Fri 03 Mar 2017 | By:

How To Be A Great Leader When Starting a Business

How to Manage your Recently Founded Startup TeamAfter officially forming a startup, the hard work really begins. Most successful entrepreneurs will tell you that ideas are worthless, it’s the execution that matters.

Well, it’s time to execute.

Beginning a startup is a very exciting time. There’s nothing quite like a fresh start. Usually there’s a lot of enthusiasm, plenty of big ideas, and no real problems yet to divide people. The first day is the perfect day, but it’s time to get to work.

Managing a team can be tough, but here are a few things that will help you out.


Part One: Basics of Managing


Team building seems like one of those cheesy things that people always say, but that’s because it works. Heck, what it does is actually right in the name.

Doing team building activities will help your team become more comfortable with each other. This will 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.


You know you need to communicate, but you need to do it constantly. You also need to be clear when you do it. Teams need feedback about how they’re doing, they need to know the challenges of the startup, and they need to know the big picture of what you’re trying to achieve.

Holding back information only weakens the team and the startup. It can be tough if you have nothing new to say, but just opening the lines of communication can greatly help. You never know what might pop up.


As this study shows, non-work communication is vital. That doesn’t mean co-workers need to be best buddies outside of the office, but it does show how important non-work chatter in the office 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 will bring down the morale and not allow the team to develop communication among themselves.


Trust is a two-way street. Especially in a newly formed startup. Trusting the team is just as hard for you, as it is for them. Trust is a major factor in being able to let your team do their work, and for them to trust that you know what you’re doing. 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. No one likes being questioned on every decision.


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. This lets everyone know what the expectations are. If you need to correct some issue – pull the person aside. There’s no reason to embarrass them in front of everyone. The team will know what’s going on.


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 decisions, don’t be. Just do the best you can to avoid making mistakes, and make a decision.

Even if you do make the wrong decision, look at it like a learning opportunity. Try and take something positive from it. Don’t let a lack of decision making paralyze your startup.


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 control the process. You can have your team work through it, just make sure everyone is respecting everyone else.

If the conflict is personal, you’ll need to pull the individuals aside.


Gone are the days of do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do. Nobody wants to work for that guy.

A team leader always tries to elevate the team by doing all the right things as an example to the others. By 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.


Most startups don’t have any room for waste, so why would you waste the talent on your team? You’ll want to grow it 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.


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. Good leaders find ways to help the team get to the end result by valuing everyone.

Startups are hard enough to manage without worrying about the work the team is doing.

Do your best to hire the right people, and they’ll do all the hard work of making you look good. Then you just need to focus on running the business.


Part Two: Communication

Good communication skills are critical to a leader’s success. When I managed a team of 200 people it was astonishing how frequently communication was misinterpreted or simply not heard.

Once we had a significant change in the way we handled damaged product. Laws had changed, and our process needed to change with it. I explained the changes to my leadership team. We talked about it at staff meetings for several weeks. There were memos passed out.

We talked about the changes in our morning rallies. I could not think of a single venue we didn’t use to communicate out the important changes.

Two weeks after the change went into effect there was a team member processing damaged product using the old system. I couldn’t believe it! Right before I freaked out, I asked if he was aware of the new process. He confidently answered, “Oh yes – that’s what I’m doing!”

Oh no. It wasn’t.

To my disbelief the message didn’t get through to this guy. And, I would soon discover, it didn’t get through to a lot of people. I had missed the most basic communication must-haves.

Whether you have a small messages or significant organizational changes, there are three basics to getting your message across to your team.


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

Rule number one: 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.


When I was a kid I remember hearing my mom ask, “Do I have to repeat myself until I’m blue in the face?!” It wasn’t my intent to exasperate my mom by forgetting what she wanted me to do. It just…happened.

Leaders might not ask that same blue-in-the-face question out loud but if they did the answer is the same: yes. Yes you do.

Marketers know this better than anyone. They know most purchasing decisions are made after the customer has “heard” a message at least seven times. Hearing a marketing message fifteen times is the sweet spot. If you lead a team, no matter the size, prepare to repeat yourself if you expect your message to be heard.


If you want your message to stick, put measurements in place to track progress. When my team was going through the process change I thought the team would make a seamless transition simply because we told them to change.

However, I failed to put any measurement in place when change occurred and there was no visibility or accountability for the team to change. Once I learned that the message had not been received I started to track how many times the old process was used. Almost immediately the old process disappeared.

It can be 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 Three: Difficult Team Members

When I was a younger (i.e. ‘naive’) manager, I eagerly accepted a position to lead a team I knew little about. I’m convinced that’s why I got the offer.

I concluded after the first week that my interviewers had been less-than-forthcoming about the team atmosphere and the willingness to embrace change.

Soon my leadership was undermined, my instructions were ignored, and I was afraid my career had been sabotaged. It felt like I was in a turf war with key players on the team.

It was obvious we were heading toward a showdown and the possible outcomes were looking grim. Something had to be done if there was to be any hope for the business (and my career) to remain intact.

I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, but this five step process to dealing with difficult team members came out of this experience and has served me well.


Asking this question is like jumping down the rabbit hole of Alice in Wonderland. When I searched out the answer to that question I came up with a dozen viable answers. I chased each one down.

When I came to the end of my adventure it all boiled down to 2 people causing 80% of my problems. One team member was afraid of change while the other was a bad fit for the team (more on that later). Once I had that figured out it was time to move on to the second question.


My instinct is to say the problem isn’t me, but I know better. Have I confirmed that they understand my expectations? Have I confirmed that they know how to do what I’m asking them to do? Am I unreasonable in my expectations? Are they fully equipped to perform? There were more questions like this.

After answering these questions I concluded that my ownership percentage was approaching 20%. After taking action to address my responsibilities it is time to move on to the next step.


These two team members were very different in their motivation for raising a ruckus. Therefore, I had to handle them very differently.

Team member one had been in his role for a long time and hoped to retire soon. He was afraid having a management change would derail his plans. I was surprised to hear his concerns, but more importantly I was able to calm his fears.

I explained that he is a leader among his peers. If the team was to be successful they needed to see him support and align with me. His negative reaction to my plans were undermining my leadership and causing the team to spin their wheels. The lightbulb went off for him, he apologized, and gave me his committed support.

Guy two thought he should have been promoted and received my job. He didn’t get the job because he was a manipulator and had a barely-enough-to-stay-employed work ethic. The hiring manager knew this.

Our meeting was a lot different and we had a much more direct conversation. I gave him a minute to tell me how he thought I was doing. After thanking him for his input I gave him specific actions he had taken to undermine my leadership.

He was bringing down the team’s performance. I firmly explained my expectations. I asked him to get on board and support my objectives.


In both scenarios above I actively recruited the two guys at the end of our meeting. The first conversation ended by explaining that I needed his leadership to help the team get better and grow the business. He had been around for the “good ol’ days” and was ready to revive the energy of those days. The change of attitude was almost instantaneous.

The second conversation ended with a different kind of recruitment request. I told him I needed him to be aligned with my leadership or if he wanted a place on the team. It was a shot across the bow and he knew it.


Team member two improved for a week or two, but his pride got in the way. He felt the atmosphere of the team shift away from his manipulative control. I confronted him on performance issues.

He resisted change. I started a performance improvement plan. Six weeks after that difficult conversation he gave me his notice. He threw me a few empty reminders of how irreplaceable he was and the vast knowledge that would leave with him.

The team’s success took off once this guy left.

Having these types of conversations are difficult. While they aren’t conversations to rush into, you cannot afford to avoid them. Proceed through these five steps with pure intentions, protect the other person’s dignity, and resolve to do the right thing. And then – do it.


Part Four: Mastering Delegation

Peter is 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 was on top of the world.

Reality: Peter felt like he was drowning.

His days were consumed with task lists, Email, phone calls, payroll, purchasing, customer support, sales, and a bunch of other things bucketed in the category of “logistics.” He was spending all of his time maintaining the business.

His natural tendency is to be hands-on. Now he’s spread so thin that he can’t do any one thing well. This pace was unsustainable and he was feeling the onset of burnout.

He hoped that spending time away from work would help. It didn’t. It actually compounded the problem. While he was away the issues would pile up and be waiting for him when he returned. Work was seeping into evenings, weekends and vacations.

What was obvious to him was that if things didn’t change soon he was going to have to quit. The freedom he was chasing when he started the business felt further away than it ever had before.

He’s not alone…but you know that because you’ve felt the same way.

We know small business owners have a lot at stake. When something goes wrong it’s the business owner that feels the most impact. So instinctually, like Peter, they get involved with almost everything. It’s natural given that most new small business owners had to do everything when the business was getting started.

The very involvement that launched the business is now the governor limiting growth.

The solution is to have an effective delegation strategy. Here are 4 steps of I’ve used to help delegate and lighten my workload.

1) 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 do not directly build your business. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

– Reading and responding to Email

– Website creation and maintenance

– Paying bills

– Collecting payments

– Booking appointments

– Property maintenance

– Almost anything you don’t like to do

– Almost anything you’re not skilled to do

The next time you feel stressed by your task list ask yourself, can someone else do this?  If the answer is “yes,” then find that someone.

2) Give specific minimum 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.

3) 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 the 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 and review results

Delegation is not a single moment in time event. To get the most value from delegation efforts you will need to 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. After a few conversations you will get more key insights that will help you become a more effective delegator. Small business leaders have one resource more valuable than any other: time. Using this 4 step delegation process will free up a leader’s valuable time to concentrate efforts on activities that move the business forward.


Part 5: How to Keep Your Team Engaged

It is important for managers to keep their team members engaged. Without engagement the 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.

Did you catch that?

Let me state that in a different way: 68.5% of poll respondents are not engaged in their work!

As a manager it is important to remember that employee engagement happens at an individual level. In other words, a team is not engaged unless the team members are engaged.

Managers of disengaged team members blame external factors like a poor economy, lower wages, more demanding customers, and other excuses. However, brand new companies that score high on engagement are facing the exact same external factors and still have highly engaged employees.

How are they doing this? Here are 6 things that effective managers of engaged teams do well.


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.

I recently had lunch with a friend that I had not seen in over a year. Within five minutes she had asked about my children (by name), asked how my wife was doing with a specific work situation, and she asked about a project I had just started working on last time we spoke. I was absolutely amazed at her memory and interest in me as a person!

As leaders, you have the opportunity speak life into your team member by knowing them as a person above all. Be diligent in remembering names, significant events, non-work situations and important interests of your team members.


The buzzword of the day is authenticity. Your team wants to know that 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 will act and speak in a way that demonstrates integrity. 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 will follow your leadership, even when they disagree.

In Mistakes Were Made but Not By Me the authors take a look at the probability of doctors getting sued for malpractice. What the authors discovered is that the likelihood of doctors getting sued for malpractice has little to do with their competency and much to do with how they make the patient feel.

A doctor could be the most accomplished professional in her field, but if she has a poor bedside manner she is more likely to be sued for malpractice.


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

When mistakes are made, as they inevitably will, there is an appropriate level of accountability.

Consistent enforcement of policy creates a safe environment. It eliminates uncertainty about established boundaries. Like guardrails on a winding mountain road, firm boundaries allow your team members to move fast and protect them from a dangerous fall.


I once managed a mid-level supervisor who was always pressing me to share the “real reason” behind a new initiative. I would explain how this change benefitted the team, the customer or the overall business. He rarely believed me. He would look for an angle that would cast him in a negative light and make that the underlying motivation for a change.

As I implemented more efficient operational changes it was discovered that he was causing significant losses for the company. Sadly, he was well aware of his situation long before he was discovered.

Had he been honest with me at the beginning we could have changed course, minimized the losses, and avoid losing a team member.


In my experience 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 to the organization. Without it teams struggle. When there is a lack of communication the team members have to fill in the gaps with their own speculation. Inevitably the speculation will be off base; either more doomsday or more rosy than reality.

This is a major distraction for the team.

Teams also need consistent messaging from leaders. If circumstances shift requiring a message to change it is the leader’s responsibility to clearly explain why there is a change and how it will impact the team members.

Just like a lack of communication, changing communication will cause speculation and the team’s momentum will grind to a halt.


Engaged team members own their work and decisions. This does not “just” happen. It is cultivated by a manager that has coached the team member to know a desired outcome, and then allows the team member 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 are managing the 31-percenters, congratulations! Don’t neglect the actions you are doing to engage your team.

About the Author: Aaron 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.

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