The Integral Leadership Skills For Entrepreneurs

Francis DiAntonio, CEO, Lexington Capital Holdings.

Higher education has done a tremendous job at integrating skills and knowledge regarding technology, communications and financial analysis into the typical degree program or MBA accreditation. Likewise, many institutions now put an emphasis on curating entrepreneurial fervor and encouraging graduates to see themselves as leaders who can take on dynamic challenges in the real world. While these principles are commendable, there is a glaring omission from these skills that makes it extraordinarily difficult to embark on a real business venture: motivating and managing a team.

As someone who has embarked on several business ventures after earning an MBA, I’ve seen firsthand how textbook knowledge and case studies can fall short when trying to generate practical results. Through trial and tribulation, I found that the best barometer for success is the motivation and determination of the team members around you. After all, there’s no such thing as a truly independent venture—and an entrepreneur’s ability to attract, inspire and develop those around them is the unforeseen foundation of their eventual success.

In this article, I detail the three ways you can go from a manager to a leader and how these strategies impact your team members.

Unify Around A Vision

The fastest way I’ve determined whether my teams are properly aligned is to ask different employees what they consider the firm’s No. 1 value to be. Different industries and companies will differ widely in their guiding principles or foundational values, but the important part is that everyone knows what they should be valuing above all else. A unified vision can act as the glue when times get tough or other aspects of the business undergo change. Likewise, when team members find themselves questioning the direction or values of their organization, morale can suffer, and the workplace loses its collaboration and efficiency.

This advice may sound simple, but executing it takes time and commitment—both from you as the leader and your team members. First off, communicate a vision that is clear-cut yet abstract enough to be applied in different scenarios across various functions. The most effective organizations I’ve led have been organized through virtues such as safety, customer satisfaction or quality of service.

The next part is perhaps the hardest, and it involves practicing what you preach and providing a role model for those around you.

Lead By Example

The quickest way to lose your employees’ attention is to seem disconnected or disingenuous. Being a leader means always demonstrating your and your organization’s values—even when you think no one is watching. Communicating your priorities and how your actions promote them is only half the task; the other is to acknowledge failures and be honest about shortcomings.

Leaders who embody their organization’s values will find it easier to inspire their team members and foster a positive workplace. Likewise, promoting open communication and honesty has a cascading impact that fosters a more collaborative workplace.

Value Team Members As Stakeholders

While the first two strategies involve communications and group-minded techniques, the biggest hurdle for new leaders and entrepreneurs is how they forge relationships with their team members. As someone who has managed workplaces containing a diversity of experience and personnel, I have seen firsthand how teams can stratify based on function, location or personality—leading to diminished communication and harming efficiency.

You are responsible for recognizing your team as the most critical stakeholder in the venture with success often hinging on their development and resilience. The ability to actively evaluate and motivate your team is the most valuable tool in entrepreneurial management.

Recognizing team members as stakeholders requires seeing them as investors in the company’s success, and they commit time, effort and energy that when taken in sum, outmatches any financial investor or advisor. However, in my experience, most leaders fail to make this connection and then view their employees as obstacles to progress instead of stakeholders seeking to benefit from that growth.

I have found that the first step to making this connection is to show your team members that you look for their best interests and consider setting them up for success the same way you view investing in company growth. This can take many different forms depending on your industry, but it usually involves discussing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and growth plans—and making it clear that you will work to help them grow while they invest their time and effort in driving the business.

Just like investors seek explanations for short-term and long-term strategy, your team members will benefit from understanding their position, your expectations and how you plan to make their time investment worthwhile.

The Bigger Picture

Entrepreneurs tend to recognize opportunities and look to take advantage of them as quickly as possible, emphasizing growth and accepting risk as they go. One area that entrepreneurs overlook is how their team will be critical to adapting to the challenges they face and building the resiliency that can make or break a venture.

In my experience, the ability to create and communicate a vision, give your team a model of your values and convince them that their time and energy will be useful to both them and the company is what makes a manager a leader. Many of these skills are not developed through study or imitation, and instead come apparent when there is a genuine commitment to success for the company, as well as the people that show up every day to drive it.

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