As the CEO of one of my companies recently said, it is better to passionately lead your team down the wrong path than to be wavering or hesitant.  It may seem like the worst thing would be to fail…but actually the worst thing is to be unable to incite a following.

When the leader of a company chooses a direction, he believes it will be beneficial.  If it turns out wrong, that’s a shame.  One never knows, though.  Since any direction can end up as a mistake, the ability to lead is more important.  Without passionate leadership, the company culture suffers and the team never solidifies into a formidable action center.  In essence, a poorly led group does not become a team but remains just a group of associated individuals.  Without a good team, the company is less likely to reach the goal at the end of the path.  So – the essential point is that good leadership gets the company somewhere.  Whether that somewhere is the right place to be – or not – is less important than making sure you get there because you will definitely not succeed without reaching a goal.

If we frame the startup leadership situation as something more cut-and-dry, it becomes easier to accept.  What if the leader of a startup was actually a stock picker.  This person may or may not choose the right stocks for investment.  That can’t be known with certainty at the beginning.  If the stock picker does not choose anything, however, and fails to make a commitment to purchase any shares, then the outcome will certainly be a gain of zero.

Well…what’s so bad about playing it safe and not making a move?  It’s the stock picker’s (or startup CEO’s) job to find a calculated risk and pursue it.  Startup companies do not make any money or progress by holding onto the current situation.  If investors and startup employees wanted to remain motionless, they would put their cash in a savings account and stay with a regular job, respectively.

Bad leadership in a startup often feels like a winding road that curves far to the right and left and only slowly moves ahead.  The people at the head of the group are the ones determining the direction, and they are feeling out the path in a cautious way instead of making a straight line for what appears to be an oasis on the horizon.  It may be that the next great business opportunity is not visible…and the leader needs to predict it.  That’s called “vision” and not everyone has it.  It may be that a great opportunity is in the line of sight but it’s doubtful if the team can reach it…and the leader needs to find a way.  That’s called “courage” and not everyone has that, either.

In the real world of startups, there will always be times when the company does not have its sights on the next great thing.  There will even be times when the team is lost.  What’s important, though, is that the leader understands his or her role in the organization.  A big part of the job is to pick the direction of travel – as sensibly as possible – and move everyone toward it with gusto.

We all start in the middle of the desert.  The oasis ahead may end up being a mirage or it may be as good as it seems.  You’ll never know unless you get there and manage to motivate the team to come with you.  Get moving.

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