Apparently I ruffled a few feathers when I claimed in a recent column that businesses aren’t democracies, which leads me to believe it would be worthwhile to address that point in greater detail.
Running a business with a small team means your bandwidth is extremely limited. You’re dealing with everything directly, whether it’s building desks and setting up phones for your sales team, hiring new employees, advancing your product, or just making sure you have money in the bank. It’s exhausting, it feels endless, and it teaches brutal lessons about the importance of efficiency.
What’s more, you have a vision to maintain. Sure, your company’s long-term plan probably exists piecemeal in documents and presentations, but the singular, cohesive idea of how your product and business roadmaps come together likely exists primarily in the minds of one or two company founders. Getting from square one to the realization of that vision is a lot like moving a mountain one stone at a time -- the only way to make it more grueling would be to get every stone approved with a companywide vote before anyone was allowed to pick it up.
Saying that businesses aren’t democracies is my way of highlighting the importance of leadership and accountability. Founders and employees at a startup need the ability to operate autonomously. The CEO shouldn’t need approval when deciding to switch task-management tools, a technical lead shouldn’t have to explain why she wants to reconfigure a portion of the database structure, and so on. It’s critical that people be empowered to make bold decisions and take ownership of their part of the business, and that can’t happen when everything’s run like a focus group.
This isn’t to say that collaboration is a dying paradigm, however. Quite the opposite, in fact. Problem solving through collaboration is extremely effective and likely more efficient than solving problems on one’s own, but there is a serious difference between problem solving and decision making. The former benefits from collaboration, while the latter demands executive action or a conclusion to be made after consideration. Collaboration can allow team leaders to make informed decisions, but every decision and its consequences should rest in the hands of the executive.
All of this brings me back to what I initially said about the importance of being efficient. As a founder and friend once told me, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it also didn’t take a f**king millenium.” Inertia kills startups, and the best antidote to that isn’t a committee. It’s a strong, thoughtful leader who listens to others while being unafraid to make tough decisions and accepting responsibility for their outcomes.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, right? It’s a ton of responsibility, but that’s why you’re here.
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