Technical contribution. Leadership is a high-risk and tension-filled task. It ensures productive cooperation – and is an almost impossible daily balancing act.
Leading companies to success mean leading people successfully
To put it bluntly, leadership has “something” to do with people – either with oneself or with other people. And leadership occurs almost exclusively through communication. Many startup founders, entrepreneurs, managers are outstanding visionaries, full of brilliant ideas and/or top technical experts. But to build a company and grow successfully, visions, ideas, knowledge must be implemented – together with and through other people. Leading a company to success means successfully leading oneself and other people.
Old management models no longer suit startups
Leadership theory and role models abound. What they all have in common is that they almost all date from the last century and were developed under stable (market) conditions – changes were the exception. Not only has our economic world changed completely in the last 20 years, but a start-up is also virtually a company in a permanent process of change and transformation.
Old management models are no longer effective: Neither can one’s own leadership role in a highly specialized team be defined by one’s own knowledge (leadership by expertise), nor by the power of the position, since structures in a start-up are constantly changing and work is usually project-based.
Especially in a start-up, the challenges for leaders and managers are enormous: yesterday a visionary in the founding team, today leading a small team of employees, tomorrow management with a second management level.
Guidance is invisible at best
Yet leadership is nothing heroic or only for people with charisma(problem). It resembles – to use a comparison by Prof. Fritz B. Simon – “housewife work”: only when nobody does it anymore, you notice it. Leadership needs visions, big goals, where it can be directed to and ensures the effective implementation of ideas and goals.
But leadership is invisible in the best case – only when it is not made do you notice it. The premises of solution focus can be a valuable aid in daily leadership work:
What is not broken does not have to be repaired. (If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.)
Do more of what works. If it works, do more of it.
If something doesn’t work, try something else. If it is not working, do something different
Small steps can lead to big changes. Small steps can lead to big changes
Leading means making decisions under uncertainty
The central task of leadership is to keep the company capable of acting by making decisions. The conditions under which decisions are made are unpredictable. Despite all the simulated security provided by analysing the past and making forecasts as a projection into the future, one thing remains certain: the future is and remains uncertain!
And especially when a start-up is a technological pioneer or conquers a new market, any forecast is like reading a coffee set. The key question of leadership in startups is how decisions can be made and effectively implemented under this “double” uncertainty.
A suspenseful balancing act
Leadership can be understood as an internal service within the company, which ensures that all those involved work together productively and which must permanently balance different demands and needs. Leadership ensures that all activities in the company are jointly aligned. Since the future is uncertain, this is a high-risk task.
The following ten rules can provide support and orientation:
1. Making decisions under uncertainty
Be aware that all management decisions are always made under uncertainty. In addition to information and available data, make use of your experience and pay attention to stockiness in your own attitude and attitude.
2. Unifying decisions
In order for companies to remain capable of acting, decisions must connect: The future with the present – and at the same time take people with them. In particular, the professional know-how of employees must be able to flow into the decision-making process. Decisions made in the privacy of a small room alone do not have a promising future.
3. Leadership is based on communication
Decisions must also be communicated – and in such a way as to ensure that the recipients have understood the information as intended by the sender. The best way to do this is to ask questions and have the information reproduced in your own words. Because: The meaning of the message is determined by the recipient, not the sender!
4. Taking responsibility
Managers are not only responsible for implementing decisions in their areas, but they also take responsibility for everything that happens in their areas. Through this clarity, they offer their employees (support).
5. Clear self-image
As a manager, be aware of the different roles in the company – as well as your personal attitude and manner. Know that employees measure their superiors by how they themselves behave and act. And use all this to offer orientation to others.
6. Empower employees
By asking and listening carefully to what the employee needs to implement a task, support him individually and in different ways depending on the situation. Does the employee have all the necessary competencies? Are our goal and content clear? And is he also allowed to do what he is supposed to do? (Regulation of responsibility)
7. Ensure and monitor effective implementation
Support employees in achieving the goals in an agreed manner through continuous observation and appreciative feedback. Is the development in the intended direction – or does something possibly have to be changed? Perhaps the correction of the original decision? And at the same time take into account the differences between feedback, praise and evaluation.
8. Designing frameworks and structures
Not only direct communication but also the rules and structures of communication within the company significantly influence and support leadership (e.g. structure, content and frequency of meetings). Especially in start-ups, regulations must introduce liabilities and at the same time enable lively growth.
9. Adopt different perspectives
Being able to view a situation from different angles: from the perspective of the customer, the employee, the investor and so on. And to develop an understanding of different points of view – despite different personal opinions – which helps to establish a connection, also to be able to convince others of one’s own point of view.
10. Being allowed to make mistakes
If decisions are always made under uncertainty, some decisions may turn out to be unproductive or unsuccessful and need to be corrected. Mistakes are therefore unavoidable – it is important that undesirable developments are identified and changed at an early stage.