A good employee doesn’t always make for a good leader — just ask Michael Scott (portrayed by Steve Carell in the television series The Office). Just because you did well as an employee in your industry doesn’t mean you have what it takes to lead, although it doesn’t hurt to have experience. As a serial entrepreneur, Victor Mitchell knows there are certain traits and qualities leaders have. Look deep into yourself and see if you have what it takes.
As an entrepreneur, your work is important. You decide what direction the company takes and how you’ll sell it to people. However, you’re just one person. Your impact on the company, while irreplaceable, isn’t the most important thing; it’s the collective impact of your employees.
You’re not looking to directly impact the company through sales calls, though you may take on that role early on. You’re more focused on making sure your employees are the best versions of themselves that they can be. Creating the right company culture, making a comfortable work environment, making sure everyone’s properly compensated — all these and more should be at the top of your to-do list.
You are responsible for everything in the startup. Indirectly or directly, every success can be attributed to you. That means that every failure can find its root in you as well, from how you trained human resources to pick among employees to something more overt like the direction that the company took.
That’s why criticism is so important. Criticism can open your eyes to new avenues and help you improve your startup’s performance. Leaders don’t just handle criticism well, but they also hunger for it. Each piece of feedback represents an opportunity to improve things in one way or another. Add up those little wins and you’ll eventually snowball into a big one.
To a certain extent, the startup is all about you. You built it to achieve your goals and ideals, whether it’s financial independence, making the world a better place, or a combination of many things. However, when it comes down to it, it’s not about getting people to see you. Glory-hogging isn’t your practice. If it comes your way and you deserve it, you’re OK with it. Otherwise, it simply doesn’t matter to you outside your personal branding.
Leaders just want to do work well, and they want everyone around them to be as excellent as possible. Not only does this focus their effort on the employees, it makes them more resilient to the countless wonderful acts they’ll perform that no one will thank them for. If you want to lead your company to success, you must not crave credit.
Don’t let the old saying about curiosity and the cat hold you back. That saying is often quoted out of context; curiosity is the trait you want to have as an entrepreneur. When people tell you something, you’re not judgmental, you’re curious. You’re not looking to prove yourself smarter than everyone in the room. What you want is something more vital, and that’s understanding. You don’t assume anything. You make sure everything’s above board and accurate.
There’s a lot of pressure on entrepreneurs to be perfect and on-point at all times. Even just hearing about how many startups fail in their first year can be stressful. However, perfection is not what you need. You want to be present and curious. Listen to your team. Ask them questions. They’ll appreciate you being there mentally and emotionally.
The biggest difference between the average worker and a leader is the ability to pay attention to the consequences of their actions. For many workers, it’s about getting the job done. The consequences are for someone else to be concerned about, and that someone is their leader. Leaders are aware of how each action can impact the future and what it could mean for the startup.
That’s why they don’t sweat the small stuff: they know which actions matter and which ones don’t. The majority of your time as a leader and entrepreneurs should be spent thinking about the startup six months from now, or a year in the future. The minutiae of each employee’s task don’t concern you as much as their output and the consequences of their contributions in relation to the startup.
You’re going to hear a lot about how leadership is about inspiration because that’s what you do. You get people pumped and ready to do work. However, it doesn’t end there. You’re not just getting them energized, you’re making them the best people they can be.
A big part of that is finding out what each person is uniquely good at. You don’t need them to be the only one in the world who can file faster than everyone else; you just need them to be the best at it in the startup. Helping your employees discover their greatest skills not only inspires them, but it also improves your startup’s productivity.
If there’s anything you should realize about leadership and entrepreneurship, it’s that it’s less about you and more about your team. A leader doesn’t hog glory, crave credit, or put down other people for his own gain. A leader raises people up, inspires them, and makes them amazing. If you have these traits, you can make it as a leader and entrepreneur.
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