How to find the best business leadership style for a startup

6 min readOct 23, 2020


The best business leadership style for a startup
How to find the best business leadership style for a startup

Congratulations! Your startup has (finally) taken off, and the future is looking bright. You have a team, your first loyal clients, investors, a big list of C-level responsibilities, and a plan to hit the “Future Unicorns” list. You have everything covered. Or, do you?

The only problem is that you’re a first-time founder, and it’s hard to understand whether you’re running a startup like an effective leader. You have too little experience to learn from, and those golden pieces of advice from hard-to-reach billionaires on Forbes might not work in every case.

To spare you from wasting valuable time on watching leadership tutorials, we’ve already sorted out the most relevant resources and chosen some surefire ways to choose a management style that best suits the goal, purpose, and culture of your startup as well as the needs of employees.

What makes a successful startup leader?

Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition of a great startup leader, let’s sum up a few universal traits that, if coupled with your unique vision, increase your company’s chances for sustainable success at all startup stages significantly.

A successful startup leader
What makes a successful startup leader?

Accordingly, every successful startup leader is…

  • Flexible

Entrepreneurial leaders always try to adapt businesses in response to the market, but sometimes don’t apply a similar approach to themselves. Being flexible isn’t just pivoting the product or service but also pivoting your leadership style all the way. Each important event, either positive or negative — growth stage, funding round, headcount, new product releases, new markets, etc. — must trigger a re-evaluation of leadership style.

  • Well-focused

Setting clear goals and staying focused is key. It’s crucial to put resources into activities that matter most for the current state of the startup. Don’t dissolve into every breakthrough, seemingly unmissable event, dinner, etc.

  • Decisive

Good business leaders admit they don’t have enough time to gather all possible insights for thousands of decisions made each week. They use the information that’s sufficient for moving further. Of course, there will be some wrong decisions, but it’s always better than torturing yourself with the “what if” thoughts.

  • Devoted

All hotshot entrepreneurs have the same one-in-a-million type of charisma and possess a healthy balance of paranoia and self-assurance. They believe that their vision is right, being at the same time realistic about its feasibility. Such contagious enthusiasm is always transmitted to the team, which, for the most part, differentiates leaders from bosses.

  • Aware of the situation

Every leader knows his or her strengths and is honest about weaknesses. This helps to engage the right employees, co-founders, and partners. The best leaders know what happens around them and won’t let circumstances control their plans to disrupt their niche and challenge the status quo. These leaders mold their successes and treat external factors under their power.

  • Conservative in terms of time and decision-making

The 2020 developments prove that we never know for sure what the future holds. Enterprises and leaders can assume certain things but should be cautious and conservative in predictions, expectations, long-distance planning, cash burning, etc.

  • Empathetic

Within startups, you’re often bringing together a diversity of geography, professional backgrounds, races, gender, and beliefs. Understanding the needs of others creates bonds, cultivates better communication, improves focus, and allows leaders to help struggling employees grow into the best selves.

Tips to become a great leader in a startup

Becoming a great startup leader
Becoming a great startup leader

Let’s consider a few points that could help you develop the best leadership style for business.

Create and align on vision and mission

The “I don’t have time to deal with the people stuff, I need to grow the business” mindset is extremely dangerous and toxic for a leader.

A good comparison here is content and containers. A container is important, as it’s a means of providing something. However, the content gives the container meaning, and the hardest part about being a leader is that you have to juggle both: the container of the company (quarterly financials, whether the product works, whether everybody has a good onboarding process, etc.) and the content (performance and professional growth of employees). It’s a fatal startup mistake to pay attention to the container only.

Everybody in the company should know its mission, goals, and values. If the team doesn’t have a sense of common purpose, they won’t be coherent and strong enough to face the challenges.

Also, ditch directive goal setting in favor of the process that ties the growth of the business with each member’s growth. Encourage employees to incorporate their personal goals into business tasks. As a result, they will be much more likely to make an extra effort.

Foster trusting environment

Don’t be the talking head at another Zoom meeting or during a grand annual performance review. Socializing in the workplace is important.

Many companies fail because the leaders haven’t been able to build trust. For those who have similar problems, remember once and for all: focusing on culture early and investing in people has exponential returns on the business side in the future.

For instance, you can establish special quarterly calls when everybody can openly ask business questions to the CEO, co-founders, department managers, etc. Also, schedule time for social interaction and team building. It’s okay to have some fun together (happy hours, workshops, birthday celebrations). Try to create a squash judgment and a harassment-free atmosphere where people feel connected and psychologically safe.

Encourage team members to speak up

Make it clear to all employees that they’re always encouraged to speak up and seek feedback, and that dialogue is your company’s priority. Maybe right now one of your employees is silent about something that can transform your business from the inside out.

What’s more, always try to go with more “yes and” than “yes but.” Don’t suppress out-of-the-box thinking. Not every suggestion will be relevant, but when employees feel comfortable with brainstorming, you inspire them to think bigger and bigger, which directly benefits the business.

In a successful team, everyone is a leader to some extent, so the team should know they’re always welcome to lead and mentor, take charge, and kick off new initiatives that would potentially display their potential and hidden talents.

Don’t ask people to do things you’re not willing to do

Don’t ask people to do things you’re not willing or unable to do yourself. Asking employees to deal with your weaknesses, fears, and limitations isn’t leadership.

The best way to lead people is by being somewhere first, doing it before, demonstrating the expected behavior, showing what you want from people, and staying authentic. You’ll be surprised how they follow you, look up to you, and believe in the common cause.

Cultivating the right leaders helps startups succeed

In a recent Harvard Business School survey, 65% of VCs said that poor management at C-level was the main factor why high-potential startups failed. You don’t want the same fate for your company, do you?

Strong leadership skills are crucial for getting businesses through all uncertainties and crises now more than ever. However, they aren’t a given, even for those inclined toward directing and “feeling” people. Leaders must be trained, mentored, and ready to live and breathe management.

We hope our tips will help you release the Bill Gates inside you and form the best leadership style for business.




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