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The Accidental Leader: Why Entrepreneurs Should Work On Leading Effectively

The primary decision for an entrepreneur is not whether to be a leader, but what type of leader to be; this choice can make or break the future of the company

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Every entrepreneur is inherently a leader. A founder creates the vision which serves as the base upon which a company is built.This vision sets the stage for the manner in which employees execute the company’s goals and mission. Much like a parent, an entrepreneur serves as a role model: his/her views, communication style, decisions and behaviour are emulated by the rest of the organization. The primary decision for an entrepreneur is not whether to be a leader, but what type of leader to be; this choice can make or break the future of the company.

Painting a Vision

An entrepreneur’s vision is core to the company, along with his/her passion for that aim. Through this vision, an entrepreneur sets priorities that guide others towards thegreater goal. Founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos is famously obsessed with customer service, to the extent that he allots an empty chair at the conference table to the invisible Amazon customerto ensure that the customer viewpoint is factored into every decision. This single-minded focus on building “Earth’s most customer-centric company” trickles down to the rest of the team and influences the minutest of decisions.

Cultivating Culture

Setting the right tone for communication is imperative, because it influences culture and working styles within the firm. Ray Dalio, founder of one of the world’s most successful investment firms, Bridgewater Associates, has penned 210 principles that guide Bridgewater’s culture, employee relationships, and work ethic. His emphasis on transparency and honesty means that all meetings at Bridgewater are taped, and employees can be fired for talking behind someone’s back.

Building the Team

An entrepreneur’s hiring decisions are a strong indicator of his/her leadership style.Founder of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma is regarded as a father figure within his company, and known for delivering inspiring speeches. Ma’s hiring philosophy is grounded on the belief that one should always hire people with superior technical skills than oneself. Selecting individuals that fit within the company’s culture is equally important. Moreover, empowering team members to be leaders themselves enables progress towards goals at a faster pace.

Adapting at the Right Time

The manner in which an entrepreneur deals with failure determines how the team deals with failure. A leader who makes it okay to take risks and fail but stresses the importance of learning from these mistakes imparts a feeling of ownership within the team. When employees feel personally invested in the vision, an organization is more likely to succeed. At the same time, when a plan is failing, it is just as important for an entrepreneur to cut losses and shift direction. A pivot timed correctly has created unicorns, whereas failure to pivot at the right time has killed corporate giants. Polaroid is an example of the latter. Believing that customers would always want a hard copy of photos, founder Edwin Land refused to embrace the onset of digital despite having developed the necessary technology, leading the company to bankruptcy.    

Knowing When to Exit

There comes a time in the lifespan of most start-ups when the entrepreneur is no longer the best leader to implement the vision of the company. Cases such as Travis Kalanick at Uber, Jerry Yang at Yahoo, and Elon Musk at PayPal, come to mind. The company evolves, so too do the challenges it faces. A good leader is self-aware, and has the ability to detach emotionally and become cognizant of when the team needs a new leaderto steer towards the vision. Ideally, this realization should occur before investors or board members take a call to oust the founder!

                                                                      


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