Entrepreneurial leaders have enormous prestige. Larry Page, Sara Blakely, Richard Branson and Elon Musk are iconic to an entire entrepreneurial-minded generation—shrouded in myths.
These myths make for good movie plots, but reality is often very different—especially for startup leaders.
Here are the 10 most common myths about startup leadership that I encountered when founding my own company.
1. You are a lone wolf.
The hero of the leadership world is the lone visionary; a person whose will and determination alone can make a company a global phenomenon. But the truth is every Steve Jobs has a Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne by their side.
When founding a company, you need to share responsibility and power among multiple leaders—ideally people with different skill sets. Not all businesses have co-founders, but a distinct benefit of having co-founders is that it enables you to bring knowledge and expertise into the company from the beginning, while building investor confidence.
2. A startup is all about you.
A startup is not about you: Startups are not vanity projects, but you will impact the success of your product. Get yourself in the public eye, work hard to become a thought leader in your field and champion the entire industry. Your enthusiasm and expertise will become useful to the company you are building: primarily useful visibility when attracting investors.
A professional, competent and thoughtful leader will always attract more investment than a wallflower.
3. Don’t listen to anyone, just your gut.
Sometimes, we can convince ourselves we do not need help from anyone. Yes, you need to sometimes trust your gut and go with it – but leverage the network you have built. The whole point of a startup is to act flexibly in pursuit of goals where other businesses rely on archaic structures. You have hired (or likely will hire) great people—now listen, and let them get on with it.
4. Leadership is all talk.
Startups are led by changemakers right? Gamechangers and trendsetters, who only need to use buzzwords to lead – the perception being all you need to do is convince people you are the most knowledgeable person in the room. True, leadership means being an expert, but actions will fulfil your real task as a leader, which is to cultivate brand champions and advocates.
5. Your idea needs to be inspiring.
Ideas are wonderful things. You can play with them, exchange them and discard them if they do not work. But let’s face it—the idea behind businesses is often not inspiring at all. You might be inspired, but you need to work from the premise that other people are not. This simple realisation will make you work harder on getting customers and employees behind your product. Your idea is good, but you need to show how good it is.
6. Startup leaders are all resting on their laurels.
The image of the chilled startup CEO playing ping-pong all day in sandals with waves crashing in the distance is (unfortunately) not true. Starting a business will require more stamina, determination and resilience than any other project you have undertaken.
Expect lows that no 11am game of pinball or spa treatment can assuage. Sure, you decide your own schedule, but building a business requires 100% dedication; set an example and be ultra-professional and competent—then you will gain the necessary trust of your team.
7. Startups are ready-made.
You have a big tech-stack behind your company. You have gorgeously crafted online advertising. You created a carefully-curated social media presence. But you are not shipping product. Why not? It’s not what your business needs.
As a startup leader, question every generally accepted practice around you, even if that means questioning the very basis of disciplines, including tech and online marketing. Be brave and get your business model right the first time, and do what is right for your business. Don’t just copy others.
8. Bye bye pension.
A clear path for promotion with future security assured. How could a startup compete with that? Well, the startup world may appear chaotic, but the truth is simple: starting your own business is a career advancement.
As leader, you are taking charge of your future, and shaping your own path. Use the many courses, mentors and incubators to improve your skill set and grow your network. Then take out a private pension plan while you are at it. Just because you are not spoon-fed opportunities does not mean they don’t exist.
9. Without you your company will fail.
Well, this one is kind of true. Without you as the beating heart of your company, it should perish. However, your aim should be to build something that can survive without you—this is the only vision which will ensure long-term success. Think of your company like a child. You want to nurture it and help it grow, but you do not want to make it dependent on you forever.
This article has been edited and condensed.
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