Top Startup Leadership Qualities…. that Aren’t

When people talk about leadership, usually they will discuss such qualities as respect for oneself and others, being a visionary, being wise and humble, amongst others. However, not as many talk about what leadership qualities aren’t. While it is good to focus on the qualities that mark a great leader for a startup, it is just as important to have a clear understanding of what leadership qualities aren’t about so that potential leaders don’t fall into a trap that may derail their startups’ path to success.

1. Leadership is not management

A common mistake made by most is the assumption that to lead is to manage. To put it bluntly, managers maintain the work, while leaders lead people. Sometimes both roles are performed by the same individual, but oftentimes this isn’t the case. Managers care about the tasks and functions, leaders bring out the best of the people under their care. As the visionary Peter Drucker once said, “One does not manage people…the task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”

2. Leadership is not all about you

Or to put it another way, drop the ego. Be willing to learn and admit mistakes, be willing to be humbled, be willing to acknowledge the contributions and support of others. Great leaders, when asked about themselves, often give credit to others for getting them to where they are today. Leaders are willing to make personal sacrifices so that they can lead their people or startup to achieve a higher calling or goal that is often greater than themselves.

3. Leadership is not a list of personality traits

Charismatic? Extroverted? Dominant? Confident? These are often the personality traits that most people assume a great leader should have to successfully lead a startup. The truth is, throughout history and the world, great startup leaders have risen that have displayed varying degrees of personality traits and temperaments and have proven their mettle. It is not necessary for a startup’s leader to fit a cookie-cutter mold of being charismatic with a winning smile and larger-than-life personality; they can be quiet and unassuming and yet still successfully lead their startup to great heights.

4. Leadership is not about positional power or titles

Simply having a title or being in a position of power does not mean that one will automatically become a good, effective startup leader. Having a company car, a big office, or private jet may denote that the person is in a position of power and influence, but it does not mean that the person possesses true leadership qualities. A visionary leader of a new startup just taking off the ground may arrive on his or her scooter to a conference or meeting. Leadership also does not imply being in a position in the hierarchy to “lord over” someone else. When you think of the stereotypical boss that merely gives orders and uses fear to rule over his underlings, yes, don’t be that guy.

To have a startup rise from its beginning and successfully achieve its vision or goal requires the guidance of a good leader. We have shown here that it is just as important to understand and clear any obstructions to our thinking about any misconceptions about what true leadership is not. When seeking the next hidden gem of a startup, it is important to look at who is leading it and determine whether that person possesses the leadership qualities for guiding the startup to success.