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I had a soccer coach in high school that was a bull of a woman. Like an Army Drill Sargent with a bunch of lazy new recruits she would yell, scream, and scowl like she was eternally disappointed in everything we did.  At times we despised her, and cursed her presence. But she knew her sport inside and out and regardless of her military style leadership method, we truly respected her as she turned that lazy group of recruits into a formidable team.

For a long period of time I thought that is what a good leader was, overtly passionate, hard as stone, and never accepted anything but the absolute best.  Fear was your weapon, punishment was indiscriminate and came swiftly without hesitation. I was wrong.

Years later, after college I met my current mentor, a serial entrepreneur and CEO whose leadership style was almost the exact opposite of what I expected from a successful leader. He led by example. He didn’t just ask the people around him to make things happen, he had no problem pulling on a pair of gloves or flying across the globe to move the business forward.  When he spoke, he shared strong beliefs in the mission of the company and the team.  He not only made room for failure, but expected everyone around him to try to reach beyond themselves and fail regularly.  He gave his power away, and put his faith in the team around him, guiding them, and mentoring them toward both personal and business success.

Influence:

Despite the difference in methods, both of these leadership styles contained an essential requirement of leadership. Influence. Ineffective leaders simply do not have any influence with the people they wish to lead. Usually, they lack influence because they lack position, lack permission, or lack production.  Many think that having the right position or title is essential for leadership, but permission and production are far more important.  Without permission and production, there will be no position.

People around you will not give you permission to lead if you do not have the personal connection, the buy-in, or the relationships that makes people want to follow you. Without permission you simply cannot lead.  To gain permission you must develop trusting relationships with the team you wish to lead and demonstrate personal interest in each and every individual’s personal and career success.

Concurrently, leaders must be able to demonstrate results. The people around the leader must be able to point to areas of credible production directly associated with the leader’s actions. When work gets done and goals are achieved morale goes up, momentum builds, and the level of leadership begins to rise. Production creates respect for the leader’s expertise and credibility.

Individuals that obtain permission and demonstrate production will often find themselves in a leadership position even without an official title. But when the time comes, the title will simply be a formal acknowledgment of the leadership level that already exists.

Inspiration:

Influence is good, and a minimum requirement of leadership. But, inspiration combined with influence is what makes great leaders, great companies, and great brands. Great leaders inspire us to believe in the potential, believe in the opportunity, and believe in a better version of ourselves. This is the difference between good leadership, and world changing leadership.

How to inspire others is a complex conundrum of human psychology. But, it can be boiled down to some very simple practices.

Clarity of Why – The leader must be able to provide a clear picture of a greater future and over-communicate the value and purpose of pursuing it as a team.

Lead by Example – Maintain a fair and principled set of values that cannot be influenced by outside forces or levels of financial success or failure.

Develop Others – Expect more of those around you and create an environment that supports and highly values the pursuit of personal growth and mentorship.

Take a Stand – Draw a line in the sand that separates those who believe in and are part of the mission and those that are not. This line should clearly differentiate the clients, partners, and team members that you work with.

Eat Last – Put the company, employees, and clients before yourself when it comes to acknowledgment and financial rewards.

I am deeply indebted to my mentor for the valuable leadership lessons he has taught me. Grow your leadership skills and your business will grow along with you.

Recommended Reading –

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and The 5 Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell

Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

Creating a successful business is hard, and it often takes a few more pounds of flesh than the start-up team anticipated. But concurrently, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences you might ever undertake. It reminds me a lot of parenting. You get less sleep than you thought was humanly possible, it costs you more emotionally and financially than you ever expected, but you wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything, and you need a good partner.

I have personally experienced the ups and downs of the affliction that is the entrepreneurial spirit. Within the multiple companies I have had the opportunity to be involved in, some have succeeded and some have crashed and burned before they ever got off the runway. But I have found some similarities in the ones that succeed and that is what I call the Entrepreneurial Triad.

While there are a number of “must have” components on my list for a start-up opportunity, the Entrepreneurial Triad is something I look for first. Ideally it consists of three people with three specific roles they are bringing to the table.

  1. The Visionary – Every start-up needs a dreamer. An individual with a vision of a better future brought forth by the success of the business. Someone who inspires thTriade team around them and influences them while positively pushing forward the vision. Often the Visionary is the source of the business start-up “idea” and passionately believes in its potential success.
  2. The Expert – The Expert brings a substantial amount of experience in either business and finance, capital acquisition, or expertise in the specific field or area the business is focused on. As an example, if the business is to be in the financial field, the expert may be a CPA, former CFO, or experienced financial adviser. If the business in the medical field, the expert will likely have a PHD or doctorate with specific focus in the field the business is focused on.
  3. The Builder – The Builder brings everything together and is a master of resource acquisition and business systems. The Builder capitalizes on the knowledge of the Expert and the mission defined by the Visionary to create a disciplined business culture with an ethic of entrepreneurship that can result in a magical alchemy of great performance and business success.

The Entrepreneurial Triad also offers other advantages over start-ups by sole proprietors or two person “partnerships”. Start-ups can be a wild emotional ride and major challenges driving uncomfortable conflict is inevitable. As the start-up endures the entrance into the market it will experience a massive learning curve and be faced with major pivoting decisions in order to keep the train on the tracks.  In this environment, often sole proprietors experience decision paralysis as they face these challenges alone. Partnerships often experience a similar decision paralysis but often due to the inability of two individuals with opposing viewpoints to agree on major business decisions.  The Triad by comparison can often transition through these tough times, not only due to the combined consciousness of three minds, but with an inherent checks and balances system found in the power of 3. Triads react and make better, quicker business decisions and can often find common ground among at least the majority of stakeholders.

Thinking about a start-up? Gather your entrepreneurial triad before you take the exciting plunge. One third ownership of a flourishing business beats 100% ownership of a migraine headache every time.

Keep building!

Lots of leadership books and speakers talk about what you need to be doing as a leader. Inspiration, influence, and impact showing care, candor, character, and competence. But, what does your team want out of their opportunity and how can you support it?

Human beings are strange and complex. These six expectations every team member is looking for when they come to work demonstrate that complexity.

Certainty – Everyone needs to know that the sun is going to rise tomorrow and that the doors of the business will be open.  Base level requirements for everyone is the ability to rely on some things being certain and reliable. Without base level certainty, anarchy erupts.

Uncertainty – Yep, we all also need an element of uncertainty in our lives.  Will I have the opportunity to lead that project? How will the prospect react to the sales scripts I have been practicing? How will the boss react to my idea for change in my department? There must be some level of uncertainty to create the excitement that keeps people motivated. Some jobs can get monotonous. When in doubt, create a little uncertainty and watch the team spring back to life.

Significance – An extremely important need within us all that is often defined by our professional lives is our significance to others and influence in our department, company, community, and the world at large.  Feedback clarifies each individual’s significance in their world and providing regular praise to those who work with, above, and below reminds every one of their significance and supports a positive outlook.  Team members that are feeling insignificant will often resort to gossip and uncooperative competition with other team members.

Connection – Regardless of an individual’s MBTI or DISC personality profile, humans need connection to other people. Some introverts may prefer a small number of deep connections while others a wide range of many connections. But maintaining a connection with those you work with and those you serve is essential to maintaining a connection with “why” we all do what we do.

Growth – This need cannot be stressed enough and it is often the most ignored.  Inspiration and passion directly stem from curiosity and personal growth.  Not only must a leader demonstrate personal growth, but also provide opportunities for team members to learn and grow in areas they have strengths or curiosity.  Many of the most productive and inspiring leaders are lifelong “learners” and your business growth can be heavily dependent on the personal growth of the team.

Contribution – Few things feel better and are more motivating than taking a step back and saying “I did that”.  When I was younger, every fall my father would purchase and have me “stack” what felt like endless cords of firewood. But when I was done and could see the long rows of perfectly stacked firewood, I felt accomplished and that my contribution to the family was visible. In our highly evolving and fast paced digital world it is easy to lose sight of the big picture contribution. Discovering ways to make those contributions visible will pay long term dividends.