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9 Steps to Be A Great Start-up Leader


When building a startup, there’s a lot that can go wrong, which is why 90% of startups fail. Aside from the obvious things to look out for (enough funding, competitors etc), it’s important to have great leadership to help ensure the company’s growth and success.

Here are nine things to consider as a startup leader:

The Goal

The first ‘habit’ of the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective people’ is to ‘begin with the end in mind’. Be clear on the startups mission and direction of travel. Communicate it with the team so you’re all on the journey together and everyone feels motivated to help the company achieve greatness. 

Inspire and excite your team to truly believe in what the company is working towards. Communicate the purpose of what you’re all working on and why it’s exciting. Your positivity and genuine excitement for the company’s mission will be contagious and will inspire everyone.

For example, when asked by JFK what his job was, the cleaner at NASA replied “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”. This great story shows how all jobs can be seen as meaningful or purposeful with the right inspiration from leadership.

Watch and learn

Listen and be open to feedback. Build great honest open relationships with your team members to help create a culture of feedback where everyone can feel comfortable sharing their thoughts both on what the company is working on, and also on team dynamics, ways of working and your leadership style.

It may feel scary but when feedback is given and received frequently, employees will feel more motivated. The project will benefit from all the diverse perspectives and ideas. 

Recognise and celebrate successes to ensure employees feel valued, seen and supported. Not only does this boost employee wellbeing, it also makes employees feel more motivated to stick around and help the company succeed. For example, take some time to write individual thank you notes to employees for their hard work.

Celebrate catching ‘almost failures’ before they happen. Create an environment where team members are encouraged and rewarded for pointing out things that may go wrong before they go wrong.

It can be hard or embarrassing to speak up about a problem you’re partially responsible for but speaking up early will allow the company to course correct before the ship hits the iceberg.

Make tough decisions effectively. When building a startup, there’ll be many occasions where things get tricky and you’ll be relied upon to make good decisions. Where possible, seek others’ perspectives and have a healthy discussion so everyone feels heard in the process.

You can also empower your team members to make tough decisions, and this can boost engagement and help solve problems. Clear roles and responsibilities in the decision making process will help everyone be clear on expectations and who needs to do what.


Take fun seriously. Intentionally injecting fun at work is really important for many reasons – it can reduce stress, help the team bond, and boost innovation and make it more likely that unpleasant tasks will be done.

When Google was a budding startup in the late 90s, every Friday afternoon, everyone would stop working and gather for beers, food and games. Think about what works best for your startup and ask team members to suggest fun activities.

Find a co-founder – Startups that have co-founders tend to be more successful than those with only one founder. The partnership and balance between the two people means that their different perspectives and styles give them more tools in the toolbox to draw from.

Each person can draw on their unique individual skills and make up for where the other person is lacking. Successful co-founder duos include Sergey Brin and Larry Page who started Google in 1998, and Bill Gates and Paul Allen who started Microsoft in 1975.

Believe in your project

Be resilient in the face of setbacks – While growing a startup, there’ll be setback after setback. Building up your ability to respond and recover from stress (i.e. resilience) is key. Resilience has a protective effect on outcomes, including stress, burnout, sleep, depression, absence, and productivity. By role modeling resilience, you set an example to the team to ‘keep calm and carry on’.

These nine steps will help you create a collaborative environment where your team can effectively communicate. With great communication, your project not only can come to life but be sustainable and enjoyable.

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