Grow Your Startup By Growing Leaders

What is your job as an entrepreneur in your startup? There are countless demands on your time and energy as you grow your company, from paying suppliers, to collecting from customers, your time is strapped! But, of all the important things that you need to be doing, what is the most important? How do you know what your priority is?

What if I told you your priority as a leader and entrepreneur is the success of all those you lead? What if I told you the thing that should occupy most of your mental energy, should be the central focus of your role description as a leader, is the process and progress of building everyone else in your organization?

I think most leaders would agree that employee empowerment and engagement is critical, even essential, to the growth of the business. But why is it that, according to a recent gallup report on employee engagement in India, only 9% of employees feel like they are engaged at their place of employment? Well how do you do this? How do we grow our people so that they grow our startup?

Relationship is the key to building leaders in a Startup

Believe it or not, the key to building leaders is relationship. Let me explain. Everyone who joins your organization is a unique individual, with unique aspirations and hopes and dreams. When you make a hire, you probably are looking for a unique set of skills, degrees, abilities, and qualifications. But we all know that’s not what makes the person. At our core we’re made for relationship and it’s relationship that either keeps them there or what makes them leave you. Yes, believing in the vision of the startup is important. Yes, adequate compensation and remuneration is important to retain talent. But at the end of the day, if your boss genuinely cares for you and there is a relationship that is more than just a boss-employee transactional agreement, then your employees will feel more attached to the organization.

You see, leadership development is a whole lot more holistic that we usually think it is. It’s more than a set of trainings, pay raises, incentives, and performance management systems. As a leader we’re in the people building business and your job is to help your employees grow towards their desired goals. Your job is to join them on their growth plan and to see them through towards greatness.

What if I told you that your job as a leader is to make everyone who reports to you the best possible version of themselves? Your job is to essentially make them better than you. I know that’s a bit hard to hear, and that probably raises more questions than it answers, but imagine if that’s how your boss treated you? Wouldn’t you want a manager that spent energy and effort intentionally developing you, preparing you, and encouraging you to become the best version of you? Now be the manager you wish you had! So how do you do it?

Building leaders in a Startup is a process!

I’m going to introduce a simple process of growing and empowering the leaders in your startup. Often times when we think about leading people we tend to fall off on one of two sides of the road to leadership development. Either we delegate too much too soon or we direct and micromanage too much. Let me explain what I mean.

The Director. We all know the leader who barks orders at his employees. But what the director hasn’t learned is what is limiting him in his leadership and limiting his startup. He hasn’t learned how much more he can accomplish, how much more productive his team can be, if he doesn’t micromanage every project or every vertical in the organization. If he had simply learned how to build leaders who would build the organization, he’d stop feeling like everything rested on his shoulders. In the wake of the Director you’ll find a slew of bodies of burned out employees, disheartened because they never grew at work nor were ever trusted to do much more than the menial tasks. But on the other side of the road we find the Delegator.

The Delegator. We all know the leader who thinks empowerment is simply delegating responsibilities. Well, not quite. You see, the Delegator has learned that they can’t do everything (something the Director hasn’t learned yet) but the Delegator just wants to get as many monkeys off her back as quickly as possible and might be delegating without properly preparing those to whom she’s delegating. Often times in the wake of the Delegator we find missed opportunities, poor quality, shoddy results, and frustrated employees. They’re frustrated because they were asked too much too soon.

So how do we intentionally build our people without falling off on either side of the leadership development road? Follow this four step process to begin seeing your company grow in developing leaders. (Note: This model is based on Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model)

Train: It’s really important before you delegate or empower someone to first train them in what you want them to do. What are your expectations? What are your goals? How do they go about doing what you expect them to do? If you delegate too soon, or if your philosophy of leadership development is “sink or swim” you’ll find that you won’t get the results out of your team unless you first set clear expectations and communicate the “how” and the “why” that they’re doing. Another good way to formulate this step is to approach it from the “I do, you watch” type of training. If you know how to do it, let them follow your lead until they are well aware of how you do it.

Coach: Many leaders also leave out the next two steps which are critical to developing your leaders. Coaching simply means helping them understand what’s behind the process. Helping them get their feet wet in learning to do what you are trying to help them learn. You can approach coaching from a “I do, you help” and all the while giving feedback and pointers to help them get the fundamentals.

Support: Once your employee has the fundamentals down, you shift positions with them. No longer are you doing and they’re helping, but they’re doing and you’re helping. You’re giving feedback, you’re encouraging them, you’re supporting what you’ve trained and coached them to do, and now you are there mainly to help them accomplish the task.

Empower: Finally you can delegate fully, with confidence and trust, as you’ve made a leader. They now can execute what you’ve asked them to do and you can simply watch as they do it. So what do you do now? Repeat the process as many times as it takes to grow your leaders and help them achieve great things for your organization!

As you develop more and more leaders in your startup you will find that they’ll begin doing the same thing to others that they’re working with. This process is almost better caught than taught! And once a startup catches and creates a DNA of leadership development and employee empowerment, well, the sky’s the limit!


Jonathan Iverson works with start-ups and small businesses to help them start, scale, improve efficiencies, and tackle the everyday challenges they run up against.

Currently a Senior Partner at Versys, a consultancy firm that offers services tuned towards small businesses and entrepreneurs, he also oversees operations at the Business Lab, a co-working space in Bangalore.

In addition, Jonathan is also a trainer at the Business Development Center Bangalore, a program that aims to train and support entrepreneurs to start and grow successful businesses.