Being a Good Leader: 11 Management Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Busting workplace myths, IIM-A alumnus and management professional Abhishek Sareen lays out 11 management lessons for entrepreneurs and being a good leader. 

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You can find thousands of books of and unlimited advice from people on leadership. However, most books and people talk in analogies and seldom mention how we need leadership in daily life so as to start our own team for a business or entrepreneurship venture.

11 Management Tips for Being a Good Leader

The following are my learnings from team-leading and the mistakes that I have made over my corporate career and the leadership lessons I have learned with my wife when she was creating her startup.

1. Avoid mass-hiring early on

In order to build a team, you need to attract talent. Yes, you may attract talent by paying them well, but sometimes, it’s not good enough, as you need to keep to startup’s financials in check. In the initial period of a startup, I would not advise to hire people rapidly, as in the beginning the vision and direction are evolving. So a lot of effort that is initially put is unlikely going to give as much dividends as it will do in future for the same amount of effort that is put in.

I would advise you to start small, and keep refining you vision and product strategy on a weekly basis. A lot of effort is needed here, you need to ask yourself a lot of difficult questions again and again, and so starting out small with a talented pool of individuals is advised.

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2. Every business needs company rules and regulations

It’s often believed that working in a startup is chaotic and it’s okay. There are no set rules, but there’s lots to learn. However, the truth is that these are the first signs that the startup will not last very long. The media often likes to glamorize crazy CEOs with reckless business practices. So generally, people feel that breakthrough startup companies are a little eccentric in how they operate. In fact, I have been part of a startup where they hired rapidly. There was little clarity of work, and that made employees demotivated.

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3. Constantly work upon & document work culture

A good startup needs to have a work good work culture, and that needs to be driven from the top and constantly worked upon. I would advise the leaders to think about all their experiences in order to create suitable working environment. Remember the things they disliked when they were a part of another company and also things they appreciated in other companies. Creating a work culture is a collaborative exercise and should be documented as much as possible, as it will play a very important role for a startup to retain and attract new employees.

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4. Don’t compare your team members with yourself

Now for being a good leader, it is very important to manage your team. Often when you are in a high performance work environment, managers expect their reporting team members should work as efficiently as them. Young managers often start judging their team members and start comparing themselves to them. For example, “If I can do the job in 5 minutes, why can’t they.” It’s very important to understand that your reporting staff is not you.

5. Be empathetic towards subordinates

No matter how technically skilled a person is, managing a team is a completely different ball game. Often employees are promoted to team manager roles based on their technical work performance, and not based on their team leading skills. For a manager to lead a team he/she needs to be empathetic towards his/her subordinates. When I say empathy, I mean that a manager should be able to see the world through the eyes of their subordinates and other team members.

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6. Learn to manage people according to their skill and motivation level

If you’re planning on being a good leader or a team manager, you need to understand that all his/her team members are not equal. You need to manage different types of people differently. One of the most common management theories is to categorize employees is based on skill and motivation. We can classify them as follows:

  1. Team members with High skill and High motivation; let’s call them Stars
  2. Team members with Low skill and High motivation; let’s call them Floaters
  3. Team members with High skill and Low motivation; let’s call them Problem Child
  4. Team members with Low skill and Low motivation; let’s call them Clockwatchers
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Yes, every organization or start-up would like all its employees to be ‘stars’, but that is seldom the case.

How to Manage Different Types of People

A manager needs to identify and assess skill and motivation levels on a timely basis and work accordingly. Although there is tons of literature defining this on various websites and videos, here is the gist:

  1. Stars have high skill and high motivation, so encourage them to take up more responsibility and partner with them.
  2. Floaters have low skill but high motivation, so provide adequate training for them, encourage them to ask questions and help them gain skills.
  3. Problem Child has high skill but low motivation, so be careful with them. If their motivation isn’t raised, they may demotivate other employees too. So motivate them by giving responsibility and ownership, reward good work and help them find a role they are excited about.
  4. Clockwatchers have low skill and low motivation. Initially, it may just seem that they can’t add value to your team and you may be compelled to fire them. However, different types of