Over the last several weeks, we have been sharing some concepts for leaders considering making a transition from a large company to building the next chapter of their career in a smaller, early-stage venture.
Leaders who have built an effective set of skills while working for a large company are needed in the early-stage to help bring innovations forward in the market. The risk of all of us being “Amazoned” in the not-too-distant future is real. Being on the forward edge of innovation in the early-stage is one way to stay ahead of the threat of becoming extinct as marketplaces become more efficient in serving customers.
The focus for today’s topic is on describing effective leadership in the early-stage. There are fundamental leadership principles that are consistent across all job titles, levels, and sizes of companies. Bookshelves are full of leadership gurus pontificating on variations of a common core set of leadership principles. The intent of this writing is not to repeat these generalizations but to describe how effective leadership is delivered in an early-stage company.
One of the most exciting, and at the same time daunting, aspects of leadership in the early-stage is that as a key leader in the company, you actually own it. This is one of the major realizations of leaders coming from a large company into the early-stage. There is no set of heavy-duty consultants putting together some glossy matrix plan of actions along with some mandatory online training program to reinforce the company plan. As a leader in an early-stage company, you own the culture and you own the leadership framework the shapes it over time.
Over the years of building early-stage companies and guiding others to do the same, there are a few common patterns in the execution of effective leadership. Below are a few highlights:
Given the limited resources of time and money in the early-stage, it is critical that there is very little wasted motion on work that is not aligned with the operating plan. A leader in the early-stage has no place to hide. Starting with the overall strategic intent of the company, where we are going, why it is an exciting pursuit, how we describe our vision, mission and values in words, images, etc. are all personally owned by leaders in the early-stage.
The alignment as to the direction of the company extends from a high level all the way to the individual objective of each team member. Everyone should be able to clearly say, “I know what I need to do every day and I know how my work supports the overall direction of the company.”
Effective communication in the early-stage is not something that is handed off to someone else who will set the tone, draft the memos, create the cadence of meetings, etc. Effective leaders in the early-stage realize the importance of communication to ensure the alignment described above is achieved. In addition, effective leaders are intentional about prioritizing time and effort to develop and execute an overall communications plan to ensure the company, team members, and investors are all aligned around the key items.
The development and execution of a communication plan begins with clarity of words, images, and documents that become the tools to drive alignment around the key tasks of the company. These tools are consistently used in the routine cadence of weekly meetings, hallway conversations, recognition tools, performance management process, etc. to ensure there is limited wasted motion in the company on non-essential work.
Communications to investors in private companies is much different than large publicly traded companies. Effective leaders communicate consistently and clearly to investors to ensure no one is left in the dark. They communicate how their invested dollars are being utilized and to prevent the unfortunate “surprises” that emerge in the early-stage.
As we mentioned before, there is no place to hide in an early-stage company. News on customer mishaps, product failures, employee friction, etc. rarely go unnoticed by the full team. Effective leaders in the early-stage are very open about the issues in the company. They communicate the brutal truth with regards to the critical elements of the company like raising capital (or not raising capital), cash runway, product data readouts and implications, etc.
There is no playing the blame game for leaders in early-stage companies. They own the plan and the execution of the plan. Sure, a board of directors will have oversight and approvals on major budget items and strategic decisions, but owning the direction and owning transparency within the communication is a common thread among effective leaders in the early-stage.
Leadership in the early-stage is truly a capstone course and an exciting opportunity for leaders from large companies to leverage all the great foundational leadership traits they have developed over the years to make a real difference in the innovative early-stages of the marketplace.
Strong leadership is needed in the early-stage marketplace and leaders from large companies have the skills and experience to create great value at the forward edge of innovation. As we look to build and strengthen our leadership over a long-term career journey, the early-stage market provides a wonderful environment for leaders to learn, grow, and bring world-leading innovation to the market.
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Also, for those leaders in healthcare, the opportunity to be at the forefront of creating and scaling life-changing innovation resides in the early stage. This sector needs strong leaders like yourself to drive innovation in the years to come. I wanted to share a link to a program specifically for leaders in healthcare who are looking for insights into building the next chapter of their career in the early-stage. I was asked to contribute to this program based on my experience of leaving a large healthcare company and building my career in the early-stage. Please take a look at the link below.