In his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, tech leader and Andreessen Horowitz cofounder Ben Horowitz discusses the many lessons he’s learned at the helm of a struggling startup. Horowitz, and countless others before and after him, have spent a lot of time, money, and effort learning lessons about leadership in this new, tech-heavy world. Some of them have crashed and burned after these lessons. Others, like Horowitz, followed their innate leadership wisdom and ended up thriving.
Today, I’m going to spare you the potential for crashing and burning by compiling a list of leadership tips that can help your company thrive—whether you’re a struggling startup in Silicon Valley or an insurance agency in middle America.
1. Hire great people. A strong leader looks like a superhero when he or she has a great staff supporting them. But it’s not just about hiring the people you like the most or who have the most impressive resumes; it’s about hiring those who are best-suited to excel in the position you have for them.
2. Create clearly defined objectives. Both your standards of conduct and your progress expectations should be made clear to employees in every position—from the mailroom up to the boardroom. Moving goal posts and giving murky, unspecific expectations sabotage your team and do nothing for motivation.
3. Let your employees do their jobs—don’t micromanage them. Many people believe that great leaders are involved in everything. But the best leaders establish clear standards and expectations and allow their employees the freedom to meet these objectives on their own. Theodore Roosevelt said it best when he said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
4. Remember that honesty breeds both respect and loyalty. Throughout his career, Horowitz was faced with many opportunities to disguise the truth about troubles his companies were facing and to tell employees that there were no big problems. Because he instead chose to be honest with employees, he ended up with a team that respected him and was dedicated to the success of the company—even when it looked like the business wasn’t going to make it. While you don’t have to share every detail as it comes to light, you should always strive to be honest with employees so they understand the upcoming risks and rewards.
5. Ultimately, integrity is the glue that holds all leadership qualities together. Building a stellar team, setting clear objectives, trusting the talent and unapologetic honesty require integrity of word and deed. Sure, there will be examples of leaders who have “succeeded” without it, but history has tended to favour those with this valuable trait. They’re the protagonists we’ve come to know and love; the heroes of their stories, their nations and their teams. So when the hard things about building a business arise (and they will) fall back on these tips and take the high road.
Always striving to do your best in even the toughest situations will be worth the peace of mind.