Let's start off and define what "a startup", "strategy" and "leadership" means to provide context to the conversation.
What is a "startup"?
In this context -> A startup is a business that is under a certain scale of sustainable normalized and growing business performance. Usually, startups are new companies due to this.
What is "strategy" by definition?
We will be defining strategy as an adaptation or complex of adaptations (as of behavior, metabolism, or structure) that serves or appears to serve an important function in achieving evolutionary success.
At a basic level of understanding -> Applying a process and actions in a way to work towards a successful goal.
What is "leadership" by definition?
How I like to think of it -> The voice of a group that has the ability to gather and deploy actions cohesively through people to solve a goal.
Put it all together; what is strategic leadership?
What the definition does not indicate is what someone should have in their "toolbelt" to be a possible strategic leader. Here are my thoughts to help you begin and/or improve your strategic leadership skills in your organizations.
The true definition
A true strategic leader is a supportive, empathetic mentor, that works with each member of the team to improve their professional well-being. But in tandem, challenging each member to help them grow to produce the best plan and actions for success, now and in the future. These leaders air on the side of openness and collaboration, to bring together every perspective at their disposal. They make concise structured data-backed decisions and actions to work to bring detailed clarity to the team on the goals. The different perspectives, tactics, and experiences the leader has endured each time a goal is met (or not), adds more insightful approaches to their own toolbelt. This, as a result, gathers the team to facilitate some of the best work, processes, and decision-making to achieve a short-term goal for term success in growing sustainable revenue.
What splits apart the good strategic leaders from the great ones?
A great strategic leader will go out of their way to attribute their own time to solve the goal through additional brainstorming and discussions, no matter how long it takes (to a certain extent**). Through this, they gain high esteem from their team, but as well, gain additional understanding in a certain subject to work towards that goal even if a solution was not found at the time.
Top Attributes of a Strategic Leader
Background: Experiencing ups and downs will build your career towards becoming a highly successful strategic leader. It's not the things that go right that teach us, but the things we have failed at. These experiences all culminate in a broader understanding to avoid those mistakes in the future.
Background: Some of the best strategic leaders I have worked with have started at the ground and worked their way up to leadership in their career. This not only makes you a better "strategic thinker," but also a more thoughtful, empathetic manager for those on the ground.
Skill: Full accountability and honest transparency with words and actions.
Skill: Be completely comfortable and confident to take full control if something is out of place, no matter what.
Skill: Set the guardrails that lead creativity to the big ideas. When brainstorming it's easy to go into the cloud. A strategic thinker should be thinking from the ground up but building the plan to get to the cloud. Setting those boundaries is key to "How high can we built this iteration to reach that goal?"
Skill: Knowing wealth comes from solving problems. You can solve small problems for many people, big problems for few people, or big problems for lots of people. But, avoid solving small problems for a few people. Whether you’re launching a new product, entering a new market, or iterating a feature; This still applies. Prioritization is key under constraints.
Skill: Nobody is going to solve your problems. You can get advice and help. But in the end, you’ll be working it out on your own.
Skill: Be a long-term investor in the short-term vision. Short-term starting and stopping campaigns frequently will vaporize capital, especially if you're not making any money. In the long term, this approach will create disparate audiences that will not perform, thus losing even more money. If you invest in the short term while always keeping an eye on the long term. It will give the ability to the correct actions are taken at the right time. That said, everyone will have great success in the end!
Mentor: Always gives people bad news promptly. But ideally, give bad news only when you have found a solution or suggestion to fix that problem.
Mentor: Thank your employees often. You can use words or bonuses that are not necessarily made of cash. People like to feel compassion and gratitude for a job well done. Celebrate the small wins!
Mentor: All people go through ups and downs. Be tolerant of their down periods, but not indefinitely. People are people, but there's a line.
I hope you enjoyed reading and learning!
These thoughts and opinions above are a combination of my experience working in the tech industry over the past 9 years in a startup environment. I have worked as a free web designer, as a jr. web developer and over the years worked my way to become a director.
I would like to shout out a few of my leaders** who I have had the pleasure to work with through this time. Which have taught me in ways I could not expect. Thank you for so many new learning opportunities and support over the years.
** I have not gotten permission to include their names in this post.
If you disagree, have something to add or remark to the topic, I would love to discuss it in the comments!