From Doer to Leader

Getting from a couple of entrepreneurs to a team of 5 or 20 employees is one of the most difficult tasks startup founders are facing. I call this the transition from being a doer to becoming a manager and then, eventually, a leader. In this post, I will try to provide some reasons why, next to some practical tips that you might find useful in handling such a transition.

Entrepreneurs are, by their very nature and before everything else, doers. You don’t really have that many options when you start with a team of, say, another one or two partners to pursue your crazy world-changing idea; you have to do pretty much everything by yourself. This indeed is a healthy approach and it seems to work pretty well to begin with it, especially in the pre-product, or also in the pre-revenues early stage of a technology company. However, heroism is neither sustainable nor efficient and a company is a living organization that needs to evolve to persevere.

For that to happen, granted everything is going well, the team grows and the entrepreneur realizes herself switching roles from, say, coding to hiring developers and from selling to clients to motivating employees to sell instead of herself. This does not come free of emotional baggage, imagine the parent at her child’s first day at school. Yet it is only desirable and the founders have to mature and live with it, actually learn how to embrace the new reality and build a team entrusting its members to perform, rather than micromanaging everything and feeling guilty just because they didn’t “contribute much” in every single irrelevant task.

The founders’ time does not grow proportionately to the size of the team, so some rules need to be put in place for the company to operate seamlessly and continue reaching one target after another. It is of utter importance to realize that you as an entrepreneur should offload micromanagement and every single minor task on their entirety, also not to feel paralyzed or kind of bad about it. Your time still is the company’s greatest asset and you should treat it like that by investing it in what matters for building and growing your company; tasks like bug detecting and making coffee should definitely not classify as such. In this context, here are some practical suggestions on how to run your team if that’s the case.

Set up 3 target outcomes per week for each employee. Remember to focus on outcomes, as opposed to tasks, which are each member’s job to figure out. Discuss openly and share these outcomes to all team members every Monday morning. Next Monday, everybody gets 2′ to share his progress with the team. If she hasn’t managed to tick all 3 boxes by Friday, she has a full weekend to finish everything, but she definitely has to do so by Monday morning. After all updates, share the targets for the next week. Be strict with your team, uniformly to everyone, if you want to get everybody to perform, for them to be happy in the long term as opposed to feeling relaxed in the short term.

Now, zoom out to the company level and write down 5 clear -ambitious yet tangible- targets for the ongoing month. Have these on a white board in front of your desk, to remind you your core priorities beyond day to day hassle. At the end of the month, write down which ones you succeeded at and which ones you had not, next to the ones you define for the new month. Put these, along with your basic operations metrics and core finance numbers in one page and share it with your investors, these are sufficient to get them engaged and updated. If you are lucky enough to have no investors, do the same exercise to summarize and share your updates with a virtual investor, for example assign this title to an advisor or friend and ask him to keep track of you. Keep in mind that in any case you benefit the most out of this process.

All these might sound far too simple to you; and simple they are, for simple rules are the ones that work and daily scrutiny cannot bear anything less simpler. I believe that such tips and practices might enforce a much required discipline in a young startup that will help it survive past the early growth stage. More importantly, these may ring a bell to founders feeling or acting in similar ways, and I hope this post is of value to make them act against such problems, as indecision usually leads to worse results. What’s more, far from such tips being cast in stone, I look forward to hearing your suggestions and experiences on what works and what doesn’t in taming the beast that a founder’s transition from doer to manager to leader is.

  • Konstantina K

    An amazing article. It has answered so many of my questions of why I feel burned out and unable to perform. With it's structure and advice I think I will be able to feel less guilty and more motivated towards my goals and outcomes! Thanks George!

  • Vaios Maniotis

    Thank you for this very interesting and helpful post. 
    To extend the idea even further, I have found very enlighting the habit of keeping a journal of goals through time, and revisiting it regularly every 3-6 months. 

    At that time I also complete my entries with the real outcome, as seen and understood after a sound period of time.

    It is amazing how this journal can record the change of ideas and targets that we set for ourseves and others. 

    One can see the passing on of personal targets to the team as time goes by, detect recurring themes that could be calling for pre-planning or automation or even detect which targets we repeatedly fail to achieve. 

    And the game goes on…. :-)