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  • Writer's picturePaolo Pironi

3 Little-Known Dos and Don'ts That Will Make You A Great Startup Leader (Part 2/2)

Great Leadership will make you and your team less busy and more productive. It will ensure that your company delivers results on time and on budget, without your constant intervention. So that you can focus on doing your best work and leading everybody to the goal (impact, riches, fame, etc).

Great Leadership is so misunderstood that it took me 7 years of research and experimentation to discover what really works and what doesn’t.

Great Leaders embody a specific set of behaviours. All those abstract leadership definitions that you’ve undoubtedly read might have given you nice perspectives, but they won’t help you become a better leader in the day-to-day. I know this because years ago I was trying to improve my own leadership and sought a set of handy, pragmatic, reliable instructions, but they were super hard to find... That’s why I endeavoured to compile the best techniques I’ve found into a concise, practical checklist.

So here you have my list of 3 foundational Dos and Don’ts. Apply the behaviours on this list, and you’ll be in the top 1% of startup leaders out there! You’re welcome :)

I’ve described each of the DOs in a previous post. Now it’s time to deep dive into the DON’Ts, which are possibly even more important - I remember that learning this next one really blew my mind!

DON’T: Motivate People

Best selling author and CEO coach Jim Schleckser writes, “When it comes to motivation, people either have it or they don't.” I couldn’t agree more.

There is a lot of pressure put on leaders to “motivate” their people, but that’s NOT how leaders should employ their energy. If you’re reading my articles, it means that you’re an achiever. Think about it: did you need to be spoon fed motivation along your path, or did you dig deep and found the resolve within you? So why hold others to a lower standard now?

And if one of your employees is not motivated? Fire him or her and hire someone else who is - there are plenty of very motivated people, like you, who deserve your tutelage more.

If you’re uncomfortable with all this, I get it: I once was, too. Some of us would like to save everybody. But you shouldn’t make it your responsibility, that’s unfair to you. It’s also presumptuous to think that you can save others, while in fact only they can save themselves. “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you”, in the words of legendary motivational speaker Zig Zigler.

There are two types of people: the people who take responsibility and the people who make excuses. Don’t waste your precious time and energy on the latter, they don’t deserve you.

So do I mean that you have absolutely no impact on team performance as a leader? Of course you do! But rather than waste your time and emotional energy trying to save the unsavable, you should instead throw your full support behind motivated, deserving individuals!

How? By creating an encouraging environment where motivated people can achieve peak performance. That is indeed your responsibility as a leader: ensure that your best people thrive, so they don’t leave you and they deliver you the best results!

Creating this environment starts with “Telling People What Good Work Looks Like” and “Repeating Yourself”, but there are many other steps that great leaders ought to take. More on that in future posts, subscribe to my blog not to miss them!

DON’T: Treat All Of Your People The Same

We’ve all had to learn a brand new skill at some point. Take for example when you first learned how to drive a car. You probably went through these stages:

  1. Before you ever sat at the driver’s seat, you thought, “I know some people struggled with this but I’m going to be a natural, I’ll learn super fast and will be the greatest driver of all time!”

  2. Then you sat down, fastened your seat belt, put your hands on the steering wheel, placed your foot on the clutch, grabbed the stick, which pedal is the gas and which is the brake, ugh why is the car jumping when I slow way down, the engine just turned off and now people are honking at me, AAAAARGHHHH WHY IS THIS SO HARD???!!!

  3. After that ummm… sobering experience, you realised that becoming “the greatest driver of all time” was going to be harder than you anticipated. So you become resigned to practice diligently. And over time, your skill improves and so does your confidence

  4. Years after learning how to drive, it’s become the most natural thing to do and you drive even to cover embarrassingly short distances (you can’t walk because you’re too tired from your crossfit session, right?)

We go through these 4 stages every time we learn a new skill.

These 4 “development levels” are central to the Situational Leadership Model created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. This model consists of attributing a level to each member of your team and applying a different leadership style based on that. So depending on the level, you will want to:

  1. Direct: tell them what to do and how to do it

  2. Coach: steer their approach (coaching is widely misunderstood and will be covered in detail in a future post)

  3. Support: encourage them to trust themselves

  4. Delegate: let them roll with it

Note that every person can be seen as a collection of skills with varying degrees of development. For example, right now you could be a 4 in Spanish, a 2 in cooking, a 3 in driving, a 1 in medicine, and so forth. So if I were your manager, my approach would depend on the task at hand: I’d simply delegate writing emails in Spanish to you, but I’d actively coach you in cooking.

Adapting your leadership style at such a granular level is exceptionally challenging. As you learn the Situational Leadership skill, you will undoubtedly have to undertake the emotional journey through the 4 development levels (you’ve been warned!). But you’ll emerge a legendary leader if you stick with it and hone this skill - so I promise you it will all be worth it!

DON’T: Walk Past A Quality Problem, Ever

Ann Dunwoody, America’s first female 4-star general wrote, “Far too often we let little things slide. But just turn on the news and listen as the anchors lament an auto-part defect leading to deaths and multibillion-dollar recalls or a small leak in a gas pipeline causing an explosion that endangers wildlife. Recognizing when something is wrong, big or small, and holding people accountable can save industries billions and citizens their lives. [...] if you do walk by a mistake, then you just set a new, lower standard.”

Because people watch what leaders do more than what they say, if you walk past a quality problem you’re essentially saying that you’ll accept it, that it’s ok. And that low quality standard will endure more than anything you can ever say about your great commitment to great work. It will taint the colour of the horse.

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”, in the words of David Morrison, former Chief of Army and also voted Australian of the Year (I’ve always wondered, -who- runs these votes?? But I digress…)

I understand that you might be uncomfortable confronting someone over a teeny tiny mistake - I’ve been guilty of trying to avoid confrontation myself, so I understand. But if you think that that small past mistake will be forgotten, think again: I guarantee you that people will actually start repeating that same mistake left and right. Why? It’s just easier to meet a lower standard. So mistakes will proliferate because of that one time you’ve said nothing, thus officially setting the bar lower. Do yourself a favour: catch the mistake early and set it straight.

No, I’m not advocating micromanaging. No, I’m not telling you to publicly victimise people for small mistakes. For now I want you to get used to recognising quality problems and calling them out. Future articles will cover how to do it skilfully and compassionately. I will specifically show you how to:

  • Define what good work looks like and ensure everybody gets it

  • Maintain control without micromanaging

  • Give feedback that cements relationships and inspires improvement

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