When people think of leadership, they often think of charismatic speakers preaching to a captivated audience. We see this type of leader aggrandized in the media every day, and we're led to think we must emulate that to be effective. Over the past two years building my startup, though, I've learned that leadership is a lot more nuanced. There are actually three different leadership abilities that in together — not seperately — determine your effectiveness.
The ability to "inspire"
This is the classic idea of leadership, but it's not just about yelling to an army on a horse. People are driven by many things — recognition, wealth, power, affiliation, impact, self-improvement, validation and more. Inspiration is telling people a story that allows them to see themselves as who they aspire to be.
Some leaders construct a narrative and count on their delivery to inspire in aggregate. This is Coach Brooks telling Team USA that "great moments are born from great opportunity." It's Steve Jobs imploring Stanford graduates to "stay hungry, stay foolish." It's Martin Luther King Jr. shouting "I have a dream" on the Lincoln Memorial. It's Winston Churchill rallying a nation ravaged by war with Nazi Germany to "fight them on the beaches."
If we're being honest, I don't quite fit this mold. I think faster than I speak, so my suppressed nerdiness emerges when I stumble over words or forget to make an important point. But put me one-on-one at a table in a somewhat noisy bar with two beers, and I'm in my element. I put individual motivations at the heart of the narrative. I make eye contact. Most importantly, I have a measured amount of passion and enthusiasm that comes across as more genuine in intimate settings.
You don't have to give The Greatest Speech Ever Made to inspire. You just need to understand what style will make your narrative resonate.
The ability to set expectations and stay out of the way
Everyone should have a clear definition of "success." Whether it's a feature, a metrics goal, or a company milestone, you should go out of your way to get group buy-in on expectations. You'd be amazed at what an explicit target does for motivation and productivity.
Clear expectations give you a single metric of accountability: did we get done what we said we would? When that's the case, you free yourself from micromanaging. You don't think about whether people are leaving early to catch a concert, or whether you see people on Hacker News throughout the day. More importantly, group buy-in ensures that everyone knows what they're working on is meaningful. There's nothing more frustrating than spending your time on a blog post, new logo concept or feature, only to have someone say, "Why haven't you been working on X?" or "Is that really the best way to spend your time?"
Lastly, your expectations should always have a time frame, not a deadline. That's why I really like "sprints" in agile development — a process by which the team decides what is most important to do in a given period. Rather than attaching arbitrary deadlines to individual tasks, we evaluate the success or failure of the sprint as a whole every other Friday. Chunking things into defined, structured sprints also avoids the demotivating feeling of an infinite to-do list.
Don't underestimate how hard staying out of the way is. I'm still working on it.
The ability to facilitate
This is the most underrated trait of a leader. It's the job that goes unnoticed, manifesting itself in a thousand little things as opposed to grandiose actions. Once expectations are set and people are motivated, a leader's only role is to ensure that nothing — no matter how small — stands in the organization's way of achieving its goals.
Sure, this is often tied to big daunting tasks like attracting funding or recruiting additional people to the team. But a relentless focus on removing the little things that hold back momentum is just as important and often overlooked. Is there a bug with the Android cursor that is halting progress? Mine your network and post in every group you're a part of to find an expert in Android Web development. Does the team need more testers for a new release? Message every user you know over Facebook or email. Is there trouble integrating with a new technology vendor? Get on the phone with their CEO to bring one of their people into the office to look at code with the team.
If something stands in the way of the team, it's your job to remove it. When you make it explicit that your job is to facilitate the job of those around you, you're not a "boss" or "manager" or even a CEO. You're a leader.
Alex Schiff is the founder and chief executive officer of Fetchnotes, which makes productivity as simple as a tweet. Prior to Fetchnotes, Alex was the vice president of Benzinga and a student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.