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Your Startup Needs a Leader. Is it you?

A Framework for Scaling Intentional Leadership

Cody Musser
Mar 26, 2017 · 12 min read

I’ve recently been working on exercises that establish practices for intentional leadership in organizations — specifically early startups that are at the point where their leadership MUST start to scale. Many of the successful leaders you see (or know the names of) in startups are examples of leaders who had the requirements of leadership thrust upon them, and those that have been successful, reacted well to that challenge.

On the other hand, I think there’s no small set of people who have the potential to adapt well to the challenges of leadership, but just like any other skill gap, they lack the framework.

To that end, I’ve created the foundation of a process that I’d call something like, Intentional Leadership through Inquiry — which makes it sound especially savvy and kind-of philosophical, and I figured that would do.

The basics of the process follow a set of steps that can be summarized:

Now, if the basics are in fact too basic, here is an actual, working example.

1. Practice Inquiry

This is a collection of problems “I” would want to have resolution for as a leader of a ‘product’ organization or department. I came to this randomly as each question/problem statement was thought up, and realized the groupings and categories as they were discernible.

Team Member Growth

Department Growth

Business Growth

Individual Projects


Client Projects (Appropriate to an agency or service business)

Working with Engineering (and other departments)

Actual Team Growth


2. Determine Patterns

While collecting these problem statements, I was able to identify the tiers of leadership my business represented:

Business > Department > Team (Project) > Individual > Self

The tiered structure is intended to demonstrate that business needs drive departmental needs which drive team and project needs and so on. It can also be honest to look at the structure in the reverse, saying that the capabilities of the individuals collected form the capabilities of the team and the team capabilities organized by department inform the departmental capabilities and so on. I don’t think this is a shocking revelation or anything, but it’s good to be considerate of.

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Seeing the Focal Patterns

While the above problems are not complete and likely will never be, they allow me to start to identify patterns in the direction of the various efforts. Some of these patterns can start to be rolled together into themes (which may share individual topics in more than one location/tier), such as:

Risk Assessment — Moments in which leadership is required to proactively identify risks in various business tiers based on the available information.

Path Identification/Creation — Moments in which leadership assists in identifying the appropriate path for growth based on the most complete summary knowledge.

Information Process Creation — Moments in which leadership sets the requirements for what constitutes the complete set of items necessary to allow for an individual item’s success.

Summary Knowledge Collection — Moments in which leadership collects knowledge to support the direction of the business-at-large from various tiers.

Collaborative Value Creation — Moments in which leadership sees and sets the opportunity for shared value and collaboration between departments/teams and enforces them.

Opportunity Innovation — Moments in which leadership, with the right knowledge and process, is the only individual capable of seeing an opportunity or growth path.

Direction Resolution — Moments in which leadership must enforce a direction for progression to counteract stagnation/no growth.

… (And many more)

3. Identify the KEY problem preventing scale

How to move forward from here?

Now that there is a summary of where you need effort, identify the problem statement that allows for you to make an impact. The below is honestly probably something most organizations can just re-use. So, you know, just run with it.

Problem Statement

How can a leader solve the many problems in the various tiers of their business and be attentive to the different focuses that are specifically the requirements of leadership, with obviously limited time and capacity?


These capabilities may have multiple actual solutions, but there are also thematic practices in these capabilities that can be identified.

4. Pair themes and focuses with solutions

Solution Organization

With the above (starting) set of tiers, focal patterns and thematic practices, one can begin to identify the groupings of original problem statements necessary for responsible leadership to capabilities/thematic practices that are most likely to allow for resolution. An example:

Risk Assessment (Collected from various tiers above)

Seeing the problems facing leadership grouped by a focal pattern can provide the opportunity to more easily assign the thematic practices most aligned with this focus.

Grouping Risk Assessment problems together is already an act of Affiliation and a good first step. Then, one can evaluate the potential pattern in which delegation, replication or other solution practices are best suited for this focus.

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5. Keep supple

A Note on Rigidity and Suppleness, Forging and Polishing
(This point was inspired by Seth Godin’s recent explanation of the similar.)

I think it easy to assume that reviewing this document with this many words and this much structure represents an artifact of an organization that is RIGID. The organization’s leadership implements process, structure and RULES of operation in high volume.

These practices, when operating independently, create a rigidity like that of a FORGE. We bring people in, use the rules and structure to hammer and wear down sharp edges until they fit the mold of how the organization needs to operate and subsequently are refined to a known size and shape. The organization is successful because we know the output of known sizes and shapes and ultimately we can operate and scale predictably.

This is a successful path, but it also a LIMITED one. Rigid organizations have visible ceilings. I think it is important to discern how this work is not RIGID.

Because these structures, processes and operations defined by this process are created via an act of inquiry (we care for and identify the problems as questions for which we know we seek resolutions as a team (and as leaders)), and our philosophical approach to problems, problem statements and the resolution of problems is unyielding in its quantity and depth, the practices and structures we are creating are built on a SUPPLE backbone, that allows us to not wildly implement rigidity simply because of its predictability. Instead, our flexibility in identifying and solving problems allows us to operate not as a forge, hammering our team into a predictable homogeneity, but instead to use the structures and practices above to POLISH, not forge, the organization and team to their most valuable state.

Remember, to avoid rigidity — you can’t just nab the outline here and say, ‘there we go — this is the set of problems I need to resolve to be a healthy leader and have my team kick-ass’. The entire drive to find that set, or the belief that it exists, is rooted in the assumption that you can get to the finish line with a map, and the problem is that most of the people that get there? They do it by accident.

Don’t be an accidental leader. Lead your startup intentionally.

Startup Grind

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Thanks to Michael Gasiorek

Cody Musser

Written by

President @byJakt | Formerly Design @Stagegg, CPO @ORGAN_IZE. Writes haphazardly on startups, eSports, gaming, VR, books & fitness.

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