The first and most important network every leader must build is their own support system. A strong leadership team includes not just internal managers but also outside advisers who can help the leader keep perspective, identify great opportunities and execute important ideas. This was a priority for me as I started my business with my co-founder, and when I look back on that first year, I’m grateful we took the time we did the find the right people who could support us in the ways we needed.
The success of your business will depend as much on the team you create as it will on the products or technologies you build. And in order to create a positive culture that functions well, it’s necessary to have the right leadership in place — people you can turn to, who will hold you accountable and who will keep your business on track with your vision.
Trust is the core foundation of a positive culture. Stephen M.R. Covey discusses this in his book The Speed of Trust, where he explains how the level of trust in a company affects change. Specifically, “when trust is low, speed goes down and cost goes up.” In an entrepreneurial business, change is constant, and the ability to embrace change rapidly is key to survival. Having the right support system in place makes that much easier.
The Role Of Leaders
Author Patrick Lencioni, who writes about business leadership and management, has famously documented the five dysfunctions of a team as the absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. In many ways, success begins and ends with trust. It’s what allows (or doesn’t allow) all the other attributes to come into being.
That’s why we stress creating that foundation of trust with the right leadership team so they can lead by example. If that team communicates effectively with each other, the rest of your workforce is likely to follow. As University of Houston research professor Brené Brown put it in her TEDxHouston Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, “Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen.” This was in reference to how to come across as authentic in any context, whether in your personal life or corporate life. Our team values the trust-building nature of this approach, and it comes through in every collaboration opportunity. Because of the way our leadership demonstrates vulnerability, others are more inclined to follow — by voicing their opinion and working through conflicting ideas in productive ways, which ultimately leads to creating the best results together.
At a leadership summit, Lencioni told the story of a startup that had world-class executives, ample funding and a great product. However, its executive team had some trust issues, so the startup asked Lencioni for help. After observing staff meetings, he noticed that when one team member spoke, the room went silent. There was no feedback, no disagreement and no agreement — just silence until someone moved on to the next topic. The rest of the leadership team had simply given up on disagreeing with the one team member because she never acknowledged that she might be wrong and couldn’t take feedback.
In short, there was a fundamental lack of trust between this team member and the others. Eventually, she was let go, and subsequent leadership meetings were so radically different that, in Lencioni’s words, “It was like watching a whole new company.” The impact of a single individual can be substantial.
Lead With Vulnerability
Simple statements like, “I might be wrong, and I need your feedback,” can produce trust among team members. When you’re vulnerable, people feel comfortable trusting you, and when trust exists, people are more likely to perform to their maximum potential. Be sure to select individuals who not only have incredible skills and leadership talent but who also are able to build this kind of trust, allowing their teams the freedom to perform at their best.
Ensure the network of people you surround yourself with is open to this kind of attitude and unhesitant to be vulnerable. The earlier you assemble this kind of team, the better it will be for your growth as a leader and as a business.
Conflict Can Be Good
Honest and open disagreement should be encouraged. Each person needs to be fully heard before a decision is made because when that decision is made, each employee is asked to fully commit to it even if they have a differing view. That kind of commitment is only possible when each person feels that their viewpoint has been heard and understands why the group decided to go in an opposing direction. Being able to deal with the entire decision making process in a healthy way is equally important for everyone involved.
Additionally, your team members must hold each other accountable for certain behaviors and results. By caring about your team, you owe it to them to challenge their ideas — and their results. In turn, you’re more likely to gain that same support back. Keep this in mind when building your team.
Bringing These Elements Together
It can be easy to overlook the importance of building the right team, both internally and externally, in a new startup. After all, an entrepreneur’s to-do list is never done, and product development and sales are often top of mind.
But if that trustworthy support system isn’t cultivated in the beginning, the passion that drives so many businesses to succeed may not be enough. Leaders need a team of people who will be comfortable speaking up, holding each other accountable and keeping things on track for the company’s vision. Building a culture of trust that’s embodied by your leadership team could be the key difference between success and failure.