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CEO – What Is Your Leadership Style?

There are two ways to build a startup. One option is to raise funds in a respectable round, which includes a lot of risk. The alternative is to raise a small amount of money and, together with a small but very loyal team… bootstrap.

I am a believer in the bootstrap approach and I embrace hands-on leadership. I believe that being an effective CEO means putting in the extra effort to learn alongside your employees, to roll up your sleeves and get down in the trenches with them, even though your title may not require it.

At the more mature stages of your business, being hands-on means supporting your employees on a more personal level. I am always open to one-on-one meetings from any employee within my company and encourage them to schedule time with me for candid and honest conversations.

There are three reasons why I think “hands-on” is the most valuable leadership style at any startup:

  1. You gain profound insight into all aspects of the business and will be able to see first hand what works and what does not work. When there are challenges that arise with the employees, you will be their first stop.
  1. You have your finger on the pulse, making it possible for you to be lithe and fast moving… and the bonus is you won’t burn a lot of cash in the process. I do not think that speedy execution is possible without bootstrapping. Had we been larger and slower, we would not have been able to take on as much risk.
  1. You earn more respect from your employees when you are down in the trenches with them, because you learn how every aspect of the business works. This allows you to develop closer relationships with your team, which increases retention.

Gaining experience in different areas of your business at the founding stages will enable you to speak the language of your employees and lead by example in the future. By learning from the ground up, you will be involved in all of the important conversations as the company grows.

Going from seed to mid-level, the biggest challenge in terms of my leadership style has been knowing when to stop doing things myself and start hiring or delegating instead. At a certain point, it is impossible to continue to be hands-on to the same degree. This is when you have to let trust kick in. Not being able to trust your employees is a huge pitfall that leads to micromanaging or holding up projects.

The hands-on approach also helps to ensure that new hires are correctly suited to the task at hand. It’s never just about their resumes, or their references, or my own instincts. The best way to be sure you’re hiring the right person, is by having actually done the job yourself before finding someone else to do it.

So, developing a hands-on leadership culture is a demonstration of commitment to trust, transparency and mutual respect. Spending quality time with my employees is something that we all value, since it so greatly improves the health of the business.

Getting down in the trenches may be part of a strong desire to learn and master tasks, and to understand how everything in an organization works. It may also demonstrate that you are there to support other people, to live in service to them in the name of the company’s greater good. But most frequently, being a hands-on leader requires taking personal responsibility and ownership, and approaching every situation as though the bucks stops with you.