Defining Your Limits as a Leader
No one person can do it all. It’s a hard lesson for every leader to learn, especially those that have built a startup from the ground up. When you first get started, you think that you can have a hand in everything your company does. But inevitably, that is not only unhealthy for you, but harmful to the continued growth of your business.
It’s a very natural behavior to fall into, and it’s not necessarily a bad one when you first start out. Everyone likes a leader that works hard. A leader that is always there for you; a leader who can do it all. We have all heard the mantra of leading by example, but there’s going to be some point along the road where that won’t work the way it used to.
Eventually, your startup is going to grow to the point that you just can’t physically be involved in every single piece of operational work. If you try, you’re only going to stretch yourself thin and burn yourself out. You’re not going to be able to manage your team like you used to which will only create more complications and difficulty moving forward.
We all have a limited supply of emotional, physical, and mental energy. It might be okay to push it all recklessly at first, but you need to start being more selective as your company continues to grow. It’s so important as a leader that you are always operating at a high-level of performance and handling the tasks only you can.
None of this to say that you can throw the tasks you used to handle to the team and expect it all to work itself out. When a business is growing, the most important role of the leader is to install a process and structure that doesn’t require your constant input and attention.
There needs to be a rhythm your company can follow again and again that doesn’t rely on your involvement. Those are the structures that are not only going to help you scale, but build the culture of your company. They don’t just define the way you work in the moment, but will become an essential part of your company’s DNA for years to come.
But the truth is that even those structures can’t do all the work alone. Invariably, problems and complications will come up that the process simply isn’t equipped to handle. And yet, you can’t always be there to put out every fire. Your team needs to be able to handle it on their own. That is perhaps the scariest leap that every leader has to make.
Your capacity as a leader can no longer be gauged by how many problems you are able to solve. Rather, your most important job is to build a team that can defeat problems on its own.
The expectation should be set from the very beginning that your team should try to solve problems on their own before escalating it to you. Conversely, you need to have the confidence that you have given them the tools they need to do that effectively. A leader can’t jealously guard their techniques for problem-solving in a company hoping to scale. Being the person with all the answers might have made you a hero before, but it also suggests to your team that you are the only person capable of solving problems. That’s just not sustainable.
The same culture and philosophy should be passed down to every manager you add to the team. They can’t just be the new target for every problem going forward. They need to be just as well-trained to teach their team members to solve problems on their own and to grow their personal roles in the company.
This process of building up your team members to succeed on their own not only helps your business succeed, but it helps the team succeed too. No one wants to feel like they are stuck in the same position forever with no opportunity to grow. Letting them solve their problems and build up their role in the company will help them improve with it.
Maybe you can do it all as a leader at first, but it’s not going to last. At some point, defining your limits and enabling your team to succeed on their own will be the most important work you can do to build a startup that’s going to last.