Leadership in management is the art and science of getting others to do what they don’t necessarily want – or don’t understand why they’re being asked – to do. Doing it at a startup is accomplishing all of that in the face of uncertainty and with little resources. Now imagine doing that without the war chest supplied to you by VCs as you bootstrap. Good times, but also a pain in the ass.
First: Yes, the Usual Clichés
Without a doubt, the mere minimum you need to do to recruit and retain talent is to show respect, empower, provide feedback and be a generally good person to want to work for. Treat employees not just like partners, but also how you want to be treated as an employee.
But, hiring during boom times is very different than during a downturn. Depending on your industry, your company might be grounded due to the inability to hire.
Your Business Isn’t a Fortune Cookie
“Hire slow, fire fast” is a great sound bite, but it’s usually wrong, especially if you lack the cash to hire anyone you want.
Either way, not everyone is a visionary or sees the lay of the land; a lot of people need direction and to be cast in a role. I am not recommending you to hire a putz and promote him, but if you saw something in a candidate and things aren’t working out at first, chances are they may be really good at something else.
Vegetable Lasagnas Need Not Apply
Hire a bunch of plain-vanilla yes-men and I promise you your company is DOA. But that doesn’t mean that you need to go out and try to hire a number of all-stars, because that’s not really how championship teams are built, either.
Life is all about team dynamics and balance.
The Ego Has Landed
Realistically, everyone has an ego, and in all honesty, that’s not a bad thing. As a boss you need to differentiate between self-centered people who place personal objectives ahead of the common good versus those who take pride in their work and will in turn set a good example for others. In fact, those two things are not even mutually exhaustive, so as long as the latter outweighs the former, you should check your own ego and live and let live.
Also, Don’t Lie to Yourself
Moreover, while you as the leader are driven to succeed and may have virtuous and altruistic objectives, ultimately you stand to gain financially when others help you achieve your goals, so you cannot be disingenuous in at least recognizing that others may have their own reasons for participating in your adventure.
But More Importantly, Don’t Lie to or Disrespect Others
The golden rule is candor, because people don’t like to be ridiculed or made fun of. If Maslow’s hierarchy were modified to reflect something other than needs, I’d argue that pride and self-esteem would place rather high. Respect everyone on your way up, even those who have what society perceives to be lower-ranking jobs and functions.
When you’re on a date, for example, a woman will pay particular attention to how you treat a waiter or doorman, because it will say a lot about you. Similarly, if you’re having lunch with a potential hire and you’re rude to the waiter, it sends a red flag to the person you’re trying to recruit.
You Are Neither Il Duce Nor George Washington
The key is to manage like it’s a democracy but to remember that it’s not. After a series of “bad” CEOs, P&G chose nice guy John Pepper as CEO. He had a tendency to agree with the last person he spoke to. That doesn’t work in startups, where everyone has their own ideas of what to do but, but enough resources to do the one thing you need to do properly.
You’re Only As Weak As Your Strongest Link
Saddam Hussein had a peculiar habit of balancing his sons’ powers. While you shouldn’t take management lessons from the Butcher of Baghdad, the reality is that you need to build a team that is balanced, so having one superstar is a recipe for disaster regardless of whether that employee leaves or stays.
The Psychological Value of Equity
Those that have equity tend to envy those with high salaries, and those who have high salaries crave ownership. Equity, as such, isn’t simply a financial motivational tool, but a golden pass that truly aligns and bonds employees to your company and mission statement. That being said, you never know how people’s roles will evolve over time, so despite what some may suggest, be conservative to leave you with more options down the road. Equity is the most important lever you have to offset your lack of money; it’s your lifeline as the bootstrapped CEO.
Creative People, Be It Artistic or Technical, Can’t Be Told To Be Creative In a Sandbox
Not only can’t you micro-manage the best people, but you also can’t kid yourself and think that you can hire the Crazies and expect them to remain successful within a tight, narrow sandbox you create for them.
The best employees are thinking and performing at a level that you can’t imagine even in your wildest dreams. That is why you hire them. If your ego can overcome that, you’re well on your way to greatness.
Perfectionists vs. Shippers
Of course, you can have the big thinkers, the smooth talkers, as well as the perfectionists; unless they actually deliver the goods and ship – or walk the walk – then you’re back to square one. Always go with results and achievers.
You don’t go to war with the army you want, you go with the army you have. But if you play your cards right, you’ll realize that they can be one and the same despite the lack of resources.
(image: Everett Collection, shutterstock)