Last Updated 03 March 2017 | By:

How To Be A Great Leader

When Starting a Business

How to Manage your Recently Founded Startup Team

Most successful entrepreneurs will flat-out tell you ideas are worthless, it’s execution that matters. Well, it’s time to execute, and not just what you do best, but putting together a team and leading it to victory! It’s par for the course; every brand needs a team.

Eventually your ability to lead, or lack thereof, will determine the fate of your business so let’s dive into ways you can dramatically improve it. Cheers!

Part 1: Basics of Leadership

Make Decisions

First and foremost, you need to make decisions. The answers aren’t always obvious, but putting off a decision until later usually doesn’t help (if you’re not postponing it to seek more information.)

If you’re worried about making the wrong moves, don’t be. Just do the best you can to avoid making mistakes. Even if you do make a misstep, it’s a learning opportunity. Try and take something positive from it. Don’t let a lack of decision making paralyze your startup.


Team-Building Works

Doing team building activities will help your team become more comfortable with each other. They help them communicate. One of the biggest problems in the team environment is when teams are new and just don’t talk through issues for fear of feeling silly. By feeling comfortable, they’re more likely to speak up.



Communicate consistently and be clear when you do it. Teams need feedback. They need to vent about challenges and always have the big picture of what you’re trying to achieve within reach. Holding back information only weakens the team and it can be tough if you have nothing new to say, but, just opening the lines of communication can help! You never know what might pop up.


Teams Need Non-work Communication

As this Harvard Business Review study shows, non-work communication is vital. That doesn’t mean co-workers need to be best buddies outside “the office,” but it does show how important non-work chatter is.

Try not to stifle this conversation. It’s easy to have instincts that push you to say “get back to work”, but that won’t help the situation. It’ll bring down the morale and not allow the team to develop communication among themselves.



Trust is a 2-way street, especially in newly formed startups. And remember, trusting the team is just as hard for you, as it is for them, but it’s a major factor in terms of harmony.

Being honest goes a long way towards allowing them to trust you. You also need to trust that this team has the right people, and to let them do their jobs. Micro-managing and questioning or critiquing every little thing isn’t going to help.


Praise in Public, Reprimand in Private

There’s been a long held belief that making an example of people is a great way to get compliance. This is just not true. It’s much better for a team environment if you reward good behavior.

When someone does something great, show appreciation in front of everyone. But, if you need to address any issues with someone pull them aside. There’s no reason to embarrass them in front of everyone.


Manage Conflict

This is a biggie. Sometimes teams don’t always get along. The worst thing you can do is hope it sorts itself out. It usually doesn’t, and often makes things worse.

If it’s work related, step in and work through the problem together. It’s not unusual for team members to have different ideas of how things should be done. Managing conflict doesn’t mean solving it yourself. It just means you controlling the process.


Lead by Example

Gone are the days of, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Nobody wants to deal with this level of work drama anymore. Quality leaders lead by example, or, if they’re lacking in certain skills or qualities they find an example of someone who is and lead the charge to emulate them.

But by just being hard working, being honest, and leading the way, your example is the one the team will follow. They all want to reach that next level. Show them how to get there.


Nurture Talent

Remember, 20% of your team will be responsible for 80% of the productivity (sort of a universal rule). You’ll want to nurture this 20% and help them activate creativity. By giving your team the proper tools, training and freedom they need, you’ll nurture their natural abilities.

As each member of the team continues to grow their strength, the whole startup benefits. It’s really easy to make it about you – but you’ll be surprised by the team if you make it about them.


Every Idea Matters!

“There are no stupid ideas!” That saying doesn’t exist because there are literally no stupid ideas – of course there are. The premise is that everyone on the team has value, and so do their ideas. It’s more of a principal to be followed.

Let the team express their ideas, and treat all team members equally. Don’t crap on an idea if you don’t like it. You don’t need to use it, but you don’t need to make them feel bad for expressing an idea.

Part 2: Communication

Good communication skills are critical. Whether you have small issues to address or significant organizational changes need to be implemented, there are three basics to getting your message across to your team.


Use Simple Language

Frank Luntz is a communication wizard. He’s been a leading pollster for presidential candidates, congress and private businesses for years. In his groundbreaking book Words that Work he lays out 10 rules for successful communication.

Rule #1: Simplicity – Use Small Words

When your message uses unnatural or uncommon language the message will be lost. Either the listener won’t know the meaning of the word, or they’ll be distracted by the fact they haven’t heard a given word since 11th grade English class.


Repeat it Often

Leaders repeat things a fair amount to their teams, at least in the beginning. Why? Well, did you know that once something simple is repeated to you ten times in a short period it gets literally imprinted in your brain and becomes VERY hard to forget? Leaders have memes, mottos, and sayings that align with their brand message and repeat them as often as they have to.


Measure It

If you want your message to stick, put measurements in place to track progress. Sure, it’s tempting to put together a finely-crafted communication strategy with precise language, a memorable tag line and expect everything to fall into place.

That might work for the sharp politicians in your favorite TV show, but it doesn’t work in real life. Use these three tools in your next communication and see your message get more attention.

Part 3: Difficult Team Members

Younger (i.e. ‘naive’) managers often accept positions to lead teams they know little about. Then they find out the team atmosphere and the willingness to embrace change is lacking.

Soon their leadership is undermined, instructions ignored, and they’re afraid their career’s been sabotaged. It becomes a turf war. Buy, by following the following five-step process to dealing with difficult team members the experience can serve them well regardless. Check it out.


Step 1) Identify Real Issues

Don’t mess about, get down to the real causes immediately. Typically, the 80/20 rule applies when we’re talking about people causing issues – 20% of your team will be responsible for 80% of the drama. Tackle the bull by the horns, and address real issues as they pop up without procrastination.


Step 2) Own Your Part of the Problem

In startups everything rolls uphill. If you’re the leader, then you need to take at least partial responsibility. The practice helps others save face as well, and makes you a more humble person which isn’t such a bad thing.


Step 3) Talk it Through

You don’t need to go full-Dr. Phil on anything unless that’s how your team culture operates, but make sure to set time aside to talk through whatever’s causing problems for your team members. No blame game. No pointing fingers. No shaming anyone. Just bringing the real issues to light to solve them for the good of the startup (all).


Step 4) Recruit the Right Team Members

It helps when you hire people who are team players. Individuals that mesh well with how you do things and how your brand culture evolves.

Super-ambitious creatives might be amazing at what they do, but are they ultra-independent and resist change? What good is it to be talented but harbor serious authority issues? You must learn to balance talent/productivity with reliability and being a team player.


Step 5) Remove the Wrong Ones

When it becomes apparent that someone’s dragging the team down, remove them as gracefully and with as much tact and respect as possible.

Praise their accomplishments and strengths, but be honest. It shouldn’t be personal anyway, because if it is that’s a leadership issue. The point here is to be prompt about addressing, working through, and fixing problems.

Part 4: Mastering Delegation

So, Peter’s a newly registered business owner with a handful of employees. His business has healthy signs of revenue, customer acquisition, and controlled expenses/taxes. On paper you’d think Peter is on top of the world. The common reality though, is Peter feels like he’s drowning!

His days are consumed with task lists, email, calls, payroll, purchasing, customer support, sales, and a bunch of others bucketed in the logistics category. He’s spending all his time maintaining the business.

His natural tendency is to be hands-on but now he’s spread so thin he can’t do anything well. We know small business owners have a lot at stake. And the truth is that unless they quickly learn to delegate appropriately they’ll likely sink their ship under the sheer weight piled on their shoulders. Here’s some tips on how.


Identify What Can Be Delegated

Whether you believe it or not, there are things in your business that you don’t need to do. Begin identifying those things by making a list of activities that don’t directly build your business. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Reading and responding to email.
  • Website creation & maintenance.
  • Paying bills.
  • Collecting payments.
  • Booking appointments.
  • Property maintenance.
  • Almost anything you don’t like to do.
  • Almost anything you’re not skilled enough to do well.

The next time you feel stressed by the tasks you’re tackling, ask yourself whether someone else do them. If the answer is “yes,” then find that someone.


Give Specific Required Outcomes

Once you have a person lined up to take over a task it’s time to hand it off. Start by clearly communicating your expected outcomes. For example, if someone is monitoring your inbox you could expect every email response to happen within 4 business hours of receipt. Be clear and specific so you can correctly manage expectations.


Create Boundaries for Activities

Your team needs to know where the boundaries are so they can effectively work within them. Any time your team needs to ask your approval before taking action, delegation breaks down. Providing a framework gives your team a perspective and empowerment to take action.

Zappos does this exceptionally well. They empower all of their employees to “wow” their customers by giving specific guidelines to follow. As long as employees stay within those boundaries anything goes. And that’s not limited to WOWing customers. It’s everyone. Their mission states, “We seek to WOW our customers, our co-workers, our vendors, our partners, and in the long run, our investors.”

Another advantage to creating boundaries is it gives your team creative license to come up with better ways to do things. It provides them freedom to explore options that you don’t even know exist.


Inspect & Review Results

Delegation isn’t a single event. To get the most value from delegation efforts one must review the process and examine results. You may discover inefficiencies or best practices that can be shared with others on the team.

Or, you may realize you delegated something that really should stay on your plate. At first this review will feel mechanical, but soon you’ll get key insights that help you become a more effective delegator.

Part 5: Learn to Make Decisions

Sheesh, making decisions is part of everyday life so you’d expect to be naturally good at it, right? However, in the case of decision making, practice doesn’t always make perfect.

The most frequent type of decision is when someone is presented with a choice between two options. Let’s dig in a bit further and consider how mega-achievers typically handle the process.


Ask for Both/And

Have you ever observed a toddler’s decision making process? Suppose a parent offers two tasty snacks. The child flips from one choice to another and back again in seconds. But then their little mind prompts them to ask one question that blows the whole thing out of the water: “Can I have both?”

For the parent, they’re shocked at the notion someone could ask for both. It’s inconceivable. Without thinking the parent says, “No.” and then rationalizes turning down the request.


  • The rules are pretty clear: you can have one, not both.
  • We have to save one for later.
  • I never had both when I was your age.


This self-justification by the parent creates boundaries for children. In most cases these boundaries are helpful and necessary. But as kids grow into adults these boundaries established by others in authority become a self-imposed norm in every situation. The long term impact is that we get into the habit of looking at only immediately available options.

By reducing the number of options to one or two considerations it saves time, energy and the thinking required. However, the best outcomes are most often achieved by thinking creatively and considering other options (including both).


Find More Options

Chip and Dan Heath address this habit of creating single-option choices in their book, Decisive. They explain how we put too much emphasis on the choices right in front of us. This causes us to completely ignore the possibility there are additional options available.

The Heath brothers call this the “spotlight effect.” Just like a spotlight focuses an audience’s attention on one spot on a stage, our attention is only in tune with the option immediately in front of us.

Business leaders aren’t exempt from succumbing to the spotlight effect. They focus their attention on what’s immediately in front of them. This includes industry average returns, past performance, and minimally acceptable growth. These limited options guide the choices that ultimately determine the direction of the organization.


Expect Exponential Impact

Successful entrepreneurs and global thought leaders routinely dig into options most people would never consider. For example, they make decisions expecting outcomes with exponential growth.

In an interview between Tim Ferriss and Peter Diamandis, Peter explains how he considers business ideas that have a return of 10 times. He’s not the only one to do this. He explains how folks like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Richard Branson and others achieve exponential growth by considering options other leaders don’t even consider.


Taking Action: Get Better Outcomes

To widen the spotlight when faced with a decision between two options, take a step back and ask, “What options are available that I’m not considering.” Even if those options will never be chosen (for example, you can choose not to pay taxes year after year), it will open up your mind to realize you do have other choices.

Once the mind conceives that more than one option is available it will begin to creatively think of ways to get a more desirable result. Here’s another consideration.

You probably have plans right now for the next 3, 6 and 12 months. Why not widen your spotlight and ask, “How can I accomplish that 12 month goal in 6 months? What would I do if I had to meet that 6 month goal in 2 months?” Simply asking these questions will open your mind to the possibility of an improved outcome.

Part 6: How to Keep Your Team Engaged

It’s imperative for managers to keep their team members engaged. Without engagement work will suffer. This doesn’t sound like a particularly challenging task, but the numbers tell a different story. According to a 2014 Gallup poll only 31.5% of employees are engaged at work.

So, 68.5% of respondents aren’t engaged! As a manager it’s important to remember employee engagement happens on an individual level. In other words, a team isn’t engaged unless members are. Managers often blame external factors like a poor economy, lower wages, more demanding customers, and other excuses. However, brand new companies that score high on engagement face the exact same factors and still have highly-engaged employees.



Know the Person

Dale Carnegie founded a world movement based on the foundation of knowing and valuing the individual in the workplace with his timeless book, “How To Win Friends And Influence People.” He details how simple things like calling people by their first name, demonstrating a genuine interest in the team member, and recognizing successes can provide immense engagement and value to the team.

As a leader, you have the opportunity to breathe life into your team member through knowing them as individuals. Be diligent in remembering names, significant events, non-work situations and important interests of your team members.


Keep it Real

The buzzword of the day is “authenticity.” Your team wants to know the person you project yourself to be is the real you. Being real means your actions and words are aligned with your core values. If you value integrity you act and speak in a way that demonstrates it.

This includes admitting mistakes and taking immediate action to correct them. Real people treat others like real people. Be kind, caring and empathetic to others and they’ll follow your leadership, even when they disagree.


Create a Safe Environment

Engaged members know managers support them and have their back when questions or conflicts come up. They’re confident they won’t be abandoned to take sole blame for projects that go off course.

When mistakes are made, there’s an appropriate level of accountability. Consistent enforcement of policy creates a safe environment and eliminates uncertainty. Like guardrails on a winding mountain road, firm boundaries allow members to move fast and protect them from a dangerous fall.


Stay Honest

Self-explanatory. Keep “things” honest without crossing boundaries. Keep best practices, goals, and boundaries transparent and easily accessible to the team at all times.


Communicate Frequently & Consistently

A disengaged team will always point to a lack of communication. Frequent and consistent communication contributes to a sense of trust. For teams going through substantial change communication is like nourishment. Without it teams struggle. When there’s a lack of communication members have to fill in gaps with their own speculation. Inevitably the speculation will be off base; either more doomy or rosier than reality.

This is a major distraction. Teams also need consistent messaging from leaders. If circumstances shift requiring a message to change, it’s the leader’s responsibility to clearly explain why and how it impacts the team. Just like a lack of communication, changing communication will cause speculation and the team’s momentum will grind to a halt.


Provide Team Member Ownership

Engaged members own their work and decisions. This doesn’t “just” happen, it’s cultivated by a manager that’s coached the team member to know a desired outcome, and then allows them to craft the solution to get there. Retired Marine Colonel Paul Van Riper put it this way, “The leaders are in command but not control.”

He felt the troops on the ground would have better insight and judgment to determine the best course of action in the heat of battle. As a manager you get the opportunity to directly influence the engagement level of your team members.

This takes intentional, disciplined and focused effort. If you’re managing the 31%’ers, congratulations! Don’t neglect the actions you’re using to engage your team.

About the Author

Aaron ArmourAaron Armour has been managing teams for more than 15 years, some as large as 200 employees. He has managed business units with $36 million in revenue and projects with $50 million budgets. Aaron is passionate about helping managers lead people and thrill clients through his consulting company Armour Martin Consulting.