Leadership determines the path taken by every organization – this is obvious.  In startups things can get burdensome and it is important to plan for this as early as possible.  Entrepreneurs are full of energy and vision, which are important leadership components. They also have a lot of drive and want to realize their own vision, not someone else’s.  They also want to master the whole of the venture.  These are great qualities.

However, as we say in the leadership module of the FlipZone program, “It is impossible for any one person or even company to have all the necessary skills and knowledge as well as objectivity needed to evaluate the plans, progress and strategies of a company.” In other words, every company can benefit from leadership help.  Public companies have boards of directors, while small companies can have mentoring teams or advisory boards. Leadership has internal components, performed by the people working in the company, and it can have external components, such as a board.

Internal leadership is demonstrated through factors including trust, listening, transparency and clear articulation of goals. Goals can be clearly articulated by way of key performance indicators or KPIs.  KPIs are measurable (and measured) things the company does that have direct relevance to the success of the business.  Well-developed KPIs indicate the direction that the company should go, what direction it is actually going, and how fast.  By regularly measuring the KPI factors and by posting the results in a place and fashion that everyone can see and understand, the business develops transparency.  Clear and transparent.

When things need to improve, we have the data, and we also need to trust and listen.  Generally, the people who work for us want us to succeed and to succeed themselves.  In this effort, they will learn the issues and often have ideas for how to solve them.  If we develop a culture of trust and listening, we can often find the solutions we need readily available from our staff.

Getting all this right requires some meetings with the express purpose of assessing and refining our KPIs, and adjusting our procedures when we get off course.  As the team grows, we may need more than one forum to accomplish this, for example an executive meeting as well as front-line or townhall-type meeting(s).

External leadership can be obtained with a mentoring team or advisory board.  You can also join a peer-advisory group where other entrepreneurs become a surrogate advisory board.

External advisory boards can be very useful to evaluate strategic plans as well as assess progress towards them.  They can also be useful to provide support in business areas where your internal team may have weaknesses.

Consequently, it is important to select board members according to gaps in skills and industry acumen needed to evaluate strategy. A number of groups in the region specialize in helping companies develop boards or mentoring teams, which can evolve into boards.  Gateway Venture Mentoring Service, IT Entrepreneur Network, BioSTL, and others are regional examples of not-for-profits that help entrepreneurs with leadership and other needs.  Our FlipZone program contains a module on leadership designed to help you fully plan your board including how you use them.

Using your board well is very important.  These are busy, highly skilled people who want to be utilized.  Given the adage “you get out what you put in”, consider a token compensation for your board members.  This could be money, a meal or both, but doing so will tell your board members and your staff, as well as remind yourself, that your board is an important component of your company.

Having a board packet is another great practice. Having it ready and distributed a week early so that board members can be prepared sets you up for success.  The packet should contain the objectives of the meeting, expectations of board members, decision-making methods, the agenda and any materials that need to be read or evaluated prior to the meeting.

Leadership is a lot of work, but with these practices, you can offload some of it to others and leverage their skills and motivation.

Leadership in Small Companies