Updated: Jan 22, 2022
For an entrepreneur in a startup, leading a pack of enthusiastic professionals is like concretizing the base of a tall building—without a strong base, the building might collapse. Along with an appealing business model, good leadership is crucial for a sustainable startup. According to research, transformational leadership has a significant and positive effect on startup performance.
As a businesswoman, the leadership role is not just about planning and execution. There's more emotional value to their role in any organization and at any level. Recent research by McKinsey on women in the workplace conducted in 2021 found that employees felt more supported during the COVID crisis because they had women leaders or managers.
According to Goldman Sachs, when the pandemic was rolling through the US, Black women entrepreneurs stood out. Even as 40% of Black businesses failed, the report suggests a 97.5% survival rate in the companies run by Black women within its accelerator program. Half of those companies collectively brought on 2,000 new jobs within the first six months of the pandemic.
However, what does it take to build a strong business, and how does good leadership come to play? Here are 5 bold truths about leadership startup founders need to know:
1. Define your purpose.
In a startup, being an advisor to the entire structure or the team is probably one of the most crucial aspects. A leader can effectively help the team innovate, drive change and deliver results once it defines the short-term and long-term purposes of the business to the employees and the teams. To succeed in the unpredictable startup world, everyone must believe in what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what they are working towards.
2. Listen and ask, ask and listen.
Being an available and approachable leader makes it easy for employees to share their concerns and doubts. Listening is essential to effective communication. It gives people a sense that you care about what they are saying.
However, taking one step forward, it's good to reach out to employees and teams to inquire about their overall well-being. Not all employees will feel confident approaching their leader enough despite their approachability. In such situations, informal monthly or quarterly feedback sessions allow the team to express and release themselves.
Continuous communication through which employees lighten the burden of work or share anything they are comfortable with maintains overall productivity. Most importantly, they feel seen and cared for when asked about themselves.
3. Continuous two-way feedback.
A study by OfficeVibe found that 65% of people want more feedback at work than they currently get. People are hungry for feedback, and it's not just praise and recognition they seek. They want constructive feedback that will help them learn and grow.
However, there are two types of feedback: window gazing and mirror holding. For many people, window gazing is telling and selling—prescribing solutions. Power drives it, not partnership. That's one-way feedback.
A simple mindset shift to mirror holding will create sustainable leadership. This is two-way feedback. This approach is guided by listening and learning. It's focused on asking questions and provoking insights by trading power for partnership. Mirror holding is how we expand someone else's perspective, rather than narrowly imposing our own.
4. Solid employee engagement.
Employee engagement first appeared as a concept in management theory in the 1990s, then became widespread in management practice in the 2000s. A constructive employee engagement plan leads to solid bonding, eventually leading to better work culture.
Research shows that a better work culture enhances productivity and is often linked to employee empowerment. The above study also suggests that better-engaged employees feel less stressed at workplaces. Due to the established bonding and open culture of mutual sharing and caring, engaged employees lead a healthier and active lifestyle.
5. Build trust.
Paul Zak's research on trust shows that the neurotransmitter oxytocin is released when we are around people we trust. This makes us feel higher levels of empathy with other people, and we're more emotionally connected.
Analysis of the national sample showed that organizational trust and alignment with the company's purpose are associated with higher employee incomes, longer job tenure, greater job satisfaction, less chronic stress, improved satisfaction with life, and higher productivity.
As mentioned above, Black and Brown women leaders tend to be more empathetic by nature and understanding compared to men. Thus, employees feel more supported. Support and trust are healthy elements to form relationships for both personal and professional. It motivates employees to venture out of their comfort zones to give their best performances, which is essential to enhance the overall health of an organization.
Black and Brown women have been on the rise and taking the lead in innovation, building networks, and ecosystems. And while operating a startup can be many things, a good leader brings the 'good' in the team and its employees. Happy employees make happy organizations.