CHAPTER :
Lead. Follow. And, get out of the way.
With entries from:
Steve Guengerich   —   6 years ago

This classic management saying used to end "Or get out of the way." The implication was that a person's role was to be either a leader or a follower. Those uncommitted to doing either well were "lurkers" and should consider finding somewhere else to work.

But, in entrepreneurship, a more fluid blend of all three modes - leading, following, and not inhibiting rapid progress (getting out of the way) - is a more likely norm. But, how do you balance the three? How do important decisions get made, when everyone on the early team has a big stake in the outcome? What is the role of advisors? And what do you do when key advisors disagree? What checkpoints are reasonable for encouraging speed, but avoiding costly mistakes?

Add lessons learned and stories about MANAGEMENT practices - good and bad - for operating a entrepreneurial venture.

Steve Papermaster   —   6 years ago

Great prompt, Steve.

My advice in entrepreneurship is to work with people who you know can handle leading, following and getting out of the way. The hallmark of good leadership is to be able to do all three. This is especially important when stakes are high. You want to encourage people, especially when starting and building companies to really listen, participate, observe, converse, and educate themselves—all of that will help decide which position to take and when.

Of course there will always be disagreements.

While somebody has to be decisive on issues and call the shots, sometimes the best thing for a company is to have people who can fall in line. If the time for voicing differences of opinions is up and there is a strong stance of what needs to be done, it’s important to have everyone else move together.

The worst thing is passive aggressiveness, where people nod their head and say “fine” and then undermine the decision, which means it’s not going to work. You can’t have back-channeling or backstabbing of decisions. It’s not efficient and things can’t get done.

That’s why checkpoints are helpful.

Scheduled or impromptu meetings are helpful and give the chance to air out disagreements and begin to move forward. It can also be about just checking in to see how things are playing out. It’s important to ask for thoughts and other feedback because all of that kind of constant communication can help make a more refined decision. It’s important that everything be on the table and out in the open. All of these are examples of showing that you’re listening and engaged.

I’ll share an example from government officials, because forming teams of leadership is also entrepreneurial.

Hillary Clinton was soundly defeated in a very difficult race by Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Primary. When he became president, he turned around and asked her to become Secretary of State. As a result, she moved from trying to compete for being the top leader in the country to accepting the role of being an advisor and a follower to President Obama in that situation— while at the same time leading as the Secretary of State… as well as (at least theoretically) getting out of the way on other issues.

Politics are full of that. When Ronald Reagan became president, he defeated his former rival, George H. W. Bush. He then turned around and asked Bush to be his vice presidential running mate.

So again, very good leaders also understand when it’s time to be followers. You can be both a follower and a leader, and you can also get out of the way.

Steve Golab   —   6 years ago

One true gift of a founder is their experience and expertise with the process of bootstrapping an idea into the company’s very first paying customer. The bootstrap process can be lost upon an organization when it scales, so preserving that essence of origin should have the urgency of preserving an endangered species of wildlife.

As the original founding team is encircled by more and more employees, as the company grows to multiple locations, as the initial team retires or moves on, it becomes more and more important to retain that founder’s gift.

Because, intentional or not, all growth and its necessary systems, policies, and procedures, eventually blinds everyone to the downsides of change that creep into the business. The only one with the clarity of vision to see that is the founder.

He or she is like the shaman in a society. Only they have had the experience of the truly hard work that existed – before the scale-up and growth of the business resulting from the founder’s bootstrapping.

This doesn’t mean that other, bright leaders shouldn’t be brought in to help grow the business. Yes, there is a place for greater efficiency and effectiveness – for optimization of processes to improve the top and bottom line and deliver value to the business. But, it’s important to honor the founder and retain their advice.

Barrett Parkman   —   6 years ago

Building a team and culture is the most important job of a founder. Even if you are a Steve Jobs-type visionary, you cannot change the world - or even your industry - without a team that is closely aligned with your mission and values.

There is a scene in the cult movie "Fight Club" in which Brad Pitt's character explains the rules by beginning, "The first rule in Fight Club, is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule is: You do NOT TALK about Fight Club."

In a similar way, my advice would be that the first rule in hiring is: Hire based on the cultural fit of the candidate with your mission and values. Similarly, the second rule is: Hire based on the CULTURAL FIT of the candidate. Only then, with the third rule, would I recommend you focus on the candidate's skills and experience fit with the role you are hiring. Compromise on this rule regarding cultural fit and you are likely to regret it, not far down the road.

Hiring a teammate that doesn't fit your culture is like attempting to force a square peg into a round hole. My experience is that such a misjudgment will cause you to spend a disproportionate amount of time helping the employee fit in. It may even seem to work for a time, although at great cost to you and possibly others, in time and resources.

Eventually, though, I find that the team will suffer, the employee will leave unhappy, and you’ll be back where you started - with an empty hole in your team.

Hugh Forrest   —   6 years ago

When it comes to tools for keeping myself organized, I’ve generally been low-tech. For many years, I would use a spiral notebook to make my lists, with a pen to cross things off as they were completed.

I’ve transitioned more to the philosophy that “your inbox is your ‘to do’ list” in more recent years. Within that philosophy, I try to set daily goals, to get the inbox down to a manageable number each night. The positive of using email in this way is that it seems to facilitate remaining very focused on tactical goals, which in turn seems to help keep everything manageable and on schedule.

The negative of using email is that it is, in many ways, the epitome of a system for dealing only with the problems that are in front of you now. But, it doesn’t serve you well, with a more long-term approach, for working on the problems or plans that matter 1 year from now, 3 years from now, 5 years now, or beyond. So, I’m continuing to grow, personally, with a balance of methods to accomplish the short-term and longer-term tasks for the event.

Greg Merrill   —   6 years ago

I’ve tried various methods, as far as management styles go, but the most important thing all-around is constant communication.

Each person I work with has a slightly different communication style, so I try to tailor how I deal with each person through adapting to his or her personal style.

I also try to use a daily check-in, to make sure that every member of my team is on the same page with me and with everyone else in the company.

Kyle Redinger   —   6 years ago

10 Things You Need to Remember As a Non-Technical, MBA Founder.

You are on to big things, with a team, some traction, a market and a problem you are trying to address. Maybe you’ve found a technical partner. Maybe not. Maybe you’ve raised some capital. But, what you might not realize is you need to learn a specific set of skills to manage and appeal to the technical side of the world. This will help you contribute to the value of the business and share the values of your technical team members.

I’ve learned a lot by being an entrepreneur, most of which forces me to be a generalist when it comes to specific skills. I’ve founded businesses in the financial, fitness, events, and software industries. But none presented as many challenges as my last startup, VividCortex. We raised about $3 million in funding, grew a distributed, highly technical team to over 15 people, and sold to some very technical buyers.

Of course, you hear about all those generic startup skills and goals. They include selling, encouraging, promoting, discovering, and retaining. They are also related to effectuation which is the process of systematically de-risking early stage startup ideas.

Anyway, this is all buzzy stuff. What’s less buzzy are the specific skills I had to develop and learn as a non-technical co-founder in a very high tech startup.

Here is what I suggest you consider if you find yourself in a similar situation:

1. Learn Technology Language - developers don’t say “split up” or “install.” They say “refactor” and “deploy.” Developers have a specific language and you have to learn this language so you fit the culture and understand what’s going on.

2. Learn to Code, Even if a Little - seriously. The basics aren’t that hard. I’ve learned the basics of SQL, R, Gitflow, and Python. It’s not enough to be productive as a developer, but I can relate to issues that people face. I now have a R skill-set that surpasses my peers, and that’s been a huge asset as my career grows. I also am proving to the technical folks that I understand what they are doing is really hard and I admire it.

3. Use Your MBA to an Advantage - a lot of morons rip on MBAs because they haven’t ever dealt with issues that an MBA faces. Sure, an MBA skillset isn’t necessarily a great fit for developing software at an early-stage startup, but you probably have a better understanding of cash flow, deal structure, statistical modeling, funding sources, negotiating, etc. than your peers. Use that to your advantage. Own the finance side. Own the marketing side, because marketing needs to be financially driven to some extent.

4. Hire People by Appealing to 3 Simple Rules - people will want to work with (i) a great team, with (ii) a sense of purpose and (iii) be challenged. It’s that simple. Make sure you can clearly communicate these points to your candidates.

5. People are Everything - this is obvious, but you may have missed this if you never worked in a startup. Treat all clients, advisors, employees, contractors, etc. with equal respect.

6. Do Stuff You Don’t Like to Do - I am a big CrossFitter. You improve yourself by tackling skills that aren’t your strengths. The same can be said of personal development at a startup. Don’t like sales? Just try it enough. You’ll figure out a way to get good at it. You should be fully motivated by your equity to pick up the slack where needed.

7. Let the People Be Free - human’s seek and enjoy freedom. Build that into your culture with flexible schedules, open vacation policies, etc. On a small team, it will be obvious who isn’t performing and can’t manage that freedom.

8. Set Short-Term Stretch Client Goals and Reward People for Meeting Them - teams align around achievable, stretch goals, especially when there is a small reward at the end. We’ve set goals that align developers to key customer/business issues, like revenue and/or banner customer deployments. It’s important to always focus the tech team towards these key business goals.

9. Admit You Make Mistakes, Are Wrong, and Don’t Know - it’s ok to not understand stuff. No one is going to think you are less of a leader for asking what something means. Understanding your lack of knowledge is very important for being able to seek advice, make decisions and do what’s best for the company.

10. Grab Beers with Your Partners - we celebrate small successes with a round of drinks. Life is short. Enjoy your work. It is your contribution to the world.

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