Startup Leaders: Your Team’s Job Isn’t To Make Your Job Easier...Yet

June 29, 2017

written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

In a startup, you need every bit of horsepower you can get; but few know how to harness that from their staff. I promise you, your people are hungry to achieve great things, they just have to be shown how.

I know a lot of folks who work at startups; I have for over a decade. So many times I hear about the staff being disappointed and frustrated by a lack of meaningful communication, inclusion, and understanding. They feel as though they’re constantly barked orders at, like they’re in some unidentified race that they’re not clued into. This environment reminds me of that stupid 1980’s slogan, “he who dies with the most toys wins.” I really hate that saying.

In these scenarios, mutual respect and the building-up of individuals in order to make a stronger team, is abandoned for the easy, short-term win of getting the furthest the fastest. But this will never be the path to long-term success, and will leave your staff feeling excluded, marginalized, talked down to, and exasperated.

Some could chalk this up to startup hubris, inexperience, or lack of caring. I think, more often than not, it’s that the manager doesn’t understand the natural and logical order of the manager-report relationship. Instead of squeezing, hounding, and micromanaging, managers should be seeking to understand how their individual team members work, how that feeds into the overall organization, and start to work with them to align those things.

To some, the difference here will seem slight, but if you’ve ever participated in it, it’s enormous. The change managers need to make is from dictating every little aspect of how someone functions, and do the harder work to meet them where they're at and foster growth, comprehension, and understanding, through consistent, relevant, measurable steps.

I once sat in on a “training session” where a program director went line-by-line through a script with a new sales agent. The director was irritatingly condescending as he was smirking and giggling in response to how the agent was reading the script. To further the embarrassment, he’d ask nonsensical questions about why the agent is speaking in a certain way; questions that even left me wondering what he was trying to get at.

He was attempting to change his direct report’s innate tone, inflection, and cadence. Instead of offering any sort of conceptual framework for his vision for these calls, he painstakingly went through this bizarre line-by-line reading with the agent. To him, this was a "tactic", aimed achieving a specific result.

So, what was the result? The agent was completely frustrated and was more confused than when he started the training session. The director thought that the agent just wasn’t up to par and couldn’t be easily honed or worked with. I had to unlock my clenched jaw and come to terms with what I had just witnessed; an epic, unadulterated failure of leadership, communication, mutual respect, understanding, and collaboration. Truth be told, it wasn't that the agent couldn't handle the job but, from what I saw that day, the director seemed to lack the skills to properly fulfill his role.

What I’ve always said and done, and what I’d plead with any leader to do, is to do what you can to make your staff’s job easier first. Your main goal, every day, should be to make their job as easy as it can be. Of course that doesn’t always mean you’ll be able to make it easy, but do what you can to move the needle in that direction. Working hard doesn’t mean that it is hard, it means that everyone is pulling their weight in the same direction with passion, vigor, and a sense of purpose.

If there are things that you can do to make the minute-by-minute execution of your team easier, you must do it! If this requires skills, tools, or resources you can’t provide, allow your staff to pitch in. You should always strive to build together; there’s no need to build alone.

One day, after many months or years of making your staff’s job easier, you’ll stop and notice that somewhere along the way, the tables turned. Your team now makes your job easier, every second of every day.

I believe the best measure of managerial success is that your team can operate 100% independent of you, and absolutely crush it. If that scares you and you feel that your value would be lost if this were the case, you need to reassess your priorities.

When you reach this point, you’re still necessary for guidance, mentorship, collaboration, and support. Your team no longer needs you to do the job, but they need you as their leader.

If you want to discuss your startup, organization, or department in more specific detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to see if I can help!