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How to be an inspirational start-up leader

Anyone who starts a business needs great leadership skills. But what does that mean exactly? Read our expert guide and find out what makes an inspirational leader and how to motivate your start-up team.

Leadership skills are essential for all business owners – but even more so for start-ups. When you’re building a business that’s breaking new ground and bringing a vision to life, you’ll need to inspire, motivate and support your team to give your new venture the best chance of success.

Leadership skills can be learned, improved and developed – benefiting you and your team. From improved communication and effective decision-making to boosting staff morale and excellent customer service, being an inspirational leader touches all aspects of your business.


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Why does being an inspirational leader matter for start-ups?

When starting a new business, it can seem that leadership isn’t a priority. Between juggling marketing, sales and finances, investing time in developing leadership skills may feel like a distraction from the day-to-day focus on growing your business.

Yet leadership matters for start-ups. While you don’t have to display leadership skills 24/7, new business owners are de facto leaders, and the actions you take will determine how well your fledgling business navigates the start-up phase.

Start-up leadership has a directly impact on the following:

  • Decision-making – new business owners are responsible for making important calls and the final decision on business-critical issues, such as investing in marketing to setting pricing.
  • Direction – you’ll need to communicate your vision for your business, bring your business idea to life for employees, customers and investors, and plot a path to success.
  • Brand – start-up owners are typically the ‘face’ of the business, with their story and mission a vital part of the brand, which plays a significant role in press coverage.
  • Team – who you hire, your company culture, values and how employees work as a team, all stem from your leadership. Employees can take your lead based on how you behave – if you work hard, demonstrate personal responsibility and provide excellent customer service, your team may be more likely to follow suit.

Don’t worry if you think you lack leadership skills. Not only can you learn them, but it’s during critical moments that outstanding leadership shines.


How to be an inspirational leader

Great business leaders walk the walk. They demonstrate leadership by their actions and activities rather than by talking. Deeds matter, and good leaders behave how they want their team to act.


1. Personal responsibility

Leadership is anchored in taking responsibility for your actions rather than blaming others or situations. This means owning outcomes, taking responsibility when things don’t work out, and actively learning from mistakes and missteps. Leaders are good at making decisions – even unpopular ones – and are willing to act selflessly and in the broader interests of the team.


2. Planning and insight

While some business leaders leap in feet first, it’s often wiser to reach an insightful judgement based on data, research and evidence. Good leaders will take time to plan growth and research markets and competitors rather than operate purely on instinct. This can make sure the business is on a sound footing as it expands, with careful decision-making grounded in reality.


3. Support and empathy

Anticipating employee needs is a crucial trait of a good leader. Rather than reacting to requests for support from staff, actively providing resources and tools to execute tasks effectively can boost productivity and engagement. Take time to understand what your team needs to do their job, and actively listen to their challenges to find ways to support them.


4. Vision

Being able to see the big picture can help make sure your business stays on track rather than get bogged down in day-to-day activities. But leadership isn’t just about visionary ideas. You’ll need to develop skills in seeing the road ahead and translate that into the tasks, milestones and goals that your team can act upon.


5. Motivation

Unless you’re working alongside an equally motivated business partner or your team has a stake in the business, working in your organisation is simply a job for most of your employees. They may lack your passion and desire for the company to succeed. As a leader, you’ll need to recognise what motivates your team – from financial rewards and perks such as gym membership to increased responsibility or simply a well-earned ‘thank you’.


6. Communication

Well-intentioned leadership and business goals can get lost in translation. Good leaders focus on communication, making sure the people below them understand and act upon their plans and ideas. They take time to clarify issues and change how they communicate depending on who they are talking to. Communication is a two-way street. Good leaders actively listen, investing time to hear what an employee or customer is actually saying.


7. Confidence and passion

Starting a business is hard work. In the early days, extended hours are often accompanied by scant reward. There are many unknowns when launching a new business, and if you’re not careful, uncertainty can abound. When things are less certain, and the going is tough, good leaders dig deep with traits such as passion and confidence.


8. Personal traits

While you can learn many leadership skills, some are built on personal traits. It can be a good idea to actively demonstrate positive characteristics such as:

  • being open-minded when listening to ideas from employees
  • being open and approachable
  • remaining optimistic in challenging times

Employees are acutely aware of how you behave. To avoid creating a negative culture in the workplace, demonstrate positivity, praise and accept mistakes and failures as part of growing a business. Understanding that no-one is perfect and being flexible and supportive to your team can help improve engagement.


Learn with Start Up Loans and boost your leadership skills

Want to discover more about being a leader and managing employees? Check out our free online courses in partnership with the Open University on developing effective entrepreneurial skills. Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses include:

Plus free courses on finance and accounting, marketing, project management and business sustainability.

Disclaimer: While we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.

Feeling inspired?