5 Essential Leadership Skills for Entrepreneurs

If you want to run a startup, you have to be an effective leader – no ifs, ands or buts about it.

As a entrepreneur you’ll be called upon to lead in a variety of different situations.  If you have employees, it’ll be up to you to motivate your workers to give 110% to their tasks and to finish priorities in a timely manner.  But even if you’re flying solo, you need the charisma of leadership to convince mentors, partners and investors to believe in your vision and provide the support that’s needed to meet your startup goals.

Now, that being said, it’s important to recognize that leadership comes in a number of different styles.  You might not be the pounding-the-podium, extroverted ideal of a leader that many of us have come to associate with the concept of “leadership.”  It’s still possible to become an effective leader if you tend to be more reserved or withdrawn – as long as you have the following skills:

Skill #1 – The ability to develop a compelling vision

People don’t always get behind leaders, but they almost always respond to compelling, disruptive visions that have the power to transform common personal and business processes.

Take, for example, Bill Gates.  Odds are, this entrepreneurial hero doesn’t match up with most people’s preconceived notions of what a leader looks like or sounds like – but that didn’t stop him from forming a compelling vision that software could be treated as a business.  People got behind him, not because he was a widely-renowned leader, but because his vision for the future was so powerful that they couldn’t help themselves.

So if you don’t embody the stereotypical “leader” role – don’t worry.  You can still grow a startup based on the strength of your vision.  And if you do think of yourself as a good leader, it’s important to keep in mind that it isn’t necessarily you personally that people are responding to – it’s likely your ideas that keep your followers on your side.

Skill #2 – The ability to clearly recognize your company’s strengths and weaknesses

Bad leaders view their companies and their own abilities through a set of rose-colored glasses.  But unfortunately, if you come into this line of work with the idea that you’re god’s gift to entrepreneurship, you’re going to fail.  Not only will you be unable to see how your company can and should be improved, you won’t be able to effectively direct your team if you can’t see where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

Good leaders, on the other hand, spend time carefully assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their leadership styles, the companies they manage and the teams they lead.  By knowing where the company and its resources are strongest, they’re able to plan strategic moves that capitalize on their unique combination of advantages.  And by being able to isolate weaknesses, they’re able to address deficiencies that would otherwise prevent the company from moving forward.

If you truly can’t conduct this kind of objective analysis on your own, it’s incumbent upon you – the leader – to bring in somebody who can.  This could be a highly-paid consultant or just a friend who’s familiar with your business and the challenges of running a startup.  The bottom line is that it must be somebody who’s able to dig deep into your processes and resources to determine where changes must be made.

Go through this process with an outside source a few times if you must, but keep it a goal in your mind to be able to uncover strengths and weaknesses information on your own.  As a leader, you need to be able to make these assessments every day – a situation that just isn’t possible if you’re relying on others for help.

Skill #3 – The ability to “get the right people on the bus”

The smartest leaders recognize that they alone can’t solve all of the world’s problems (or even all of the issues confronting their singular startup companies).  That’s why they make it a priority to bring on team members that fill in their weaker areas.

It was Jim Collins who first coined the phrase, “getting the right people on the bus,” in his seminal text, Good to Great – and it’s a phrase that’s always resonated with me.  If you think about your company as being a long bus trip, think about who you want on that bus.  Sure, you want to have people whose personalities match your own.  But beyond that, it should be your priority as a leader to bring on people whose skill sets complement your own and fill in any weaknesses you have as an individual.

In my case, a huge part of turning Single Grain into the agency that it’s become today was my decision to partner with AJ Kumar.  I’m a tech guy – AJ’s a sales guy.  Having him “on the bus” with me means that I’m free to focus my time on developing new and improved SEO techniques and following up with client progress, while AJ ensures that we keep a steady stream of clients coming in the door.

Skill #4 – The ability to adapt based on feedback

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen entire companies steamrolled by their leaders’ inability to compromise and adapt based on feedback.  Really, I believe that there are few ideas that are perfectly brilliant right out of the box.  Hell, take a look at Facebook for an example…

Originally, the platform started out as “The Facebook” with the sole purpose of connecting students at Ivy League universities with one another.  I’m sure that, had Mark Zuckerberg stuck with this initial idea, the company would’ve still been a success – but it never would have reached its current scale or its market position as the web’s “go to” social network without adapting to feedback to open the site up to a larger user base.

In my opinion, one of the worst things you can do in business is to assume that you’re always right.  Real leaders know that input from employees, customers and other business contacts is always valuable – even if it isn’t always acted upon.  So if you aren’t currently encouraging and embracing this type of feedback in your startup, make it a priority to start doing so today.  You never know what ideas will come up if you’re simply open to them!

Skill #5 – The ability to execute

Lastly, keep in mind that if you can’t execute, it doesn’t matter how strong your vision is, how good your team is or how open to feedback you are.  You have to be actively delivering your product or service for your company to be successful!

As your startup’s leader, it’s up to you to put the focus on execution when necessary.  In some situations, this might mean conducting process analyses to determine where you’re losing time and potential profitability.  In others, it might mean motivating your team members to get their work done in order to meet certain milestones or production deadlines.  It can be frustrating to have so much of this pressure on your shoulder, but as the leader, you’ve got to be the one who places a priority on execution.

Obviously, no single entrepreneur is going to be a master of all these different skills at once.  There’s no one perfect way to lead – but you can improve your own effectiveness as a leader by focusing on these five critical areas.  No matter what kind of leader you are or want to be, improving these particular skills will go a long way towards making your startup successful.

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About Sujan

Sujan Patel is the VP of Marketing at thisCLICKS, the makers of When I Work & Wage Base. Previously Sujan founded Single Grain, one of the top Digital Marketing agencies in San Francisco, CA. With more than 10 years of Internet marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Sales Force,…