Nobody can prepare you for leading a startup team. Most of the time it feels like I'm just improvising as I go along, reacting more than calculating. Over the past year, as the CEO of Franc I've learnt more about myself as a leader than my previous collective experience combined. Obviously, I've be keen to read and learn as much as possible about leadership but solid resources are few and far between, either too generic to be helpful or overly specific.
Last year a friend recommended I read Leading by Sir Alex Ferguson and Michael Moritz. At the time I wondered what a football manager could really have to say about leading a startup, so I never got round to reading it. It was only on a recent trip to Silicon Valley that I learnt that Michael Moritz is a partner at Sequoia Capital.
What do you think the world's most successful Premier League coach and one of the most successful venture capitalists in the world have in common?
They both agree that great leaders must:
- Be willing to chart a course that has not been pursued before.
- Understand their areas of competence, be willing to share their knowledge, and not shy away from what they don’t understand.
- Trust their own judgement of others and be unafraid to delegating authority, because most success comes from making a few large decisions correctly, rather than trying to be involved in making lots of small decisions.
- Derive more satisfaction from the achievement of their organisation than from their own accomplishments.
- Treat the organisation's resources as if they were their own.
- Watch and listen twice as much as they talk, and then compare observations, because we all have our biases.
- Set very high standards and help everyone else believe that they can achieve the impossible, because by giving people a belief in themselves you unlock greatness.
- Never radiate anxiety when the chips are down and always be aware of the motivating power of their presence.
- Have a clear sense of the ultimate goal and what success means, and be able to communicate that articulately to others, stripping complexity down to their essence.
- Build a pipeline of talent that combines the ambition of youth with the experience of age, ensuring a transmission of values from leader, through senior team members to new joiners.
I was not only surprised by the depth of Ferguson and Moritz's insight but also inspired. Looking back I realise how fortunate I was in that my parents made me feel I was capable of anything, while at the same time making me want to try harder. Over the years I've developed the ability to assess myself using an inner scorecard, instead of relying on feedback from others. This self-belief and self-critique has helped me lead a business that requires making decisions with imperfect information. You have to trust your gut and your abilities, and continually inspire your team to achieve greatness.
Anything can be achieved with time, pressure and preparation - the steady application of sheer willpower, courage and patient determination can overcome any challenge.