Entrepreneurial Leadership – My presentation & Two things I learned

This week I spoke to a group of entrepreneurs at Start Garden, an incubator in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  After receiving support from a program called Fast Track to start my own business, I pledged to us my Google-time (10% of my time) to connect with programs that help others start their own businesses and/or allow me to hang out with great people.  Start Garden meets both criteria.  Here are two things I learned from my workshop:

1. To get feedback, you have to ask for it: In dozens of appearances, I have found it very hard to get constructive feedback.  For this presentation I took my teenage daughter and told her ahead of time that I would like some feedback about what improvements I could make.  When I asked her after I was done she shared “Dad, at the end your closing kind of dragged.  People want to get going, and you could have kept the pace moving a little better as you went around the room for your closing.”    She was right, and next time I will be better because she cared enough to share.  The best way to get feedback is to ask for it before you start.

2.  Entrepreneurs love to learn: We were talking about leadership, and had some very frank discussions about barriers to leading well, but we never got stuck in what facilitators call a ‘negative spiral’.   We acknowledged what made it hard to lead, but quickly moved past it to what they could do to be better leaders.  It is what I try to do as a facilitator, but I know that when it is easy – the groups gets part of the credit.  Entrepreneurs see the opportunities in anything, which is why it is fun to hang around them.

 

Here is a copy of my presentation if you are interested.  It was themed around a John Wayne movie that I loved.

My question:  If you had to share one thing with a group of entrepreneurs about leadership, what would it be?

Startup – 4 Critical Things You Need From The Team You Build

Starting up a business is a crazy time, and a key part of this time is bringing people around you that will help you hit your goals.  Officially your goal might be a revenue number, but unofficially startup is also about getting lots of things done without hurting yourself or those around you.  It is hard, which is why so many new businesses fail to survive.  One researcher concluded that after three years 46% of startups are gone. (see numbers)

The good news is there are people around all of us that are willing to get involved.  As you identify your team it is crucial to define what you will need from them as you start your business.  Here are four needs I have found to be critical, and each one should have a name(s) next to them for you.

1. Help managing the fear: Don Rainey, a venture capitalist in Washington DC named getting used to constant fear as the #1 way starting a business will change you (read blog posting).  Find advisers and partners that understand fear and that you trust enough to be open with.  They should also be people who will push you to get unstuck when fear is holding you back from moving forward.  Managing fear is ultimately your job, but ongoing support from others is critical.

2. The knowledge/experience to help win: Every business needs a little bit of luck, but don’t depend on it.  If there is knowledge you need and don’t have –  find it.  If you are a single person company, find the network or get the experience before you start.  If you are going to market with an idea or product you created, get sales and marketing help. If you really understand your own strengths and weaknesses this part is easy because your business plan tells you the work you have to get done, you just have to get the help to fill in the key gaps.  Move your ego over and get help.

3.  Brave problem solvers: I like the word brave because it creates the picture of a hero who overcomes fear to get into action mode and wins.  Looking back at any startup, there are an abundance of stories where bumps were encountered and unforeseen problems had to be solved.  A great question for entrepreneurs is “Share a problem/challenge you encountered and what you did to overcome it?”  When hiring people in the beginning you will need to hire problem solvers – not problem identifiers or problem creators.  Whether it is through their commitment to learning, sheer will to win, or passion to fix things, they need to see problems as an opportunity to do something special.

4.  Someone to celebrate with: There will be victories.  In those victories are opportunities to high-five, eat some good food, or share a smile.  Having people close enough to your business to know the lows and recognize the work that went into the highs is important.  It might be an employee that likes to cook or a friend who likes to throw a party.  Jim Collins called this momentum gained by reaching and recognizing goals the flywheel effect.  Celebrating successes will allow you to feel the momentum.

So what kind of leadership do they need from you?  See the above list and ask yourself “What can I do as a leader to make sure that need is met?” It is probably worth some future blog space to explore this question a little bit more.  If you have any ideas to add to what I have shared feel free to comment.