only your VPs and leadership team, but about everyone in your company.

“Growth is the only guarantee that tomorrow will get better” — John Maxwell

Communicate with absolute clarity what the mission is and what the overall company goals are. Get everyone to feel responsible for the overall success of the company’s customers. Move your team away from thinking only about their own team’s goals but to understand and embrace the overall company objectives.

Think of your company in terms of end-to-end flows and not discrete tasks, so that engineering understands how their efforts impact sales and sales understands the constraints of product and engineering. Acting as one has never been more important. Express every goal back into business objectives. Make sure the definitions and the language are common and understood by all.

Empower your people to design and implement new solutions that enable you to function better as a distributed organisation. Perhaps create a 10% free time period that is designated for process improvements and “how to function better” in this new environment.

Let your team embrace discomfort. Empowerment means allowing for failure, as every success is littered with mini-failures and risk taking that doesn’t pan out. Be supportive but resist the urge to be a saviour or to take things over. Let your people iterate to a positive conclusion with your guidance, support and input, but let them own it; failures included. This is how your team members will develop resilience, but also recognise their own achievements as meaningful.

Encourage organic leadership. Your key contributors may not be who you expect them to be. Leadership is earned and will emerge naturally as team members naturally recognise those willing to embrace it.

Be of service. It will make you happy, and it will work.

GIANT CAVEAT. This only works if people “stay in their lane” which is on the face of it contradictory, but actually core to the system working. People need to know their role and sometimes whisper to themselves, to borrow from Scott Belsky, “just do your fucking job”. There’s nothing more annoying than a team member who’s constantly looking over the next person’s shoulder and telling them how to do their job better. And yes, founder, that may apply to you!

If you do all this well you will move from having individual, goal-oriented contributors to having a platoon of leaders. And that is a fabulous competitive advantage.

As framework, I am reposting here the five levels of leadership as defined by John Maxwell:

Position — People follow because they have to.

  1. Permission — People follow because they want to.
  2. Production — People follow because of what you have done for the organization.
  3. People Development — People follow because of what you have done for them personally.
  4. Pinnacle — People follow because of who you are and what you represent.

Hat tip to Farnam Street (Shane Parrish) as this was inspired by his recent podcast on the topic of leadership.

Helping startups grow with money and mentoring to the sounds of Crystal Castles

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store