Originally published in SmartBlog on Leadership.
We asked startup founders about the worst leadership mistake they made, the impact it had on their startup, and how they corrected their mistake. The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council, an invitation-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs.
Startup Founders: Biggest Mistakes
1. Thinking everyone had the same thought process
A mistake I made early on was thinking that our employees had the same thought processes and learning tactics that I did. Explaining something, walking away and expecting them to execute the task as I saw it in my head proved unrealistic. Now, I ask employees to tell me what the end result will be or explain the process so I can figure out if we are on the same page.
— Kim Kaupe of ZinePak
2. Not firing sixes fast enough
Employing sixes [of 10s] at a startup can sink your business. It sounds rough, but good employees — when you need great ones — bring everyone down with them. The scary thing is when you don’t notice or act on it fast enough. I made that mistake early on, and I continue to work at not making it again.
— Derek Flanzraich of Greatist
3. Hiring on work before values
An early mistake I made was hiring people based on their work first and their core values second. Hiring people who believe in our principles above anything else is now crucial to how we hire today. Employees have to believe in our core values before working here, regardless of their portfolios or Rolodex.
— Chuck Longanecker of digital-telepathy
4. Not focusing on employee development
Good employees want to grow both the business and their professional skill set. As a business owner, you need to ensure that staff feel they have room to expand their knowledge base. The best employees will always look elsewhere once they feel they have reached their ceiling at your company. Plus, if an employee isn’t hungry for development, is he the “A+” employee a startup needs to succeed?
— Mitch Gordon of Go Overseas
5. Failing to let employees do things their way
Your employees want to impress you and build a great company, so they frequently have unique sets of anxieties and concerns. In the early days, remember to stay patient and let your employees do things their way. Oftentimes, you’ll find that their way was a hell of a lot better than your way — that’s why you hired them in the first place!
— Gagan Biyani of Growth Hackers Conference
6. Trying to overextend employees’ skills
Early on, I tried to have my CFOs help me with business development. I quickly recognized that these finance professionals were great at what they did, but they were not salespeople. This taught me that as startup founders we have to build out our teams, allowing team members to focus on what they do best. Don’t try to get your employees to overextend themselves when they are not in a good position to do so.
— David Ehrenberg of Early Growth Financial Services
7. Hiring friends
Early on, I hired friends because I didn’t know any better. They turned out to be unreliable, often showing up late because they knew I couldn’t get too mad at them. It resulted in poor job performance and dissatisfied clients. I learned that you can only hire friends who agree with you on the importance of building the brand. Otherwise, just be friends outside of work.
— Nick Friedman of College Hunks Hauling Junk and College Hunks Moving
8. Resisting delegation
I took too long to remove myself from day-to-day tactical responsibilities. I had to learn the true responsibilities of the CEO and focus on high-leverage uses of my time.
— Robert J. Moore of RJMetrics
David Ehrenberg is the founder and CEO of Early Growth Financial Services, an outsourced financial services firm that provides startup founders and early-stage companies with accounting, finance, tax, valuation, and corporate governance services and support. He’s a financial expert and startup mentor, whose passion is helping businesses focus on what they do best. Follow David @EarlyGrowthFS.
What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made or witnessed other startup founders make? Share your experiences in the comments section below or contact Early Growth Financial Services for accounting support.
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