Entrepreneurship 101: How to build next-level leadership?

Entrepreneurship 101 is a series that focuses on the ‘human’ aspects of being an entrepreneur. Through this series, YourStory shares ideas, suggestions, references, and examples that will help you reflect and tread the entrepreneurial path smoothly.
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Leadership cannot be taught in school, but leaders can be fostered — with the help of the right skills and experience — in the right organisation. 

For any startup, while the founder(s) is at the forefront, guiding and leading the team towards the desired goal, it is vital to ensure that there exists a next line of employees, ready to take over whenever necessary. 

In fact, about 83 percent of companies believe that it is crucial to develop leaders and create successors, but 69 percent of millennials believe that their workplaces do not help develop the necessary skills to build leaders.

In most companies, this crucial role of fostering leaders is often overlooked. As a result, many companies and startups have witnessed their doom when an important leader quit the team. On the other hand, equipping mid-level managers with leadership skills instils in them the confidence and faith that going ahead, the company will trust them with more responsibilities. 

Filling the gaps in the leadership pipeline ensures that come what may, there are employees to lead the company in the future. Thus, next-level leadership means empowering mid-level employees to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Swati Bhargava, Co-founder of CashKaro and EarnKaro, explains, “My idea of next-level leadership includes the ability to embrace change, navigate ambiguity with confidence, visualising the future, and practising gratitude daily.” 

However, according to Apollo Technical Leadership Statistics, 55 percent of CEOs reveal that developing the next generation of leaders remains their top challenge. 

Entrepreneurship 101 tries to decode and share suggestions on how entrepreneurs can go about building the next line of leaders in their organisation. 

Identifying a next-level leader

“The process of creating the next level of leadership is about giving a chance and embracing new ideas, going beyond functional skills, and creating leaders under you,” says Chinu Kala, Founder of Rubans Accessories.  

Before a startup zeroes in and selects the next level of leadership, it is essential for the founders and the leadership team to identify the employees who best fit the role.

YourStory asked entrepreneurs about their opinions on the qualities that their next line of leaders should possess. Here is what they said. 

People’s person  

A good future leader is one with whom the team would love to work and communicate without any hesitation. The team members should be open to them and trust them. Having said that, they should also have the vigour to have difficult conversations, whenever necessary. 

A next-level leader is not one who has the potential to ‘boss’ around and micro-manage their juniors. A next-line leader should be able to impart positivity, motivate ones around them, and fill the room with zeal. 

“Ultimately, it is all about how good they are to people and how highly their team regards them, looks up to them, and is willing to put in that extra mile for them,” says Anshul Agarwal, Founder of Metaqube and XR Central. 

Adaptable and dynamic 

Startups are characterised by a constantly changing business environment. It is therefore crucial for a next-line leader to have the ability to modify their ways and be able to implement new strategies quickly to be able to cope with the changes. 

Manu Jain, Co-founder of VAMA, agrees that next-line leaders should be adaptable to changing circumstances. “They should learn from their mistakes quickly and be able to lead their organisations to success and maintain a competitive edge,” he adds.

Additionally, they should be self-motivated, self-driven, and have a higher motive for the job.  

Strong decision-making skills 

“Leaders do not need to be experts in every field, but what you need to be good at is prioritising what problem really needs to be solved and who to work with to make it happen,” Swati emphasises. 

One important decision can make or break a startup. A good leader is one who can keep calm and make important decisions in the face of obstacles. They should be able to foresee the future, make statistics and evidence-based decisions, and if required, challenge the status quo. 

By involving potential next-line leaders in the greater decision-making process of the company, one will be able to judge them better. 

How to instil next-level leadership?

Once identified, entrepreneurs and leaders can instil leadership skills with the help of the following suggestions: 

Provide opportunities to take over 

Swati says that CashKaro follows a flat structure and has no set hierarchy. This encourages people at all levels to take ownership of whatever work they are assigned. 

For instance, during the pandemic-induced work-from-home year, Swati initiated a daily morning show at CashKaro, called #TheCKMorningShow. The agenda for the morning meeting was to connect with the team and keep the bond alive, welcome new joinees, and celebrate special occasions. 

Two years later, the show is still live and instead of Swati, a new member takes charge every day to lead the meeting. More interestingly, CashKaro even allows its interns to take initiative, lead projects, and eventually, move up the ladder to become managers.  

Similarly, Manu believes that it is essential to demonstrate faith in one’s employees while gradually teaching them to take responsibility for their work. Anshul agrees. At his startup, he gives full ownership to employees of the work that they are invested in. 

Upskill 

Manu says, “Instilling next-level leadership in your employees is an organic process that takes time and patience. Leaders should carefully train and guide them to become the best versions of themselves by providing them with the appropriate tools, experience and exposure.” 

CashKaro also provides upskilling opportunities to its employees through its LearnKaro initiative. LearnKaro is the startup’s internal programme designed to equip employees with technical skills such as Excel, SQL, and Power Query, among others. Additionally, Swati takes sessions with the influencer marketing, brand and social media teams to provide them guidance. 

Share the vision 

Usually, managers are put into roles to lead certain projects or business segments that are aligned with their skill sets and experiences in tools. However, for next-level leadership, Anshul says, “It is extremely important to think like a visionary and have a mission and a plan to meet the vision which is aligned with the Board and the founders.” 

Startups that fail to grow usually have exclusionists as next-level leadership, and not visionaries. Anshul agrees, he says, “My company and I are as good as my team. The vision must be inculcated from the founders right to the junior-most employee who will play a major role to play to taking us to the next-level stage of growth”

To sum up, Anshul says that before anything else, entrepreneurs “Must think about hiring smarter and faster people…The simple reason for this is that as entrepreneurs, we can’t be a specialist in everything, we do good being generalists.” 
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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