Facepalm Flickr / Miia Ranta

Approximately a year and a half ago, I was hired at a startup. Why was I hired? Was I qualified? No I was not qualified, but the founder wanted to start running things and was so optimistic that he thought he’d have funding within months and we’d take off (we were a two man company, and I was a double-major student) that he went and hired a motivated me.

Flash forward to today. We are slowly running out of money – we only recently began talks with investors and we are still a two-man show, and I am still studying. Have we grown – yes, but are we anywhere where we should be? No, and it has much to do with leadership and a lack of it.

Things learned the hard way

1. Position doesn’t equal leadership: Just because you are the founder or the current CEO that does not make you a leader, and it is not going to convince employees and coworkers to follow or trust you. A position is man-made, and hence it is just something made up with no inherent meaning to it. Leadership is natural, and that is the aim of all management level employees.

The best leaders in the business world could be noticed if everyone walked around with a blindfold, because leadership is felt and not seen. My boss just expected everything to go his way – did not agree with me – took his route.

2. Your hires are a reflection of your ability to lead. If you hire your friends or friends of friends you are weak. If you hire the first bloke that walks into the room, you are weak. All of our actions define us, but when you try to build something from zero, making the decision easy by using the familiar or quick route doesn’t get the job done. In all honesty, I should not have been hired to lead our marketing (even if it was what I wanted).

“Leaders must clearly demonstrate by example how common values foster an atmosphere that inspires employees, contributes to the success of the company and produces a better experience for customers.” – David Nelms, chairman and chief executive for Discover.

A leader that chooses to hire, not based off of need and value, rather on comfort, has struck out. Hiring nice people just isn’t enough.

3. Reactions are everything. It’s quite embarrassing going to an event, presenting, and then watching the “leader” pout at criticism/questions in regards to the pitch. The best lines are, “If you hadn’t interrupted us…” and “if we had more time…” You’d expect a leader to act with grace when surrounded by team members, instead of making them feel uncomfortable – when it is clearly not needed.

Reactions can be an impulse, and every impulse can be controlled.

4. Holding someone accountable does not make you a bad guy. It makes you a leader (as long as you do it the right way). Leaving things unsaid or just assuming that all sides is amateur. An amateur does not deal with conflict, rather goes around it. Being a leader anywhere, including the workplace, means that you grab conflict by the horns, taking care of it personally.

When I made a mistake, or one of the very few people we employed along the way made a mistake, he just moved on without conquering the issue in the proper manner.

5. Planning is not every leader’s best trait, but when you undertake a startup you know that you are going to need a plan A, B, C, and probably D. Can you adjust as you go? Yes, but doing so without keeping your eyes on task is a dangerous move, and it is what happened to us. Production started on feature 1 and jumped to 10 different features for a product with less than 1000 active users. We got off task, and it cost us a lot to a point where  we were treading water, and not swimming.

Entrepreneurs remember this – “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.”