There is nothing quite like the early, frenetic days of an ambitious startup. It's high-octane and high-risk; the shared experience builds tremendous team spirit and camaraderie that will help your people through some of the company's most trying times. Your team will seldom work harder than during this period.
The launch stage is also an ideal time for you to decide whether you are suited to the CEO position. While entrepreneurs have the dynamism to get something started, and often create opportunity where there was none, not all of them are good at running businesses. Recognizing your own weaknesses is essential to your company's future.
Once your business matures, it will likely become more challenging to maintain the excitement that accompanied the launch. It will then be up to you and your team to make sure that employees remain motivated. This is the point at which you will have to make a decision about which role is right for you: entrepreneur or manager?
If you're hoping to continue as CEO, you must learn the ins and outs of every area of the company during the startup phase. There are no shortcuts—getting this right requires patience and hard work. When Brett Godfrey was CEO of Virgin Blue, he insisted that all senior managers learn every job at the airline, including luggage loading. (I needed to visit the doctor for a checkup after my stint!) This will prepare you to delegate properly as your business gets bigger. When people come to you with problems, you will be able to provide practical advice based on your firsthand knowledge of how the business works.
You should also sign every check and examine every invoice; you'll soon know where the money is going, how it moves across your organization, and where it is spent. When you are familiar with the company's everyday finances, you'll find yourself asking: "What on earth is this check for?" You may be able to cut unnecessary expenditures dramatically. Even at the Virgin Group, I continued this exercise for many years, signing every check that went out for one month out of every six, and I ask our managing directors to do the same.
Most importantly, a manager must have the acute psychological know-how to smoothly organize a large group of people and handle the pressures of an ongoing venture. Use the launch period to gauge your own strengths and weaknesses as a leader; ask your best advisers for their honest opinions on your performance. Consider how you inspire and motivate other individuals to cooperate and get the job done.
It takes a certain generosity of spirit to fairly judge people's merits and limitations, and to trust them with responsibilities. Optimism, openness to possibilities and self-confidence are all qualities of a great manager. Some people are more inclined to these qualities than others—which describe you?
Are you someone who brings out the best in people?
Great managers seldom criticize their team members. People need encouragement so that they can flourish, just like plants need water. An employee who makes a terrible mistake rarely needs to be told about it, so instead his manager should focus on helping the employee to learn from the mistake and recover his confidence.
Do you acknowledge your own mistakes and apologize for them? You'd be amazed at how much people appreciate this quality in their supervisors, and how much they can learn from their managers' experiences. The ability to recognize your own missteps and discuss them is crucial, and requires bravery. If you promoted someone and they are not performing well, you should be able to discuss the problem with the employee, admit your mistake, offer him his old job back, and see him through the transition—a difficult conversation and situation that not everyone is equipped to handle.
Management is also about communicating clearly; explaining why a decision has been taken or in which direction the business is going. Your communications should carry authority without being hectoring or bombastic, presenting a simple vision of what has to be achieved. At the same time, good managers continually question the way people do things and encourage employees to do the same—they are always ready to adapt to changing conditions.
While a natural talent for the CEO role is truly an asset, many leadership skills can be learned. If there are areas you need to work on, ask yourself who among your circle of friends and colleagues is a leader you can learn from and talk with that person frankly about your wish to improve. The mentoring experience may be deeply rewarding for both of you.
At the end of this process, if you and your advisers agree that you are suited to the role of manager, then you may decide to stay on as CEO and help your business grow. If you perform better in the role of entrepreneur instead, then you need to find a manager to take your place. Look for someone who has the qualities above, and when you find your replacement, give your manager a proper stake in the business, because that person deserves a huge share of the credit for its success.
Now, it's time for you to move on and set up your next enterprise. What's your next interesting idea?
Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to BransonQuestions@Entrepreneur.com. Please include your name and country in your question.