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5 Lessons All Founders Must Learn to Lead Successful Companies

The world doesn’t revolve around you, nor do you have to carry it on your shoulders. Recognizing both facts will do your company a world of good.

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BY John Hall - 17 Jun 2018

5 Lessons All Founders Must Learn to Lead Successful Companies

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Leadership is all about growth. If I were the exact same person today as I was when I co-founded Influence & Co., we might be in trouble. Fortunately, I've learned a few new things about myself and what it means to be successful since then that have helped me grow as a founder and leader.

Founders often struggle to make the transition from founder to CEO. Some are all vision and no management, while others lack the right communication skills or don't know how to let go of the reins. It's a delicate balancing act, and for many, the challenges of running a company are sometimes too much -- even for people who built successful companies from nothing.

Running a business isn't for everyone, but founders shouldn't get discouraged by a few mistakes along the way. No one is perfect, and I've made plenty of missteps along my entrepreneurial journey. The key is finding the teachable moments that show you the lessons you need to learn to become better and avoid making the same mistakes.

If you are the leader of a growing company, be prepared to experience a few changes as your business evolves:

1. You dabble less and manage more.

During the early days of startup life, it's all about getting things done. Founders have to do everything, even if they aren't the best people for the job.

As you build a team of great people, that jack-of-all-trades role goes away. Now, you have people on your team who are experts in design, content creation, and client service helping achieve your goals. With fewer items on your personal to-do list, you might feel unproductive, but try not to worry about it. This delegation is a great thing that actually allows you to be more productive. Now, you can focus on things only you can do -- like leading the vision for the company.

2. You give up control.

When our company was young, I used to get frustrated when I would give over control of a project to someone new. It was hard because I knew it better than that person: I had been there and doing the project since the beginning. However, I quickly realized I couldn't maintain that same level of control over every individual project if I wanted the company -- and my team -- to grow.

As I learned to work with different people, I started to ask different questions. Instead of trying to show others my way of doing things, I started asking: "How can I help? How can I provide the feedback you need to do the best job possible?" When I shifted my focus from the projects to the people doing them, I instantly became a more effective leader.

3. You stop trying to win popularity contests.

Fledgling startups feel like families. A small team of a few people spends every waking moment together in pursuit of a common goal. The trials of that time inevitably create strong bonds within the group.

When a team of seven turns into a team of 70, though, that dynamic changes. You're no longer the ringleader of a small platoon: You're the general of the army. New people don't know you the way your original team did, and even if you are the friendliest person in the world, some of them aren't always going to like you.

Don't worry about being everyone's best friend. Instead, treat everyone with respect. Even if they don't want to get a beer with you, they'll respect you as a leader.

4. You start to challenge people.

When you stop worrying whether everyone loves you, you start thinking about how to push people to grow. Often, that growth is uncomfortable, but it's your job as a leader to motivate your team members for the greater benefit of the company.

Young startups depend really heavily on their employees, maybe even more than established businesses do. Every person has a unique skill set, and every person is an investment in the company's future. A bad hire (or poor management of a good hire) can delay projects and hold the business back.

Learn to challenge employees and give them the resources they need to succeed. One tool that can help business leaders do that effectively is PropFuel, which is a platform that helps leaders solicit feedback from team members. It gives your employees the chance to share their thoughts with you from the front lines, and understanding your employees' goals, strengths, and areas for improvement can help you challenge them in the most productive and helpful way.

5. You realize it's not about you.

You may be at the top of the org chart, but your startup isn't about you. Yes, your leadership, vision, and attitude all matter, but they are a vehicle for others to do their best work -- not for you to take all the credit. The best founders-turned-CEOs understand that they are not there to sit on a throne but to help others do their best.

Leading a startup from a small team to a thriving organization has been one of the most exciting challenges of my life. Some of these lessons didn't come easy, but all of them have been vital to both my personal growth and the growth of our company. As your company evolves, take a step back to focus more on support and less on oversight. You might be surprised how well your team and your company as a whole responds.

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