Talking about a revolution – 3 leadership lessons from the Startup world

I have never fully bought into the whole 4th Industrial revolution hype – a massive evolution and incredible innovation in technology that’s changing the way we live and work – absolutely! But a revolution? “A sudden, radical, or complete change”? Mmmm not convinced. I can buy into an evolution…for sure. 

But this! This time! These days! The times we are living in right now in 2020…this my friends, is a revolution! A revolution the likes we have not seen in our lifetimes. A revolution that is poised to change our world in more ways than we can even imagine today.

So, as we sit, locked in our varying forms of isolation, trying to adjust and hold onto the last threads of our sanity; how can we think about adjusting the way we lead our teams and businesses so that we can adjust to this incredible change? Who do we look to figure out what post-revolutionary leadership will look like?

Interestingly, it’s to the very group of 4th Industrial revolution proponents I mention above – The Startup ecosystem.  This fascinating group of pioneers have found ways to work in challenging ecosystems, to create futures out of adversity, to lead in an uncertain future. So, what can we as leaders learn from the startup world as we navigate our own, most certainly, uncertain future

You cannot shrink yourself to greatness

This quote by one of the most inspirational women I know, Zelda Roscherr, is at the heart of the startup culture. (OK so it came from Tom Peters “You Can’t Shrink Your Way to Greatness” but let’s not digress). A relentless focus on costs isn’t going to change the world, nor is it going to inspire anyone. Don’t get me wrong, being financially responsible is essential, especially in these times, but it cannot consume our entire organizational awareness. 

Startups focus on meeting client needs in a whole new way.  A better way.  A more logical way that suits the client needs of today. They are laser-focused on delivery.

We need to be focusing our teams on this inspirational future.  We need them to be inspired into creating and inventing new products and ways of working.  We need them to be focusing on the needs of our clients and how to meet those in new and innovative ways.

What is innovation other than using the “tech” and means that we have today to meet our clients’ needs in a whole new way?  The only way we will survive the revolution is to keep our clients at the heart of our organization and to create new ways of meeting their needs.

Pick a great team and trust them

The art of picking a great team has been widely explored in leadership literature, and I truly believe that most organizations have got their recruitment process down to a fine art.  Most can find incredible people and inspire them to join the team.

And then it all goes wrong. 

Too many organizations find incredible humans and then do their very best to break them.  To squeeze them into the “this is how we do it here” mold.  “The way we do it here” simply will not get you anywhere in a world where everything has changed.

Startups do the complete opposite – they find incredible humans and let them be, well, incredible. They trust that the people they hire can do the work they were hired to do…and more. Mostly because they simply do not have the bandwidth or time to be watching over people, there is simply too much to do with very limited resources, but also because they get that they are not perfect, they get that they need other skills in their team to complement their own; and so they trust the team to do the work they simply cannot do as well.

In a post-revolutionary world where our workplaces may look completely different, we are going to need to be great at hiring great people, and even better at letting them keep being great! And being great the way they do it, not the “the way we do it here”.

We live in an ecosystem; no species survives on its own

Startups know that they are too small to go it alone, they understand collaboration and ecosystems, and they use the ecosystem around them to mutual benefit.  They understand that generosity has velocity, and that if we help and learn from one another, we can all move forward faster. Partnership plays a significant role in the business model.

Corporate thinking has grown more and more to owning the ecosystem or dominating rather than partnering.  We are very quickly seeing that as humans we need each other.  This applies to our communities and countries, but it applies as much to our economical ecosystems.  We need to help one another; we need to be kind to our partners and suppliers and clients and employees.  We need to recognize that if we work together differently, we will all get there faster. 

This concept flows all the way through our organization, from the way we sell and the way we create products and services, to the way source talent.  We are moving to world where people become part of an ecosystem rather than corporate assets and where the way those people partnerships work will be completely different.

So how we do we survive the revolution? Take this time as a gift.  A unique opportunity to pivot, to review where you are at in your organization and to play that forward; to play the scenarios out. This is the time to go back to basics and remember the magic that is at the heart of what you do, the thing that makes your organization incredible and to focus all of your energy on turning the volume right up on exactly that!  Remind yourself that your clients are why you exist; that your people are incredible, so find new ways to let them be just that; of course, collaborate and, dare I say, be kind to each other.

God bless you all, stay safe out there.

P.S. this article was not intended to spark a debate around what a revolution is or isn’t but, by way of interest, this image from a 2019 paper by Mario Coccia seems to validate my thinking (in my mind anyway).

A screenshot of a cell phone

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