How your leadership style needs to morph as your team grows

Nora, ex-consultant turned entrepreneur writes about the transition from consultancy into the world of start-ups.  Whether you are working for a large corporation or a start-up Nora shows you that effective management is a core ingredient to your personal success as well as the success of your team. Movemeon helps a lot of start-ups and corporates in finding the right team member. If you are thinking about growing your team get in touch with us and we can let you know a bit more about how we work. 

Nora isn’t our first guest contributor. If you are interested in what other (ex-) consultants are getting up, explore Quentin’s series of articles about Private Equity or Alex’s brutally honest series of articles on looking for a job in a start-up. 

Your move from consultant to entrepreneur makes perfect sense. You’re innately analytical and results driven. You know how to conceptualize massive change processes, and implement with strategic intent. You’re customer orientated. You’re right to think that you have an excellent foundation to build a successful company from- So go for it!

However, there’s one blind spot you should be aware you’ll likely be confronted with. Namely, your style of management. Leading your new startup team will be drastically different from any management you did with other consultants.

Before founding Loopline Systems, I frequently interviewed consultants wishing to join a venture as a co-founder, and made a conscious point of communicating the important shift that would need to be made in their leadership approach. The difference is striking because it’s connected to a very different psychology of leading and motivating people.

You never really needed to manage consultants

Consultancy is by nature a pre-defined and innately incentivized career model. There’s little need to create a work culture, because the culture of consultancy is already deeply established. The personality type attracted to consultancy is notably less diverse than other fields, and it’s typically one that has a strong source of personal motivation. Those long hours and demanding projects are accepted in exchange for very tangible rewards- and that combination attracts a certain personality type.

Start-up culture is different. People have job titles, but their reasons for being there, their personalities, and their actual job functions are fluid and varied.

They come from a wide range of backgrounds and a wider range of experience level. They’re looking for an opportunity for growth, not necessarily prestige. And because many ventures are initially unknown, the pride they receive from working somewhere has less to do with a company name as it does with feeling personally aligned with a vision. As a new entrepreneur, you’ll want to pay attention to creating and communicating a culture people can ease into identifying with.

Learning to develop potential

One upside is that you’ll likely find it refreshing to be working with a group of ambitious and diverse young potential, but here’s the key: They’re still potential. Potential needs development and guidance in the form of a lot of communication, coaching and praise.

Their roles, skills, weaknesses and strengths are not yet defined. There’s generally an air of ambiguity you’ll have to become accustomed to in a startup. Shaping this ambiguity into a functioning company is what excites and motivates people to join. Frequent communication and coaching does three important things; Keeps everyone moving in the same direction, provides orientation for your team, and keeps people onboard by helping them understand why certain decisions are made. Without communication, there will be an amiss for realizing exactly where their contributions influence the organization- eventually leading to a decline in performance. So, check in frequently.

Releasing responsibility in the hope that roles will be grown into

There’s going to be a wide range of skill levels, but with experience, you’ll learn to spot people who have the drive and ability to grow into their own potential. It’s not easy to relinquish responsibility before someone’s skills have totally evolved to undoubtedly fulfill them.

But this is the trade off in a new venture- Your team will come searching for the opportunity for ownership, responsibility, and essentially, growing up. People want to see an alignment because there’s an understandable appeal in the process of developing yourself alongside a company; perhaps a motivation you yourself can relate to. So let go of the reigns and mentor your team to steer them.

Based on my experience, I can ensure you that your move into entrepreneurship, and specifically your role managing talent at a startup will likely be challenging initially, but most certainly very rewarding. You’ll find enormous meaning and satisfaction in watching your team develop alongside you. This will be work that’s certainly not quickly forgotten.

– by Nora


If you are interested in moving from consulting into an in-house strategy team these articles could help you make up your mind: 

4 INVALUABLE LESSONS I’VE LEARNED FROM MY MOVE OUT OF CONSULTING (Sophie, who moved from a top-tier consultancy to a consumer goods industry through movemeon (and then back to strategy consulting) shares what she has learned during her career.)

6 TIPS FROM GOOGLE’S SENIOR INDUSTRY ANALYST (ex-Accenture and  new Googler’s story gives some important lessons on how to maximize your development post advisory).



About the Author:

Nora Heer is the co-founder and Managing Director of Loopline Systems, a cloud software that helps managers adapt to effective leadership models. Prior to founding Loopline, Nora lead HR at Project A Ventures in Berlin, helping consultants transition into founding and managing startups within the fund. She further has over 10 years of experience in building and leading high performing and fast growing organizations, both from a business as well as a Human Resource Management perspective.


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