People are the heart of any business. In a startup there is often little else. A few lines of code and some sketched designs. Doesn’t amount to much. The ideas, the passion, the execution all rest in the people. This means people skills are not an option for a founder or CEO. Without the ability to build relationships, learn from other people and get the best from your team you will fail.
Any startup leader will be practicing these skills every day. It is part oft he dynamic in all their activity. In my experience most of them have a natural talent for this sort of thing. As well as being an integral part of the job, that talent is needed in two key situations. Growing people and hiring people.
This is not going to be a post about the hows of leading people. I wanted to set the scene. And then focus on one key point. The basis of success in any aspect of leading people….
Its about strengths not weaknesses
Most people have a kind of intuitive model for managing others. Every individual is good at some things - strengths. And not so good at others - weaknesses. Human nature then triggers a simple thought process. If we want someone to improve we need to fix those weaknesses. Seems obvious right?
Conscious or not this approach is endemic in all kinds of business. And it undersells your people and your organisation.
We all succeed by honing and building the things we are good at. Becoming great at the stuff we know how to do. And excelling at what we love. In a surprising number of cases people become the best in the world at what they do
Think about it. You didn’t leave school and focus on the subjects you were no good at. You forgot all that stuff and became the best you could.
I always remember a friend of mine from high school. We were in the same class for English but nothing else. I was good at numbers so maths and science were my real strengths. I ignored the language stuff. (This should be obvious to anyone who reads this stuff regularly). But my friend found English was his best subject. He made a career as a journalist and became the editor of a national newspaper. He took his strength and made the best he could of it. Which turned out to be outstanding.
Why change this thinking when we leave school? Great companies are built on this principle. Support great people to do what they do best.
As a leader your first task is to identify the strengths of your people. When you are hiring you have little time with the candidates. Invest it in figuring out their strengths. Get to know what people can do. Not just technical skills. Are they potential leaders? Great team members? Social catalysts and influencers? Deep thinkers about the world? These are the qualities that will add value to your business.
Making strengths count
You can do this every day. Great leaders do it every minute. You can also take a different approach to 4 other situations:
A focus on strengths means a different thought process for weak areas as well. We all have them and beyond a certain stage of life they are tough to eliminate. Instead of obsessing about perfection look for other solutions. Find a way to cover weaknesses by defining roles that allow others to fill in the gaps. Structure projects and teams to offer a good variety of talents. Try to keep things in balance rather than attempt the impossible.
When you are hiring look for honesty and self awareness. Bring in people who understand their own strengths and weaknesses. You need to take account of those weaknesses. And place them in jobs that fit their talents. Why would you hire someone for a job they don’t suit anyway? But the purpose of the hiring process is not to catch people out. Try to understand the whole person.
You will get great value out of people when you can see their talents and put those to work for your business.
The strengths revolution
If you want to see the benefits of this thinking, check out the Genius, Power, Dreams programme run by my former colleague Andy Woodfield.
The difference may appear quite subtle. But the impact is profound. You need everyone to do awesome things and grow with your business. It is the hidden agenda for startup success. And I promise the most rewarding thing you will ever do as a leader.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.