Principles of Startup Leadership - How to Lead your Startup


Founder? Yes! Leader? Not necessarily!

Every day, the motivated youth are creating hundreds of startups worldwide. Startups that bring great ideas to the market that make our future easier, more interesting, and better. But just as quickly as startups are created, countless others disappear into oblivion. Why? Because a good founder is not necessarily a good leader.

Being a leader means having a vision for your business, finding employees who fit that vision, and maintaining that direction over time. But even if founders are not born leaders, there are a few simple tips for successfully managing startups.

#1 Good leadership is teamwork

In the areas in which the founders are not so well experienced, the right experts are needed by their side. Founder should search for employees who are the professionals in their field and who can take the startup to a whole new level.

So if founders notice that they do not know which criteria to use when making certain decisions, they need to create a highly professional environment of the right consultants. To achieve this, good founders choose the people who are willing to help the company grow and achieve their maximum success.

After all, you can only be a good leader if your team cooperates and supports your kind of leadership and ideas.

#2 Inspiring Leader & Successful Manager

When managers today still rely on personal vanity and strict supervision, not only does the satisfaction of the team suffer, so does the business. After all, the innovative strength of each employee has never been so strongly challenged as in times of digitalisation.

This can be implemented in different ways. Steve Jobs, for example, always made his employees feel part of a revolution and motivated them to perform at their best. The current Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, is quite different.

A BuzzFeed report describes him as a rather boring and predictable leader, with a "desire to see others succeed". Both are successfully leading two of the most influential internet companies worldwide.

This demonstrates that there is no one 'perfect' way to run a business and be successful. Finding a healthy balance between being an inspiring leader and a manager is both a challenge and an enormous opportunity.

#3 Leadership needs to be well thought through - From the Beginning

First of all: Founders have certainly done a fantastic job. They had an ingenious idea, started a company, and are well on the way to navigate their company to success. But this can only be achieved if founders make the right decisions at this early stage of their startup. This includes, for example, thinking intensively about the legal form of the company or making a conscious decision about where to locate the company.

Is the place of the foundation also a good permanent company headquarters? And what does this mean for other aspects - for growth potential, patent rights, and domain registrations? And there are countless more of such small decisions. Hence the tip: Founders must think far ahead and ask themselves the essential questions and make conscious decisions right from the start.

#4 Boost everyone's self-confidence

As a leader, you should avoid giving unjustified tasks to your employees. You want them to be motivated and their strengths to be highlighted. Every employee has his strengths in different areas. Everyone works at their own pace. Some employees are slow in the learning stage, but once they get the hang of it, they can do things better than everyone else. Others may learn quickly but are not as efficient as others as performers.

Especially new employees should not be overstrained right at the beginning, because it can be extremely demotivating.

You should try to understand your employees and assign them tasks based on their talents. Everyone wants to grow in their role, and therefore you need challenges. If you don't know your employees, you will always give them tasks that are feasible from your point of view but don't fit the profile of the employee. As a result, they will not be able to perform the tasks and will often experience defeats. As a consequence, they will be frustrated and their self-esteem will be weakened.

#5 Founder & Leader?

Even in a startup, there are countless decisions to be made. And this includes clarifying whether the founder is also the most suitable manager of the organisation. If not, then he should start looking for one.

Of course, this step can be challenging. After all, a start-up is the founder's idea, a lot of work and commitment. Nevertheless, this will not change just because he gets help and advisors on his side. On the contrary: founders can finally concentrate fully on the things they enjoy and care about - while their start-up continues to grow and be successful.

#6 Keep an Eye on the Competition

Competition is a decisive factor for the success or failure of your start-up. You can' t encourage yourself and your employees to live in a world of ignorance. At the very least, leaders should avoid it if they want to succeed!

Competition analysis is an essential step in the formulation of your start-up's success strategy. It is not enough to have a good idea, you need to know who your competition is and develop strategies to outperform them.

As a successful leader, you should carefully analyse your competition, look closely at their mistakes and learn from them. You should also look at the points where your competitors are successful and try to adopt similar strategies. Nevertheless, it is essential to differentiate your company from competitors in the marketplace.

#7 Never Justify Failure

In daily life, mistakes occur to everyone, and that is quite normal. In your private life, you can tell them, "It's okay; you'll be fine." But in business life, it's a little different. Mistakes can happen as well, but you should never give the impression that this is okay. Your employees will get the wrong impression about the responsibility and the expectations that are placed on them if you always let people off the hook. Accepting mistakes gives the impression that poor performance is acceptable.

That's why you should tell your employees from the beginning what is expected of them. Likewise, you should not simply say that it's fine when people fail, but you should encourage them when they have done their job well.

See failure as an opportunity to get to know your employees better and coach them to avoid future mistakes.

#8 Get Feedback

Feedback from the employees can be very helpful to identify your mistakes and possibly change the structure of the leadership. Sometimes other people have different views on a topic than you do.

By allowing your employees to express their opinions freely, they feel more involved and get the feeling that their opinion is important.

The feedback will also help employees to reflect on their work. This allows the leader to see how committed they are to the company, or whether the leader may have misjudged them and assigned them tasks that do not match their strengths.

It can be a win-win situation for everyone.


In principle, management in a company includes everything that concerns facts and figures, i.e. planning, results, optimisation, controlling and organisation. Leadership, on the other hand, focuses on people. It is all about perspectives, visions, development, identification and attitude, appreciation, inspiration and motivation. So while the manager is responsible for ensuring that the business runs, the leader is responsible for ensuring that the company develops. This is especially important now with the tough times faced in the COVID-19 pandemic. Please do check out our other post about this.


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Written by Helena Hering

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