Would we tackle leadership differently if we would consider it a sport?
Take football players as an example. Not one player stops training, even during the off-season, because as an athlete, the moment you stop challenging yourself, your performance declines.
The same thing happens with leaders. If you cease to keep learning, broadening your sources of information, and innovating, not only does your performance drop, but it also negatively impacts your team.
Especially nowadays that many of the methods and learnings that worked in the past have become obsolete with the rise of the digital era, new workforce demands, the increasing of agile and innovative competitors across different markets, and the post-pandemic economic crisis.
Amongst all leaders I consult, those I see struggling the most at the present are start-up entrepreneurs. And as a startup leader myself, I understand first-hand the challenges of building scale-ups.
In my understanding and experience, startups don’t invest enough in leadership, even when they are run by very charismatic and natural-born leaders. There are great empathy-based leaders, leaders that think of doing things differently but who often lack some core leadership skills. These leaders are often not aware of their blind spots and overlook the need for training.
There are some less positive aspects which are usually not so apparent when working in smaller teams but that start creating havoc when you scale and feel the pressure and weight of responsibility on your shoulders. Trying to manage everything becomes chaotic and communicating across departments confusing.
Let’s say you, as a CEO or founder, have 30 people working in your organization. Not all of your employees work under your direct supervision, and you cannot be in regular contact with every single one of them. Now double that number. Triple it. Are you still able to keep track of who’s working in your organization? It’s only natural that as you grow, you become less involved in all the businesses’ day-to-day activities.
You will never be able to cover all fronts of the business by yourself and will need to have other capable leaders do it. But as you become overwhelmed with responsibilities, you are not there to train them and guide them through the process.
What usually happens?
Many who naturally grow or are hired for leadership positions will follow your lead by mimicking your modus operandi. Some people tend to copy leadership without second-guessing if that’s the most adequate behavior to manage their teams. The organization will grow into its second or third generation of leaders, and all these new people will also be trained and inspired by those who followed in your footsteps.
Now, do they understand why they are operating in that particular way?
And as time goes by, you start becoming more aware of how your leadership style has affected the organization—both the positive and negative aspects of it.
Why Align Leadership With Company Culture?
In order to attract better and more qualified talent as well as to build a better brand image, more and more companies boast about their values and mission. But what do you think would come up if you run an internal culture assessment on some of them? Most likely the results would show that people do not always practice what they preach.
When, for example, you state that the organization prioritizes work-life balance, should there be leaders demanding their teams to continuously overwork and not take any time off to prove themselves and their worth?
The answer is obvious. Company leadership should be aligned and coherent with the culture of the organization. For this to happen, it’s of course necessary to train new employees to understand and respect the mission and values of the organization and adhere to them. Organizational culture may well be a long-term investment, but it pays off.
Develop Your Leadership Framework
So instead of handling leadership in an unstructured way, what do I suggest you do?
First of all, make an assessment of your own skills and style, and understand if your approach fits the business best and if is in accordance with the company culture. After you have a clear understanding and vision of what the best leadership style for the organization should be, develop a framework. This framework should include the three essential elements for effective leadership: leading the organisation, leading people, and leading yourself.
No two leaders are the same, and everyone should be authentic so always guarantee this framework does not disrespect your leader’s essence and personality.
Grow Yourself, Grow Your People
It is easy to lose track of company culture and focus mostly on results, KPIs and profit. No one really forces organizations to run culture checks and to grow their leaders, do they?
But the more you focus on developing yourself and your people, the more chances there are to increase overall work productivity, engagement, and motivation. This eventually plays a key role in helping the organization succeed in the long term.
As I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts: “Organizations are made of people, period!”. So while money is the lifeblood of any organization, people are its fuel.
Isn’t the heart of leadership to help your people drive the business forward after all? It does require a continuous growth and adaptation mindset which can learn from books, training courses, and even from simply observing role models. But whichever means you chose, it’s essential to guarantee that everyone across the organization is aligned with the same vision, values and mission, and a leadership framework is a key element to ensure it happens.
Startup leaders more often than not understand and acknowledge the need and urgency to grow their leadership skills. What I see happening is that these professionals get too caught up in their heavy workloads and neglect their growth.
As a startup leader myself, I have come to prioritize the development of my leadership skills and competencies as these have proven crucial to not only the sustainability of the business but also the well-being of our workforce and relationships with different stakeholders.
Different professionals have shared with me their struggle in finding a practical and flexible program that can address their needs for training, coaching, and networking with other leaders. That is why my team and I have started drafting a program for busy leaders who wish to develop their leadership framework and potential to build a high-performance, human-centric organizational culture and achieve successful business outcomes.