Henry Steele
Henry Steele
Managing Editor

Managing a startup comes with a seemingly endless list of chores. In addition to coming up with a killer business idea and finding capital, you have to source materials and get a location and design your web presence and … it just goes on and on.

Most people, for this reason, find they can’t run a new business venture alone. Whether you’re starting from scratch yourself, going into business or running a team for someone else’s startup, you’re going to need a solid set of leadership and management skills to help you get the job done. Luckily, as a prospective business school graduate, you’ve had plenty of opportunity to practice those skills, and should be well prepared to apply them in the bustling world of commerce.

But if you are staring down the barrel of leading and managing a startup, you might be wondering exactly what those skills are. Here are 13 of the most important, so you can start putting them to use right away.

Set Clear Goals

This is crucial for absolutely every aspect of your venture. Not only do you need clear goals for the business – which should be written out in your business plan, and were likely required to get funding in the first place – you need them for yourself and the people who work for you. Without clear goals, it’s easy to get lost in a single project, to switch direction or fall prey to “shiny object syndrome,” in which the newest idea seems like the best.

Setting clear goals for yourself, however, may be a bit easier than setting them for others, for two reasons. Firstly, when you set goals for others, you have to take into account their strengths, speed and abilities, which can be harder to identify than your own. Secondly, they must be an integral part of the goal-setting process, or else they won’t buy in. That means sitting down with each person you lead and coming to conclusions about what they can accomplish and in what timeframe. It’s time-consuming, but it’s worth it.

Define Parameters

Boundaries are necessary in any workplace. This doesn’t mean personal boundaries (although that too); it means specifications about how, when and even where work is to get done. At the office? On site? On the road? Will you allow working from home? What resources will you use? How will teams communicate? What is the policy on email? Each person you onboard should be completely filled in about workplace parameters.

Recognize Value in Any Form

In his instant classic book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Michael Lewis details how Oakland As manager Billy Beane transformed his team from one of low-skill, low-win players to powerhouses who could be traded for millions … simply by recognizing hidden talent. His players were often lame or otherwise defective, but he found one skill they were really, really good at and exploited it to the max.

You can do the same with your own workers, identifying their best traits even if they aren’t the flashiest applicants. This can save you money (because less glittery employees cost less), while simultaneously giving you access to a resource potentially untapped by your competitors.

Train Well

This one’s pretty simple, but often overlooked. Your people can’t be expected to perform well if you don’t train them well. That doesn’t just mean specific systems; rather, that means expectations, workflows and cultural norms, which matter more than you might think.

Be the Glue – Or Find Some Glue

Groups experience natural disagreement and friction. To keep them functioning well, you need someone who knows how to knit people together. Maybe that’s you, or maybe it isn’t. Someone, however, needs to know how to lighten tension, diffuse potentially explosive situations and otherwise keep things running smoothly. Be it – or find it.

Expect Self-Reliance

Self-reliance is crucial in any employee, but particularly so in a startup environment, where resources are typically limited and the lack of a large corporate structure means there are far fewer people to turn to in any situation. Let your employees know you expect them to try any problem before bringing it to you, no matter how challenging.

… But Be Available

Of course, you can’t just leave them at the mercy of a headscratcher with no recourse. You must also be available to them once they’ve given it their best shot. To preserve the sanctity of your time, it’s best to set up office hours during which employees can bring their questions to you rather than using an open-door policy all day long.

Use SMART

Goal-setting, as we discussed above, is important. Once you’ve determined value and established a good relationship with your employees, it’s time to become more intentional in your approach. The SMART Method can help there. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. You can use this rubric when working with another, or even just when setting your own objectives. By ensuring that each goal adheres to all five of these qualifiers, you set yourself – and your people – up for success.

Understand Needs

The needs of your people matter a lot – to them, anyway – and if you want to keep them around over the long haul, you need to respect those needs. You might think offering a bigger salary, a better bonus and a heftier medical package is what everyone wants, but that’s not necessarily the case. For an employee with two children under five, the most important thing you could offer might be flexibility and PTO to spend with his family. How will you know what each person needs and wants most? Simple: ask.

Give Feedback

Feedback is important, but you already knew that, right? The trick is giving it in a constructive way. While somewhat trite, the trick of sandwiching criticism between two positive comments actually works pretty well. Additionally, always make sure you let people know that you value them. Not in a cheesy “Hey I value you!” way, but in a genuine way: take them to lunch, ask for their opinions, listen to their problems and always be the boss you would want to have.

Document Well

Documentation is crucial. Not only does it give you something to point to if things go south (which unfortunately, they will sometimes), but it can help to show people how much they’ve grown or what they’ve accomplished in a specific time period. Documenting progress is a great way to motivate employees and keep them around over the long haul.

Learn to Delegate

Delegation is hard, because it’s natural to think you can do everything better yourself. However, if you find people who are prepared for the job, have the time to do it and will report back regularly, delegation can be a true godsend. That way, you can work on the tasks you do best, and leave the rest to them.

Believe in Them

“I believe in you!” seems like a pretty romanticized approach to leading people, but is it really? Most of us want to know that someone believes in us. If you have a boss, you do too, and if you only answer to investors, that’s critical as well. After all, your boss or backers had to believe in you in order to bring you on or fund your business idea. Successful management will depend on your ability to transmit the same belief to the people you lead.

At the end of the day, running your own startup or managing a team is always going to present a challenge. People can be difficult, they can have a lot of opinions and they may need help working together well. On the other hand, employees are also your best resource and can be a joy to work with. The good news is that you can have a huge impact on which direction workplace culture takes through using good leadership and management skills, so don’t wait any longer to begin practicing them today.

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