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Fellow Founders: Put Your Oxygen Mask On First

and give your company some lift

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

The past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind. I have attended several summits, startup events, and spent a weekend with my business incubator. Throughout this time, one theme emerged repeatedly—no matter if we were discussing hiring, marketing, raising capital, product development, building a team, or sales strategy:

Leading a company is hard.

Topics like: How authentic is too authentic for a leader? People are depending on me for their livelihood, I yelled at someone, people think I’m too direct – were all areas of discussion

This resonated with me. For the first few weeks of launching my consultancy CoCreate Work with my co-founder, I felt like I hit a wall. Every. Single. Day. On my commute home, I’d vary between overwhelming excitement and moments of complete frustration. 

Eventually, I realized I was getting caught up in the anxiety of what things were supposed to be like and needed to start leaning into all the things that I know work. 

The truth is, we intuitively know the steps we need to take to optimize for success. But we are often in a battle with ourselves about taking those necessary steps because fear, anxiety, lack of time or sleep are working against us. 

If you are experiencing this cycle, here are some things you can do right now to give you and your company some lift:

Start with yourself. 

Which is to say, put your oxygen mask on first. You are a real person. This means you need all the things your business and team need: support, helpful and direct feedback, coaching, space to think, and the grace to make mistakes. 

To help you push through challenges and more clearly articulate your vision, start with purpose and work backward. Why are you doing the work? What do you value? À la Simon Sinek–start with why. When you and your company are grounded in authentic purpose performance improves

Take care of your physical self

There is no perfect way to do this, but it needs to be intentional. Physical activity, mental clarity, and proper sleep are all required for long-term effectiveness. 

Prioritize physical activity, spending time outside in nature, and getting a good night’s rest; none of these should be sacrificed for your work. I recently joined a rock-climbing gym. When I am on the wall, the only thing I can focus on is where I should place my foot and where to reach next. This clears my mind, and when I finish, I can think of much better ideas on how to move forward.

Communicate and practice the culture you want. 

The culture of the company starts with the personality and values of the leader. Figure out the universal truths you hold and how you can clearly communicate and incorporate these into your company. 

This will put you and your organization on the same path. 

Communicating your vision of the culture will help your team make decisions. A recent client was frustrated because he wanted the team to make independent decisions on their scope of work, but they kept coming to him for all the answers. Once he clearly explained to the team what he meant when he said that he trusted them and that they should use their judgment based on the team’s values, they were happy to respond in kind and give the same guidance to new team members. 

Set up your personal feedback loop. 

Mindset shifts are incredibly important to decision-making and leading a startup. The ability to change perspectives and develop new behaviors is key to the success of a startup but rarely do they happen without feedback. 

We experience mindset shifts by putting ourselves in new situations, challenging our beliefs, and using a trusted source as a sounding board. Consider coaching or mentorship to explore this. Both you and your company need consistent feedback with trusted resources to identify blind spots and develop necessary skills. 

I’ve personally challenged my beliefs with smart people who have experienced similar situations to mine. In some cases, it is with a coach, and in other cases, it’s with a mentor who offers advice—some of which I take and other times I don’t. Bottom line: it’s always good to discuss and consider other perspectives. 

Set up your company feedback loop. 

We hear a lot about the move to agile in how companies run. While not every company has to be agile to work effectively, you still need consistent feedback (which agile does well). Consider using tools to stay connected to the culture and operations of the company. One tool we use is called a retrospective. During a retrospective, you ask the team questions that help reflect on what is currently happening across the organization. Since you can’t be involved in every decision, this is an effective way to gauge if the company is clear on their purpose and is likewise moving in the same direction. 

Stop doing work beyond your scope.

Work in partnership with others and resist the urge to oversee every decision. Be sure you are developing your team and engaging your partners and co-founders but give them space. If you have hired the right people, let them amaze you and give yourself time to reset and focus where you are needed most. 

Believe me, we need you there – with plenty of sleep.

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