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Developing your startup’s greatest asset – YOU

March 9, 2016

Launching a new business is a huge undertaking and, like most entrepreneurs, I am sure that you will give huge amounts of time to considering your product/service, funding and business plan, but there is one crucial component to business success that is often neglected – YOU!

We gather endless feedback on whether our new product idea will be popular, we jump through endless hoops with investors to secure funding, but for some reason we seem to forget that the single biggest variable that will determine whether we succeed, or not, is our own talents and how we apply them to our new business.

Starting your own business will mean that you will be faced with many new challenges. You might need to become a leader of people, an expert at sales, a skilled networker or a persuasive fund-raiser.

The journey of a new business owner, means that you will be stretched and challenged like never before and so your own capabilities, style and fortitude are crucial parts of your business plan. And you need to work on developing yourself and your skills to give you and your startup the best chance of success.

Know thyself

Just as it is important to get honest feedback from experts on your business plan and products, isn’t it also important to get feedback on yourself.

  • What are your unique skills?
  • What inspires people when they talk to you?
  • What are you like as a boss?
  • What are you like under pressure?
  • What are your weaknesses and blind-spots?
  • What do you do that winds people up?

There are myriad questions that should be answered because they may have a direct bearing on whether your business will succeed.

Who to ask?

We know that we can ask accountants and bankers about the money, marketeers and sales people about the product, but who do we ask about ourselves?

Well there are HR experts and business psychologists out there (I am one of them), but in all honesty I wouldn’t start with us lot! The real experts on you are obviously the people who already know you well – your customers, colleagues, staff, friends and family.
Starting up develop yourself

How to ask?

Now the problem with asking people for feedback is that it is really hard to get an honest answer. Most of these people will like you and want to make you feel good.

Even if they don’t, then it is still quite hard to tell someone something negative, much easier to give them bland praise. So, the key is to find a way to make it easy for people to tell you the truth.

Don’t say:

“Am I a good leader?”

Do say:

“I have realised that I need to be a better leader, what things do you think I could do more of/less of/differently?”

How to react?

In my experience the single biggest thing that determines how honest the feedback you receive is, is the way in which you responded to the last set of feedback. Bluntly, if you get upset, dismiss, argue with or just plain ignore the feedback that you are given, don’t expect anyone except your mother to bother to try again.

If you get challenging feedback, say thank you, try to be curious but not defensive. Don’t try to justify yourself with “yes, buts”.

Ask whether there are certain situations where you are better or worse. Ask about the impact of your behaviour on others. If you are really finding it too challenging, at the very least just say, “Thanks so much, let me go away and think about that for a while.”

Popeye leadership

Getting feedback and subsequent self-insight is not enough. I often meet leaders who have a very vivid sense of what they do well or poorly and but then have no desire to be better. They become part of what I call the Popeye school of leadership.

“I yam what I yam an’ tha’s all I yam.”

They take pride in their difficult characters and expect the world to adapt to them. Now, there is a school of thought that supports this ideology to a certain degree.

Many experts will advocate a strengths based approach. In other words, you are defined by the good, unusual or distinctive qualities that you have and so you should play to them. “Don’t obsess about the weaknesses”, they say, some of the top entrepreneurs in the world are “quirky”.

To be honest, I have often given variation of the advice myself and usually it is true. However, just because some difficult and distinctive characters have done well, that doesn’t mean to say that many more haven’t failed because their spikiness was too, well, spikey.

Smoothing rough diamonds

Does that mean that we should try the opposite? Should we all try to round ourselves out and eliminate our weaknesses? Well despite it contradicting the above, I have also found myself sometimes giving this advice too.

Sometimes the weaknesses of a person just need to be addressed, they aren’t interesting part of their larger than life character, they are just flaws. The problem is that purely eliminating flaws isn’t enough. Sometimes you need an x-factor too.

My conclusion is that there isn’t a single best way to develop yourself. I don’t wholly believe that you should just play to strengths and I don’t wholly believe that you should focus on eliminating weaknesses. It would be too easy to say always do both, but that too may not be correct.

Instead you need to take a harder path of thinking about your own context, getting great feedback, pushing yourself to grow in one way and seeing the impact, then being prepared to change tack if you have got it wrong.

You wouldn’t stick to one product design if customers hated it, so don’t rest on your laurels when it comes to personal development.

About the author

This article has been written for ByteStart by Dr Paul Ballman, author of Red Pill: The Truth About Leadership. In 1998 he co-founded The Development Alliance and went on to join YSC where he worked for 17 years as an assessor, coach and consultant to the top levels of a range of clients in different sectors including Financial Services, FMCG, Retail, Pharmaceuticals and Mining.

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