Three Aha-Moments That Make Life Easier for Startups in the Growth Stage

From the outside, the cool startup world often looks perfect. Young, ambitious founders receive millions for their innovative business ideas and visions to improve the world. Like a magnet, the most promising talent is attracted and everyone works intrinsically on turning the shared vision into a reality. But is that actually how it is? What does it really feel like to be part of a hypergrowth company? Due to brute growth, it’s not uncommon even for top performers to find themselves on the edge of burnout. The culture changes abruptly and the high level of motivation turns into frustration. It suddenly feels difficult to reach their ambitious goals. The vision fades into the background. What can startups do to make the growth stage easier?

As the CEO of the CoA Academy, a platform for continued education for leaders, I talk with founders and team leaders every day who find themselves in exactly this situation: Their company is growing rapidly, the business model is doing exceptionally well in the market. At the same time, the problems are piling up. They find themselves in the fast lane, which means they derail faster. In fact, many young entrepreneurs have a difficult time establishing a high-performance culture of leadership that keeps motivation high while also producing good results. I’m very familiar with these challenges and am glad that as a customer of my own company I have strong mentors as well as our customers as sparring partners by my side.

The CoA Academy was founded in 2020 by the two serial entrepreneurs Christian Kohlhof and Michael Portz and offers a leadership program for executives in multinational growth companies. Christian lives in Munich and is also a mentor in the Master Accelerator program for students at LMU.

Well-known companies from Munich also take part in the Chief of the Year Programm of the CoA Academy and benefit from both the network and from the leadership toolbox that is taught in the program: This includes Kuchentratsch (known from the startup TV show “Die Höhle der Löwen”), Chimera Entertainment and Recup, Germany’s biggest reusable system for the food service industry. They all have a grand vision, as is often the case with startups. To achieve that vision, they quickly realized that they are more successful when their team leaders share their experience with like-minded individuals and learn from each another. They and many other customers of ours have experienced the following aha-moments and put them into practice:

1. My team is allowed to be better than me.

In my role as a leader, I often feel pressured to be the best at doing everything. After all, it’s my job to guide others and show them how to do things. This belief is fatal. My responsibility is to put a team together that delivers the best possible results. Better than I could do it myself. Because how likely is it for me to be the best at all of the tasks that we have to handle? When I hire someone new, then I choose a candidate that fills the advertised position much better than I do and also make it possible for them to constantly develop. When someone from the team asks me: “How should I do this?” I don’t give them a quick answer because I supposedly have the perfect solution. Instead, I like to ask: “What options can you think of?” It’s surprising how many potential solutions an employee comes up with without me providing guidance or instructions.

2. I deliberately employ people who think differently than I do.

In the past, I preferred hiring people who were very similar to me. We got along really well, and that obviously felt great. Now I know that by doing so, I wasted a great deal of potential. In this kind of team, we almost always agreed and approached everything the same way. As a result, so many other ideas, perspectives and approaches went to waste. We would have avoided some mistakes if someone with different tastes, a different mindset and a different type of personality had pointed them out. When people are different, healthy conflicts arise that ultimately lead to the best result. That’s why at CoA, we use a psychometric personality model to put together diverse teams. We deal with different tastes quite openly and really celebrate how we all complement each other.

3. I am responsible for everything that happens around me.

As a leader, it’s my job to support my employees so they can bring out the best in themselves. I’ve learned that when things go wrong, I am personally responsible as a leader. At the CoA Academy, we define leadership as follows: ‘Leadership is my ability to influence.’ I lead myself and everyone around me. We obviously only mean ‘influence’ in a positive sense. As a leader, I would like to reach specific goals, such as retaining employees and achieving results. I want my employees to have fun and be motivated in order to achieve top-notch results. That means my job is to use my influence to drive things in that direction with my behavior. Everything that I do as the boss has an impact on this goal. This is something I constantly remind myself of. If something happens that I hadn’t intended, I think about how I can adapt my behavior so things will go the way I would like them to next time.

Summary

As a leader, especially in a rapidly growing company, my main task is to get the right people on board. As a team, we’re successful when every one of us can play to their strengths. Acting autonomously steepens the learning curve and makes the results all the better. Of course, I can help as the boss. When every employee is better in their field than I am and they hardly need my help anymore, then I’ve done everything right. This allows me to concentrate more on working on the company instead of in the company. The team is also more relaxed, productive and motivated as a result. This allows us to reach our shared goal, our vision

Guest contribution by Leonie Schulze Bölling

Leonie Schulze Bölling is the CEO of CoA Academy and is also a customer of her own company. The CoA Academy trains leaders in growth companies and makes it easier for them to meet their goals. They call their winning formula “relaxed productivity,” in which experienced business leaders share their own secret leadership toolbox with the members. In her position as CEO, Leonie speaks with founders and people managers and fully understands their challenges.

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