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It’s not so complicated: Leadership in Startups
In startups, effective leadership goes way beyond the KPIs.
Great leaders play a role in the long-term growth of team members.
Great leaders aren’t afraid to lose people from their team when they realize they have outgrown them.
They can tell people they can do so much more.
In this episode, join Ammarah Ahmed to learn more about leadership in startups.
You’ll hear about:
- why is leadership in startups important
- skills of an effective leader
- leaders vs managers
- what makes ineffective leaders
- how to become a great startup leader
And all these in less than 13 min.
Ammarah Ahmed: Hi, my name is Ammarah, I’m the VP for Business Growth and Performance. So what I essentially do is look at a business help it grow, look at its business health, and do daily problem solving.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Ammarah, welcome to the Growth Mentor Podcast. I’m excited to learn more from you about effective leadership, which is a very interesting topic. And your background says it’s so. So, could you tell us something we don’t know about effective leadership?
Ammarah Ahmed: Absolutely. I think one major misconception is that often a lot of people look at leadership and they look at it from a corporate perspective. For me, I think being a leader is a very service industry job you are in service of the people who you are leading. It’s it’s more bottom up than top down. And I think that’s one of like, the biggest misconceptions, a lot of people approach it from that perspective. But I think it needs to be looked at as a service that you’re providing, and kind of how you improve yourself on that front.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Thanks for sharing this thing that I didn’t know, actually. So, what makes an effective leader? Like what are the skills or the traits that makes an effective leader?
Ammarah Ahmed: I think for for effective leader, there’s four main points, you have to be authentic, you have to have integrity, you have to have empathy, and you have to have self-confidence. If you’re lacking in any of these things, that kind of takes away both your effectiveness in the role and also the experience of the people or the team that you’re leading.
Spyros Tsoukalas: And why is that important?
Ammarah Ahmed: So, being authentic is very important. Because when you talk about being authentic, you have to be vulnerable, if you’re not vulnerable, your team will not be vulnerable with you. And without, you know, a sense of vulnerability, there is no trust. And it’s very important for for that relationship to grow, for there to be trust. And, again, kind of helping that trust grow comes from empathy, and really being in the other person’s shoes, because it’s not about just kind of, you know, getting things done, it’s about helping individuals grow by really understanding what their personal goals and dreams are. And integrity is very important. Because if they don’t see you making the difficult but right choices, and kind of taking the easy way out, then that’s the sort of mindset that you kind of like instill in them. And then self-confidence at the same time. So you have to have authenticity, you have to be able to acknowledge, you know, certain areas where, which are your weaknesses, but at the same time, you have to be self confidence, you have to be the sort of person who you know, or is able to take a decision in a time sensitive situation, because if at that moment, you kind of just like looked at him and goes, Oh, what do we do? Everybody is equally confused, and they have to be able to look up to you. So I think it’s very important to have that confidence in your expertise and your skills and your yourself to sort of lead them properly.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Definitely, that was a great explanation about the question I shared. So, I have been discussing it with my friends in a more personal, more personal cases, discussing the differences between captains and leaders, especially in sports teams. So, I think a good analogy here is leaders versus managers. So would you elaborate on that?
Ammarah Ahmed: Yeah. When I think of managers, there’s two things, I think, firstly, managers are generally, it’s something that could only be applicable in the corporate world, we’re sort of moving away from that, you know, system. And I think leaders is something that can be applicable to anybody. So it could be a leader of a robotics team, as you mentioned, or it could be the leader of like, you know, group projects, or it could be a leader in the actual corporate setting. But the main def, like defining characteristic for me is that a manager is going to be somebody who gets you to achieve the KPIs and the targets. A leader is going to be somebody who goes beyond that. These are the people that you refer to, as having, you know, had played a role in your personal growth long after you left the company. This is not a company specific relationship that you build. It’s not just linked to the KPIs, you really go forth and say, Okay, this is how you have to grow. A manager is going to find good people and want to keep them in the team because it gets the job done. A leader is going to say, You know what, you get the job done, but you have the potential to do so much more, and they’re going to keep losing their people but to hire better positions. Their people will keep getting promoted, because that’s how good of a leader they are.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Do you have any good counter examples, no names mention of bad leadership?
Ammarah Ahmed: Yeah, um, I think, some mistakes that happen, you know, especially if you talk about, like startups, a lot of the time, I feel like, the leaders don’t reach out for help. So, I know I started like self confidence is very important. But at the same time, it’s impossible for one person to be a master of every skill. And there’s a lot of different components that take for a business or for a company, or for a startup to grow. Right? And if you are not able to acknowledge what isn’t your strong suit, and sort of reach out for help and say, you don’t want, I’m great at product, but I’ve actually never led like a huge, like, 200 people team before, how do we sort of like do that, right, and, you know, make sure that we are creating a good employee experience, then that’s really going to have an effect on the way you’re able to lead the team. And, as, you know, invulnerable as you may seem, it doesn’t really do you any favours in the long term.
Spyros Tsoukalas: And let’s say that those leaders wanted to improve and become more effective or better leaders, how can someone become an effective leader?
Ammarah Ahmed: I think it’s a lot about self reflection, really spending the time to figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are. And you can work on your weaknesses in two parts. A, it could be something where you know, you carry out you take classes, you personally develop those skills, or, you know, you hire the specialist, and you trust their opinion, and you kind of like, use them to increase your knowledge, but really, like, you know, the decision making kind of gets forwarded to them. And then also, I think it’s, you know, about using the resources available to you. So, for example, a lot of the times people, you know, just go with gut feelings, I think a good way to become a better leader, especially in today’s world, is to use data, right? So data is very, very important. Instead of saying, like, we think the customer is doing XYZ, because of, you know, this is how genuinely I perceive humans to be, a lot of times we make very incorrect assumptions, all you have to do is really go out there and speak to the customer. And that could be through primary channels, where you’re actually holding like focus or groups and like interviews with these customers, or even just looking at the data of how they’re interacting with your platform. And kind of using that to really understand why something is working, or why something isn’t working, or why, you know, a certain project may be good, a good idea, if you’re starting something from scratch, a lot of the times, you know, you may think that we don’t have any data whatsoever that could help us substantiate whether or not this is a good idea. And though that may be true, in certain cases, there is almost always parts of that problem that you can actually, you know, evaluate using the data that you currently have. It’s just a matter of looking at what you have, and kind of letting it guide you and give you the insights, instead of just going with, you know, we think this could be a good idea. Let’s go test it out without any sort of like a benchmark built in.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Humberto de Oliveira and other mentor who will call it a an episode recently mentioned, talking about that, after a certain point, gut feeling is not scalable. And it’s exactly what you were just saying. Yeah, absolutely. Do startups face more challenges with all those variables that you added in the equation of a good leader? Like, how do startups? How would startup deal with the actual challenges that they face plus good leadership?
Ammarah Ahmed: I think they do at times, especially today, because a lot of the startup founders are fairly young. And though that comes with a lot of, you know, looking at things from fresh eyes, a lot of creativity, a lot of the youthful sort of excitement and effort. There is something like after working for, you know, eight years, I think there is something to be said for experienced individuals. And there’s something to be said for the wisdom that is acquired after actually going through years and years of experience and kind of like going through those instances. So I think they struggle often because though their hearts may be in the right places. They’re, you know, their focus is in the right place. They simply don’t have the real world experience that can help them sort of navigate a lot of these situations. And the reason it gets so tricky is because a lot of the time startups are very lean, you know, you can’t really go in with like 300 people on your team. So you’re wearing multiple hats. So, in order for you to be able to effectively do that, you have to manage a lot of different relationships, kind of keep that team morale up, really empower people and motivate them to be able to do so many different things. And you’re not going to be able to do that if you’re not an effective leader. Because essentially, every day you have to inspire them, you know, you can’t simply tell them to get a job done. They need to be truly inspired to give it their 200%. And that’s what startups require. They require 200% of you, right? So, I think that’s some of the places where a lot of the startup leaders struggle, and where effective leadership can really sort of help them yet there.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Being there, experienced that. So, last question for the day, what’s the role of technology in all these? How can tools or technology help people become better leaders?
Ammarah Ahmed: I think there’s a lot that can sort of help ease that, for example, a lot of the times, you know, tools like Trello tools, like even something as simple as the Google suite, and like G docs and G sheets, is very helpful, because it puts everything in one place. And so instead of having to kind of track down five, six different individuals see like what’s happening in each of these steps, because you have to remember, in a startup, as important as effective leadership is, these guys are running on very little time and a lot to do. So they’re every time has to be used, you know, very effectively. So, if they’re able to sort of get this information in a simple glance, or like, you know, kind of communicate and pass on this information to their teams from a single platform, like they’re updating the status of the project that they’re running on, on Trello, they’re updating, you know, the Figma files there, everything’s available on Figma file and everybody can sort of pass on through the prototype and just leave the comments there, instead of having to have separate meetings with these individuals. If the daily, you know, review is like already updated on G sheets, because your Shopify is like easily linked to that. And these are simple tools where you don’t have to initially invest a lot of money. And it just gets it gets the job done in like a dirty and quick way. And that’s all you really need when you’re starting up.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Ammarah, thank you very much for this amazing episode. And I hope people listen to it. We’ll learn as many things as I did.
Ammarah Ahmed: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
In this episode
What I love to do is solve puzzles and problems with data. After having worked in different business models in the tech industry such as Healthtech, E-commerce and Q-Commerce in over 6 different international markets, I can say that I’ve gotten very good at them.
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