In stark contrast to the corporate world -- where people in large companies are promoted into leadership roles only after working their way up through the ranks -- leadership development in the startup arena often happens overnight or even by accident.
Entrepreneurs often have to go without management training, development coaching or a course called “CEO 101.” They have to figure out out how to be a leader on the fly.
And because teaching yourself to lead is no easy feat, especially when you're managing a rapidly expanding company, you may well fail. That’s part of the reason 36 percent of new businesses fold after just two years and 90 percent of technology startups simply don’t make it.
In fact, the most common reasons startups fail -- such as not having the right people on board, lacking a solid business model or using poor marketing -- all stem from poor leadership. Success in a fast-growing company practically demands that entrepreneurs make a steady pivot from self-sufficient autonomy to leading, managing, delegating and holding others accountable.
And for that to happen, personal leadership training is extremely valuable. It's vital for learning how to build teams, hire the right people, speak in public and influence the market. It teaches not only how to set a mission, but also how to communicate that vision to others.
Here are four ways entrepreneurs can seek out invaluable leadership training:
1. Join a group.
Join professional organizations, such as the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which foster connections with other entrepreneurs and offer formal leadership training programs. Hearing the stories and experiences of others offers a great opportunity for personal leadership growth.
2. Find one guide -- or several.
Look for a mentor who can counsel you from a wider perspective. This might be another entrepreneur who has already started a company. Consider establishing a formal board of advisors comprised of successful professionals from diverse backgrounds. This can be a great resource for exploring ideas, and these advisors' advice can help fill in any gaps in personal experience.
3. Learn from the successes and failures of others.
Listen to other successful founders and CEOs speak. Attend conferences such as GrowCo to hear and learn from their journeys, which are never as straightforward or easy as they seem. Read what they've written about work to learn the difference between management and leadership. The two pursuits are not the same, yet are equally important. Management involves planning, organization and coordination. Leaders inspire and motivate.
4. Get your investors to invest in you.
Too often, VCs focus on short-term, top-line growth without making the investment necessary to be successful in the long term. Expecting entrepreneurs to be successful at something they’ve never done without investing in their professional development is not realistic. Lobby to build leadership training into your budget and time line for you and your team, so investors view these efforts as a path to ROI rather than a distraction from daily business operations.
As mentioned, make sure training emphasizes both management and leadership, and be cognizant of the difference; professional development can’t be restricted to one or the other. Seeking guidance in these realms requires a sense of humility and openness to new viewpoints and methods.
To that end, don’t be afraid to be honest about areas of weakness -- authenticity and vulnerability are two of the most valuable leadership skills, and both are necessary for growth. Openly admitting a lack of knowledge falls outside of most people’s comfort zones, but it’s a sign of great strength and adaptability in a leader.
While it’s possible to pick these skills up without official training, having the right support system in place will make your transition to leadership smoother, quicker and more efficient -- even if it doesn’t happen overnight.