Overcoming Leadership Hurdles for Technical Founders

Discover how technical founders can overcome common leadership hurdles and steer their growth-stage companies toward success with actionable insights.

Overcoming Leadership Hurdles for Technical Founders

The Leadership Hurdles Technical Founders Face and How to Overcome them.

The best and the worst thing about starting a new business is that you don’t know what you don’t know: you are able to do all those things that nobody told you that you couldn’t do, but you haven’t yet taken advantage of the things that could make your path go that much easier.  Each time I advise a young, ambitious business owner, I am amazed by the energy, vision, drive, zeal, optimism and – dare I say – naiveite that gets them started down the path of entrepreneurship. But the leadership hurdles they face are all but unknown at this point.

My 19-year-old son is one of those guys.

He is an amateur boxer, college student and part time trainer. In our conversations, he said to me that he would be able to coach people while he is in school to make some money. Cool. That is great. I thought I would speak with him about his aspiration:

“Okay, son…how is this going to work?” I asked, curious and excited for him.

“Well, I’ll just charge them each month, then give them 4 boxing sessions. And I already have 2 customers!” he excitedly tells me.

Back of my mind – okay – friends and family…not a business, but…

“Okay…sounds good. How do you track their progress, so they know that they are getting their money’s worth?” I ask.

His eyes glazed over.

“Okay,” I thought to myself, “that will be another conversation at another time.”

Thumbs up to him for going out and getting it done. He has those 2 clients and has attracted a couple more.  He has enough income to cover his meal plan.

If life was only that simple, right?

Leadership Hurdle Number 1: Your Leadership Style

Like my son, when you started your business, you just went out and got stuff done. I know that was the case with me  in each of my businesses.  Because it was the shiny new thing, it is where I put my time, energy, and focus, moving mountains by sheer will power.

After being in business for a while, you may realize that there are others that you need to recruit to help you with the business. Whether friends and family, contractors, or employees, it is a new phase in your business and leadership development. I have seen people jump into that pool with a great product / service but discovered very quickly that they hated managing people.

The thing about it is that it isn’t necessarily the people that are hired. Sometimes it is the lack of structure in the organization, leading to lower productivity. Sometimes it is the leadership or management style. As a leader, this is a great opportunity for us to look at things for what they really are. First, you need to understand what kind of leader you are and how you tend to lead people. Are you:

  • the tip of the spear – everyone falls in behind you,
  • the team captain that provides direction, has a role, and has other people in other roles around them that have to do their part, or perhaps you are
  • the shepherd that points the team in the general direction and supports them in getting there.

Without understanding how you are best at leading; you cannot effectively lead.

I have had to lead from all of the positions (and there are more) and find that my preference is the team captain approach. I enjoy motivating my team, working with them, and celebrating our wins together.

Leadership Hurdle Number 2: Your Role

Second, you need to really understand what your role in the company needs to be. For many, it seems like the Founder should be the leader. I asked that question in my interview with Allen Terrell Gregory as we discussed business structures on the Relentless Pursuit of Winning podcast. We talked about how sometimes technical founders may not be the best leaders for the company, and that sometimes others need to come in to fill or at least provide support for that role. To be clear, that doesn’t mean that they would change the vision for the company; their role would be to get it there.

Leadership Hurdle Number 3: Your Company

Third – you must do business. Just because you have a product or a service, and you’ve gotten friends and family and friends of friends and friends of family members to buy, doesn’t mean that you have a company. You need to have a way to get more customers outside of your immediate circle to buy your stuff. But you also need to be able to deliver more goods and services. Then you will need to hire and manage more people. And you will need to manage the company’s finances and payroll; and you’ll need to monitor and improve performance…you have to have business that is designed for the way that you do business.

There are generic business models that work for most businesses, but if you are a technical founder that values innovation, brainstorming, customer service and amazing results, you need to think through not only what that vision will look like, but also, how to execute it. The harder part, though, is creating the messaging that will connect with your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) and developing a consistent method of reaching them to fill your sales pipeline with potential opportunities.

One thing that I found difficult as a Technical Founder was finding the work through networking and such, then doing the work. Further, my service offering isn’t for most businesses, so mathematically, it did not seem to make sense for me to go door-to-door to find my clients. We needed to develop an inbound marketing strategy which attracted leads through our content marketing strategy. That doesn’t mean that networking doesn’t work for some people, but part of running and leading a company is identifying what works and what does not work, then making the appropriate changes to the business.

Leadership Development

Each phase of business maturity requires a different type of leadership. I love Scott Ritzheimer at Scale Architect’s leadership maturity model called the Founder’s Evolution, which educates leaders on each of the 7 stages he has identified, what to expect, and how a leader must develop to operate at their highest and best during each phase.  Even if you are not the CEO of your company, as Founder, you are still its leader and must still step up to meet the challenge.

The most important thing, having started and run companies for the past 25 years, is to keep moving. Wins that you will have won’t always be obvious or huge or even daily, but you should always be moving toward that win. One thing I love about football is watching the teams reset for each down. While the goal is to win the game, the game is won by winning a new set of downs every 10 yards.  What is critical, though, is to understand how the other team is adapting to prevent that from happening. It is never a straight shot. It is never without opposition. There are often setbacks and disappointments, and losing a game doesn’t mean losing a season.

Aepiphanni is a Business Consultancy that provides Advisory, Management Consulting and Managed Services to business leaders and entrepreneurs seeking to improve or expand operations. We are the trusted advisor to those seeking forward-thinking operational and strategic solutions to help them plan for and navigate through the challenges of business growth. Learn more about us at https://aepiphanni.com or register for a complimentary discovery session at http://coffeeandaconsult.com.

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