Changing priorities, redesigning strategies, and developing emergency plans. All of this has been part of the daily life of most managers who try to cope with the consequences of the pandemic as well as of the war in Europe. Surprisingly, in moments in which everyone’ workload increases dramatically, good leaders need to focus on and invest time in their relationships.
The author of Battle Mind: How to Navigate in Chaos and Perform Under Pressure, Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg, recently highlighted this balancing act between assigning a higher workload and still investing in the relationships with employees in the Harvard Business Review. She suggested two additional balances in her article: moving closer without suffocating others; and moving faster without turning frantic.
As a response to economic downturns, leaders usually concentrate more on key strategic tasks rather than thinking about how to establish and maintain relationships with their employees. Leaders believe that by focusing on their tasks and new strategies, they can lead their team and their business to a better performance.
The working atmosphere might turn into a stressful, busy and hectic place in which everyone is anxious about the future.
Consequently, lunch breaks, team building activities and birthday parties as well as presents might be the first things that are cancelled in order to work on the very long to-do list. The working atmosphere might turn into a stressful, busy and hectic place in which everyone is anxious about the future.
Yet, they are missing an important element: working on the relationship with their employees is not a ‘nice-to-have’ but is a big part of performance management. Your best talent does not quit the job because they have too many challenging tasks and/or a high workload. This is something that stimulates their personal growth. They typically go because they do not trust their leaders anymore, and/or they do not feel appreciated and valued.
As much as this can be very helpful for managers in the corporate context, I believe entrepreneurs – as leaders of their teams – can learn a lot from it.
So, why should entrepreneurs care about it and learn from this?
By nature, startups are in a vulnerable and uncertain context. No matter which external turbulences are affecting the new venture, the founders are dealing with a lot of time pressure and scarce resources. It is not uncommon that founders put from 60 up to 100 hours per week in their business. That is why, it is not surprising that around 25% of entrepreneurs feel moderately burned out.
However, the founders are not the only ones who need to work hard under conditions that are rather stressful and tiring. Most of the employees in startups need to work more than 60 hours per week. Samuel Edwards argued in his article that the lack of faith and the risk for burnout are the most important drivers for employees to leave their job and the startup. And we all know that losing some of our best talent in a moment of scaling and growth might become a key strategic obstacle.
Founders should start reflecting on their behaviour towards the team
So, it might be necessary for entrepreneurs to start thinking about how to manage and, even better, how much of their scarce time to invest in the relationships with their teams. Even though most of the founders might not be trained and used to the role of being a leader, they should start reflecting on their behaviour towards the team. It needs to become a top priority for founders, because otherwise the risk of disappearing during the daily chaos in a startup might just be too high.
Finally, this might actually require a shift in educating and training future entrepreneurs. It might be important to move towards a more people-centric perspective when we think about how to start and scale-up a new business.