Why great leadership is not enough for a start up

Conventional leadership is grounded in the notion that true leadership is felt when we exert our personal will to reach a clear vision and inspire others to follow us.  Examples of this style include command and control and directive action.

Thus writes the executive coaching team, Jennifer Joyce and Patty Beach, the co-founders of LeadershipSmarts. And they continue:

However, there is a shadow side to conventional leadership. That approach is at the heart of the Emperor With No Clothes myth. When conventional leaders go too far, they can be too autocratic, egotistical in the extreme, insular in their decision-making, and blind to their faults and mistakes. Their staffs are told to shut up and row – and they do, to a certain extent.  Unfortunately, the conventional approach leaves one person struggling to know and control everything in the organization and the rest of the staff resentful that they have no real influence.

This week, I met a very capable entrepreneur. Let’s call him David. Now David has invented a product, and with standards that engineers had told him were impossible to achieve. A typical Israeli, he took that comment as an incentive, not a put down.

2 years later and US$150,000 lighter, David has presold his first trial order. And it’s a good looking item with unique selling points. It was at this stage that I was called in for a chat on business dev.

The first 40 minutes were spent discussing how to find specific retail outlets in Europe. Could I help? Surely, I reply. And then the contradictions set in.

First, when I suggested what practical, hands-on assistance I could offer, David told me that he did not want a consultant. And that attitude did not alter, when I explained how I, personally and thorugh my efforts, would put him in touch with retail decision makers.

Anyway, and point number 2, for him the immediate issue was an investment partner and not sales. (He had not mentioned this subject previously, but it was not surprise.)

And why was it not a surprise? Because David had informed me that he could not finance a significant order for his product. But he wanted the cash injection to fund the development of the next model. And he only wanted a set sum. He did not appear willing to consider other possibiliites

Finally, I asked him why he did not look for an investor himself. Guess what? David is too busy, as he himself develops, sells, deals with patents, handles the accounts and loads more. And remember he had turned down my offer of another pair of hands, because he saw this as consultancy work.

Clearly the conversation was going nowhere. In parting, David asked me if I knew of investors and the answer was yes. He does not have a business plan in English, although he is committed to writing one. He suggested that I ask my contacts if they will be interested in his project.

I asked him what would happen if I brought him an affirmative response. David sounded eager and told me he would rush to check them out. But he had already forgotten that he owed them a business plan before I would put them in touch with each other.

I do not know if David will succeed. How he intends to collaborate with sales channels is a mystery to me, when he cannot trust others around him. How he intends to move from thinker to business man is uncertain, as he has shown that he does not accept advice readily.

David’s brand of determined leadership successfully took him to where he is today. It is those same characteristics that are likely to hold up the next stage of his company’s development. 

Good leadership requires an ability to listen to those around you and to internalise those comments. That is often a direct challenge for good entrepreneurs, whose very nature is often compried of stubborness and individuality.

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