Is leadership the starting point for new business? If so, then what does leadership look like starting from zero, from a blank slate?
In a recent working lunch in Vietnam, I was consulting 10 disabled artists seeking to start a new business as a collective. But they lacked a starting point. How to start their business? What to do first? How would the pieces come together? Collectively they had a rough vision for what the business should be, but no plan to put it into action. They were paralyzed.
For me, the question was how could I help them? I was leaving Vietnam in 2 weeks, I wouldn’t be around to see things through. I knew they had to own it. I had tools to help them create a total picture: which customer needs to focus on, which roles they needed in their team, and which steps to take first. This helped crystallize the vision and plan, but did that matter? They needed to mobilize — to put the plan into action.
The first task was to define a leader within their group. Without it they couldn’t own their initiative. Outside the group, there were plenty of supporting volunteers willing to help. I met a few times with these volunteers, amassing enthusiasm and names of people willing to support different pieces of the puzzle like branding, co-ordinating supply of materials, photography, etc. The group of artists were fueled by the attention. It occurred to me that the most valuable thing we volunteers had done is to give them energy, to engage them to put their plan into action.
Energy builds momentum, momentum builds energy.
In leading them to their new business, we started with giving them energy so they could rise up and lead themselves. Leadership is like a cascading stockpile of energy, this is really what we mean by empowerment.
When we approach a new business or engage a team in a new initiative, we often ignore the effect of energy. Often managers start with introducing practicalities, role responsibilities, changes in protocol. Employees are left to find it within themselves to interpret the change emotionally and gather the energy to embrace it. Similarly, bootstrapping and company building can take enormous amounts of energy to achieve the desired growth. It may seem that the most important thing is locking in an investor or setting KPIs, but this is not the starting point.
How will you ensure growth builds momentum?
I think it is a question of leadership. Leadership defines what is important, what should have attention, what matters. As leaders we do this by evoking energy where it is needed. We choose where to focus our own energy, plan which parts of the business need momentum, and how to maintain a net positive flow in our team. Like Seth Godin concludes, a fundamental skill is the ability to influence, ‘to persuade others to take action’. This is how we lead – some through charisma, persuasion, or a silent but resolute focus on what matters. At the start of a business initiative, energy fuels growth, leadership directs growth, and therefore, leadership starts with energy.
Subscribe to future posts
‘…you have to be able to be convincing. It’s not enough to be knowledgeable or experienced. If you can’t stand up and tell a story, and make people listen to you, then it’s of no use. You have to be believed as well. Be convincing, make a statement.’
Henderik van Es