Business, Culture and Entrepreneurship

Monday, August 25, 2008

Capt Kirk's Leadership Style - Is it right for entrepreneurs?

A casual search of the blogosphere, with the words "Capt. Kirk" and leadership spews a long list of largely positive descriptions of Capt. Kirk's leadership style. In fact, a secondary school principal, has actually written a referred article on Captain Kirk, His Leadership Style as a Model for Principals in the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Bulletin!

For those of us old enough to have caught William Shatner as Capt. Kirk, admiration is usually the first response (especially if we were lucky enough to miss the ads - I had to move out of the country for this). Capt. Kirk cut a dashing figure - a man who surrounded himself with smarter folks (Spock the scientific officer, Bones the Doc and Scotty the engineer), always prepared to lead from the front and always got the girl! I am sure I am not the only 40+ fella who wished he were in Capt Kirk's shoes, when we first encountered him.

Albert J. Bernstein and Sydney Craft Rozen, in their book "Dinosaur Brains - Dealing with All Those Impossible People at Work" speak of cheering Capt. Kirk as he staved off an attack by the Romulans, even as he just recovered from a problem of rapid aging. "What a manager!" was their first feeling. Then they began wondering "Or was he?" They go on to say:

In our culture there is some confusion between management and heroics. The distinction is quite simple: The hero handles everything single-handedly; the manager delegates. If a manager is indispensable, is he or she really managing?
What is true for managers is truer (in spades) for entrepreneurs, who inevitably are in leadership roles which they play all too often from Capt Kirk's heroics' handbook! I am certainly competent to speak, having been an adrenaline junkie till recently (others may argue I still am) - always charging off (in my strapped sandals, we don't have much use for steeds, white or any other color) to solve problems. Luckily having great people around me, who were neither shy nor too polite, cured me off this, I'd like to think. However, as Capt. Kirk himself has shown, having good people ("Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor not a miracle worker!") around is not a sufficient reason for not falling into the "I'm here and will take care of everything" habit.

So stop for a moment and take a look at the ol' mug in the nearest mirror and ask yourself "Am I a leader or merely a hero?  

Mentoring folks - can start-ups afford to not do it?

From the latest article in my Start-up Logic series in the Hindu BusinessLine

"Maybe you can tell your team about your desire to partner with us.”

As soon as these words left my mouth, I realised that I had made a major faux pas. The words were addressed to the visiting CEO of one of our major prospects; one we had been trying to get interested in our products and services for nearly a year. I was young and probably viewed myself as the hotshot marketing guy and the words had rushed out due to my frustration at dealing with the lack of coherence within their company.

Our chairman, who had put his personal credibility on the line to bring this gentleman in, was still reeling from the shock and the look on the face of our CEO made his desire to eviscerate me amply clear. In this instance, except for some ruffled egos, no permanent damage resulted from my inopportune directness. It could have been a lot worse. It is through such avoidable mistakes that many of us learn the nuances and subtleties of doing business. In this particular instance, our chairman — luckily — did not confine himself to dressing me down (in private), but counselled me on what I had done wrong and how it could have been handled better, even while getting my message across.

I wish I could say such specific feedback and mentoring happens all the time in companies, let alone start-ups, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Read the rest of the article here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Is a Board of Advisors important for a startup?

From my latest Outlook Business article

A board of directors or advisors can play the same role for a company that a good mentor would play in the life of an individual.

"I am trying to hire a CEO for my manufacturing business. If I give him equity, what should I do for my existing GMs?" One of my early-morning jogging partners shot this at me recently. Mine was a group of men, all in their early- to mid-forties. Many members of the walking (some ambling) group run their own businesses. Many a morning, we end up discussing the challenges someone in the group faces that week.

It surprises me to see that many firms lack a truly functional board of directors or, at the very least, an active board of advisors, though they have become reasonably successful. Each of these firms fulfils the mandatory requirements for the appropriate number of directors and periodic board meetings and minutes—often honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Ironically, this state is probably truest in entrepreneurial firms that would benefit the most in having such a functional board of directors or advisors. Read the rest online.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hiring for a startup

From my latest article, the first in the second phase of the Start-up Logic entrepreneurship series in the Hindu BusinessLine.
Her father is in the lobby, waiting to meet you,” I was told. I wasn’t sure I had heard right, so when I stepped out into the little passage that served as the “lobby” of our start-up, there was indeed a gentleman, probably in his late fifties, waiting there. Granted it’s not every new employee’s father who travels 2,000 km to meet her prospective employers, but as a start-up you should expect the unexpected. More importantly, be prepar ed to do the unexpected to find, hire and retain the right people.
Read the rest here.