Startup leaders — Our best hope for the future
Startup leaders — our best hope for the future
We are in the middle of the rolling centenary remembrance of World War 1. In Britain this summer has been marked by the anniversary of the Somme. And earlier in the year France remembered the millions lost at Verdun. For me honouring the sacrifice is only part of the process. I have also been taking time to reflect on the lessons of the conflict. The mistakes and the legacy that we live with to this day.
The history of the causes and conduct of the war make depressing reading. The catastrophic legacy of the peace is still unfolding across the Middle East. One thing stands out. Leadership. Or to be more accurate the lack of it. The egotism, lack of vision and shortage of talent amongst the upper reaches of politics and the military across the world. In stark contrast to the sacrifice of those on the front line.
Living in Europe or the US today, who would disagree that our leaders today represent an uninspiring bunch. Every bit as limited as those grey and undistinguished men (and they were all men) from a century ago. Politics, business or the media. Everywhere you look dull, dispiriting and downright dangerous choices are on offer.
Startups offer hope and inspiration
The startup world provides a refreshing contrast. I am lucky enough to work with entrepreneurs and great teams. And I see courage, tenacity and vision in action every day.
Yet I was not surprised to read Joe Lonsdale’s recent article. It highlights a deficit of leadership in Silicon Valley. He is talking about a higher and wider goal. Beyond simply driving and directing a successful business. His analysis resonates with my own observations. But I see this as an opportunity not a problem.
The opportunity: Realising leadership potential
The entrepreneurs I see have limitless potential. And a lifelong journey of learning and development ahead of them to realise it. It is natural for many successful leaders to find and follow this path. But if that seems a bit scary, here are some things you can do to help along the way:
- Find a good mentor and work with them when you can. This can be a formal or informal arrangement. Your mentor may know your business well or be outside of your working life altogether. There are no rules. Just find someone you like, trust and respect.
- Consult with others around the tough decisions. This is not the same thing as mentoring. Finding someone with experience or expertise that talk through the choices with you. Could be a professional advisor, a founder wrestling with the same problem or even a customer. On occasion your mentor may fill this role. Find the right person for each situation. And remember the decision is still yours. Advisors offer advice not instruction.
- Develop your self awareness. Understand your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Pick one or two areas to work on each year. Make sure you aim to nurture strengths as well as polish skills in weaker areas. Your impact as a leader will come from using your best qualities with courage and sensitivity. Not just from avoiding mistakes.
- Leaders are no use without followers. Your leadership is judged by the impact it has on others. Helping your team, your customers and your network grow and achieve their potential is always part of the job.
- Leadership cannot be contained within the boundaries of your business or your community. Find time to learn about the world. Read great writing. Travel and experience other cultures. Talk and listen with people in other walks of life. Or in much less fortunate circumstances than your own.
Our best chance
The most fun I have in this business is working with great startup leaders and founders. The energy and inspiration needed to build a business is amazing to witness first hand. I know this is replicated in cities and countries around the world. These are some of our best and brightest. People who have the potential to become leaders across our communities. If we want a better future, the entrepreneurs of today are our best opportunity.