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Leaders Are Built, Not Born. Here's How to Become One

Before you grow your business, you have to grow your skill set.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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There is no such thing as being born a leader. Leadership in itself is an unnatural act.

I've learned this after 20 years as an executive coach, and I wrote my book From Start-Up to Grown-Up so I could hand founders a playbook about leadership that would help prevent unforced errors, such as shirking structure, failing to hold people accountable, and approaching conflict too brashly. 

Here are a few pieces of leadership advice from my recent read that all founders should consider, especially when building a growing company.

Build self-awareness.

There are two aspects to self-awareness: your own internal state and how you show it to others. You need to be aware of both. In From Start-Up to Grown-Up, I share an assessment that you can use to get a handle on your natural tendencies. You can use it to rate yourself on: 

  • Communication: Do you tend to brainstorm and share all your ideas with your teams so people don't know what you actually want to do, or do you tend to say very little so that people can't read you at all?

  • Stress: Do you tend to lash out when you're feeling stressed or retreat into yourself and just work harder? 

  • Conflict: Do you boldly and bluntly address issues as soon as they arise or do you avoid saying anything and hope problems will go away?

Being at the extreme end of the spectrum in any of these areas is not ideal. This assessment helps you calibrate your behavior and see where you need to shift your style to be more effective. You can also build your self-awareness by getting 360 feedback (feedback from people all around you) from a coach or a trusted colleague to see how you show up in the eyes of others. You are the expert on your intention; everyone around you is the expert on your impact.  

For example, one of my clients learned--painfully--after getting feedback that everyone knows he's stressed because he stops talking, retreats to his computer, and issues orders by email. Once someone pointed that out to him, he realized that he was most stressed when something unexpected happened and he felt out of control. We worked together to change his go-to behavior from retreating to the computer to seeking out his executives and letting them know what he was concerned about. They could then step up to help, and my client learned how to do his real job of empowering his team rather than do everything himself.  

Hold people accountable. 

Many of the entrepreneurs I coach are squeamish about holding people accountable. When I raise the topic, their most common reaction is defensive: "You want me to fire them because they missed their target?" Of course not. There are lots of ways other than firing someone to hold them accountable and motivate them. In fact, your best people want challenging goals to shoot for. They need those goals to be clear, and they need to believe those goals contribute to a bigger purpose. 

Building a culture of accountability starts with articulating the big-picture direction, breaking that down into clear goals, and ensuring everyone has the context and resources they need. Relate to both wins and losses as an opportunity for reflection. In a learning organization, people hold each other accountable and nobody wants to let the rest of the team down. One of my clients, a hardware startup, has a cross-functional and cross-level monthly meeting at which they review the top wins and losses from the month. They call it the learning meeting. The ground rules are no blame, just facts, and every meeting ends with what everyone should "start doing, stop doing, continue doing" to upgrade the way they get work done.

Embrace structure.

Many entrepreneurs enjoy setting the vision and figuring things out on the fly. They don't like budgets, meetings, or processes. I get it. But it'll be harder to scale your company if you're constantly shooting from the hip. If you're not inclined to structure, figure out who in your company loves it -- or hire someone who does -- and encourage them to help others and create processes that make sense as you scale. 

One of my clients, the founder and CEO of a biotech startup, called himself a mad scientist. His chief people officer gave him another moniker -- crazy-making -- because he constantly came up with new ideas with no guidance or structure for how to implement them. The CEO took that to heart and hired a chief of staff. The most important criterion for that role was loving to create order out of chaos. The two of them have worked together beautifully for two years, and the company's results have improved dramatically.  

 Once you have that person, empower them and get out of the way. If you constantly allow exceptions to process, you'll teach people that they can just go around this person to you. Then you'll continue to have a free-for-all and will waste time, energy, and money -- the scarcest of resources at a startup.

You became an entrepreneur to make a dent in the universe. To do that, your company has to grow. So do you. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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