Startup Management: How To Lead With Vision And Empathy

When it comes to managing a startup, you have to know your staff and yourself to lead effectively. I’ve had plenty of ineffective managers at previous jobs in accounting firms that have made work much harder than it needed to be. I felt unimportant since I wasn’t contributing to a goal I believed in or cared about.

I decided to become my own leader and manage my employees with a strong vision that they all wanted to believe in as well. I also learned that you have to manage your employees not only based on their needs, but also in a way that fits your personality. Most importantly, you need to manage based on your vision — there needs to be a clearly defined goal toward which you lead your team.

Stick To Your Company’s Vision

Forming a clear picture of what you want your company to be is one of the most important early steps you will have to take when creating your startup. But many startup founders quickly mess this up by changing their vision instead of simply pivoting the focus. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, eloquently sums it up by noting, “A pivot is a change in strategy, not vision.”

You cannot just alter the goals toward which your company is going on a whim—it’s confusing to your employees and any investors that may train their sights on your business. However, your strategy to carry out the vision should change. By learning from all sorts of experiments and customer feedback, you can change your strategy to outmaneuver your competition.

This “pivot” in vision does not take away your long-term aspirations, but instead allows you to have short-term efforts to reach your ultimate goal. With a strong, consistent vision, you will be able to sell it to potential team members and co-founders who are willing to devote their time to the company’s success.

Sell Your Vision

Your vision becomes your company’s target, and the leader’s job is to rally people around that target and strategize to hit it. This can be done by setting long-term goals and having short-term agility.

That is why pivoting is so essential: You can’t sell your employees on a vision and expect them to effectively execute their work if everything is changing constantly. Tasks and short-term goals can change — this is expected in a startup — but the long-term goals and vision need to be clear and consistent. Management needs to be on the same page about these goals and maintain clear communication lines to the whole team.

Once you’ve hired the right people who believe in your company’s vision, you are going to have to learn about these individuals and find out what makes them tick. And statistically speaking, your employees are millennials and require a non-traditional leadership style in order to be the most effective.

Manage With What You Got

Another aspect of good management is to lead with whatever infrastructure you have. If you can’t pay your employees more because of typical startup-related financial restrictions, give them more flexibility and autonomy. If you can’t outpay the competition, you need to incentivize people to stay in other ways.

A great incentive, especially for millennials who are noticeably less motivated by pay, would be flexible work hours or more control over their titles. You could even have unlimited vacation days. Even though it is still a hot topic among many companies, many startups have had great success and unexpected results with unlimited vacation time. (People tend to take fewer vacation days when given this flexibility.)

For example, the company Mammoth tried out unlimited vacation time (also known as RTO, reasonable time off) to see if the company conveyed enough trust in employees would help increase morale and efficiency. After a year trying it out, Mammoth’s employees ranked unlimited vacation third-highest among the offered benefits, just behind health insurance and 401(k). And interestingly enough, the employees took roughly the same number of vacation days under limited vacation day policy. By offering benefits like unlimited vacation days, you communicate to your employees that you view your staff holistically and genuinely care about your people.

Showing a genuine interest in the well-being of your employees helps to establish a good management style. But to be a great manager, you need to find a management style that fits your personality instead of trying to fit into a stereotypical leadership role. Know your people so you can lead them the best you can with all the qualities you already possess.

Manage To Success

Some of the best leaders out there have not upheld “traditional” leadership roles but have been able to unify people and guide their company to success via their own strengths. Don’t be afraid to find a leadership style that fits naturally with your personality and works well with your staff.

If you’re not the most confident person in the room, don’t try to be! Nothing comes off worse than someone trying too hard to be an Alpha leader when that isn’t their personal style. If you’re more of an introvert, lead by example: Try to be the nicest person in the room and really connect with people in that manner. If your employees like you, then they will want to work hard for you.

Everyone is different, so be different! You have a unique vision for your startup that has attracted a team of top employees. The worst mistake you can make as a startup is losing top employees. People end up wearing many hats, so they will likely perform many valuable functions and thus are difficult to replace.

By sticking to your vision, finding a management style that works for you, and fostering an environment that accepts innovation and cares for the well-being of the staff, you can accomplish all of your goals with your new startup.



Bryce Welker

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