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how to be a leader

Advice to Startup Leader — Non Leader’s Perspective

By Nate Friedman

October 11, 2018

Nate Friedman is a LaunchX alumnus and interned for LaunchX.  This article originally appeared here on Medium.  

Advice to Startup Leaders from a non Leader’s View

Startup leaders — you have read the lean startup, you may have several degrees, and you might have gained some very insightful advice from your teammate’s exit interviews — but I want to tell you what most exit interviewees will not say or what successful startup leader’s may omit from their presentations. I want to tell you from a teammate’s perspective of how you can greatly improve the overall productivity of your company. We use the word “teammate” and not employee because it is part of the startup culture to treat everyone like a teammate rather than as an employee, this is going to be vital to keep in mind when reading the tips below.

ideation

1. Think Tanks

Interns and entry level teammates have a fear that we are not on an equal playing field as everyone else. There is the “head of this” and the “head of that” sitting next to us, with whom we feel scared to voice our opinions in front of. We may shy away from mentioning a great idea that could greatly improve the company — out of fear that we lack credibility, because we haven’t done enough work yet to earn everyone’s ear. I am suggesting you hold a meeting where you tell everyone to bring at least one idea to improve the company in a broad sense, this offers a pedestal upon which we feel comfortable enough to speak on, because at that meeting one person equals one idea. I did an internship where our team leader held a lunch between the interns to speak about anything from work to how we were settling into this very different country. I took that lunch as an opportunity to voice my concerns about interns being undervalued — that lunch launched the beginning of a multifaceted rework of the intern program in that company. As a leader, it is important to solidify a culture in which it is okay for your teammates to come to you with new ideas. You can create an atmosphere where “your door is always open” — even when we have impending deadlines, and don’t want to make a fool out of ourselves by coming forward with an idea while we have yet to finish that spreadsheet that we were assigned. If you were to take a fraction of our idea into consideration, it will make doing that spreadsheet easier, we will feel valued which will lead to getting the grunt work done faster.

SWAG

2. Swag (Merchandise)

We are a unique generation — we care a lot about the company swag. That swag serves as a gentle reminder to our peers and ourselves that we are doing something with our life — and with the competitive nature of today’s world — those reminders come in handy. I once worked at a company where I never received a company shirt, I was told to look for one in the closet but they did not have my size — if you are not willing to give us a company shirt, we will not be motivated to work on an assignment because you have basically told us we are not worth a $1 shirt. If at the moment you had no merchandise, say something like “hey, we got a shirt coming with your name on it — what is your size?” This will motivate us and we’ll be sure to get back to work. I also worked at a company where we were given lanyards and shirts on day 1 which made us love our startup because she understood what that we care most about “feeling valued” and of course our Instagram.

teamwork

3. Offering help and encouragement.

If you see a teammate looking stressed/upset while working hard, try to put aside 30 seconds and say something like “hey how is it going, if there is anything I can help with — shoot me an email or we can talk after our meeting.” We don’t want to feel invisible at a startup, we want to feel human. The whole reason we joined a startup was to not feel invisible. Give an impromptu “I like the work you did with x project”, and I guarantee you it will make a bigger impact that you could have imagined. I once had a 1 on 1 meeting with our startup leader, and I was very worried that I was going to be told that I was slacking, but she said the opposite. I had a lot of things on my plate at the time but she said “I think your work has improved this month, you are more focused on each project.” This comment alone motivated me to get to work on a Friday night and I thought of an idea that is still implemented and woven in the company’s roots. On the contrary — I have had team leaders saying I was slacking but without giving any specifics, this led me to be worried about my job and fear is not a strong motivator for our generation. Our generation is most effective when we are happy and valued.

teamwork at sunset

4. Building a team that hangs out

We are all passionate about the startup’s idea that we joined. It can be challenging to get to know new people. However if you work at the same startup, it can really be worthwhile to share a lunch with your team and openly exchange ideas. If you don’t see at least some of your teammate’s having lunch together, it’s a red flag — it means there is an environment that people still don’t feel comfortable enough approaching one another and it is up to you to break that spell. There is no harm in sending the head of marketing to get lunch with a programming intern — that sounds like an awesome lunch. So the next time you see someone eating alone — look for another teammate with whom you think they’d hit it off and tell them to ask us to lunch the next day, we’d never know you told them to them to invite us.

Write to me at nufriedman@umass.com

I love constructive feedback — clearly.