Leadership Dos and Don’ts in a Startup Environment

More than enough listicles have been created with dos and don’ts for how to be a leader in the office, but what about how to lead at a startup? This is small business at its earliest stages where every employee wears a dozen hats and the rules get rewritten as you go along. While some entrepreneurs might look back and imagine how they could have accomplished their duties differently, if they exhibited strong management characteristics with their team, they’ll be satisfied in knowing they were good captains of their startup’s ship. If you’re about to start your own company or are a few months into running a startup, here are some leadership dos and don’ts to keep in mind.

DO: Sit out on the floor.

We have an open office layout at my company where everyone sits out on the same floor together in desk clusters of threes. I have a separate office towards the back of the building, but I rarely spend time there. Instead, I sit at a desk out on the floor with everyone else and I love it!

Being on the floor with your team allows you to be able to engage with everyone and provide as much extra assistance as possible. The fewer barriers you have in the room, like cubicles, the more employees will feel at ease with communicating with one another. Instead of hiding in your office, join your team out on the floor. Try to keep that space open and airy so the atmosphere and synergy stays positive.

DON’T: Play favorites.

Nepotism isn’t fair for anyone, especially in a startup environment where having few employees makes it pretty obvious which ones receive special treatment over the others. Treat each member of your team with respect and make the time to get to know more about the stories behind each of the people you employ.

DO: Express yourself clearly.

From day one, your startup should have a clear M.O. of who it is, what it stands for, and where it’s going. This vision should be expressed by the leader to the team to get them all on board with your vision. As time goes by, some of these details may be tweaked slightly, but the overall goals will remain the same and will be clear to everyone. Express yourself to everyone in a way that they can understand and doesn’t allow the purpose of your business to be muddled.

DON’T: Think you know everything.

Every startup is like a snowflake — no two are alike. Therefore, no business model adapted from studying another startup’s approach will ensure your take is just as successful as theirs. Don’t think that you know everything. Be willing to always keep learning and finesse your skill sets as you go. Surround yourself with team members that can teach you new lessons as much as you can teach them.

DO: Listen.

Here’s a handy pro tip that many leaders might not realize: listening is a form of engagement. In a post on Inc., it’s noted that truly engaging leaders don’t talk more than they listen. However, many in management positions would rather talk and put “I” before “we” or “team” instead.

One of the best things you can do as a leader is listen to your team, especially in the early days in business. Communication is ultimately a two-way street where the sender and the receiver have to interact with one another. Let your team know from the beginning that their feedback is welcome with you at any time.

If you think your communication skills need a boost, channel your inner Gumby. When you think Gumby, you think flexibility, and great communication is all about being flexible. Listen, engage, be patient, and be understanding.