We’re living in an age that celebrates technological innovation, and entrepreneurs are at the heart of it. The leaders of Silicon Valley have star power that rivals -- and in some cases, even outshines -- that of their companies. Just look at Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. They are all stars, even without their respective companies.
But many aspiring tech entrepreneurs get caught up managing their own companies and lose sight of one key fact -- their most important venture is themselves. While growing the brand and objectives of the business is critical, developing your own profile and skill set as a leader is equally important.
If you’ve ever tried to write your own biography, then you know it’s incredibly difficult to objectively identify your own characteristics. Anyone who has taken a business class (or is a fan of HBO’s Silicon Valley) is familiar with the idea of SWOT analysis--, a tool used to evaluate the business potential of a new venture through strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. But while we use SWOT for business initiatives, few consider using it on themselves. SWOT analyses strip away preconceived notions and can provide useful metrics for evaluating your own performance. Attaining this well-rounded view of yourself and your skills will better position you to be a more effective leader.
Just as CEOs must identify the value of their company and explain it to the larger public, tech entrepreneurs must know what strengths they bring to their industry as a whole. Strengths define our future paths, and knowing where your positive attributes lie highlights the areas of business where you’ll be poised for success.
Look at Jobs. He was a design genius and made visually stunning products the hallmark of his leadership at Apple and Pixar. His attention to detail and persistent iteration helped form his legacy, and in turn, has improved standards for the broader tech industry.
Or take me for example. I’ve always been extremely persistent and goal-oriented. Growing up in Israel, I went through standard assessments prior to enlisting in the Army. A perfect score on the health check up was required to get into the most elite units, but strangely enough my grade was dinged because of the shape of my feet. Determined to be accepted into a top unit, I wrote to the Army and successfully convinced them why I earned a perfect grade. As a result, I landed a coveted spot in the IDF as a paratrooper. This experience as a young adult revealed to me early on that my persistence could lead to great achievements. Identifying tenacity as a personal strength defined my career and helped me discover that my greatest potential to excel would be in founding a company.
While your strength might not be a fastidious eye for design or dogged determination, it’s likely something equally as important to your success as a manager. Take time to think back on moments of success in your life, put on your ego-centric hat, and figure out exactly how you got there. Those traits are likely what will also drive your success as an entrepreneurial leader.
Don’t get too big of a head just yet. It’s equally important to take an honest and objective look at your weaknesses. This exercise isn’t about putting yourself down, but identifying areas for improvement where you can either focus on growth or find complementary team members to collaborate with. Zuckerberg is an incredibly visionary thinker when it comes to the future of human communication and connection, but he needs Sandberg by his side to manage the operational future of Facebook. This doesn’t make Zuckerberg any less of a leader -- it makes him an even better one.
Ironically, my greatest weakness lies within this very notion of relying on my peers. As a perfectionist, I often struggle with trusting others to complete tasks at my high standards. Identifying this has allowed me not only to build a talented team of people I trust, but to give them space to do their jobs. As a manager, it can be difficult to let go, but an organization can only succeed by working together toward one common goal.
Identifying weaknesses requires some tough self-love. Think of moments you’ve experienced challenges or moments of great stress, and identify where you could have done better. While there may have been external issues out of your hands, it’s possible that you lacked a particular skill to succeed in the situation. By identifying those weaknesses early on, you can proactively address them or seek support from others, ultimately making you a better leader.
Whereas the S and W of the matrix require internal reflection, opportunities don’t always come from within. Oftentimes it takes an outside injection of innovation to mix up your perspective and have the greatest impact.
As the founder and CEO of a growing startup, mountains of everyday stress make it difficult to get out of my head and focus on anything unrelated to my business. Physical activity has become an important way to clear my mind, refresh, and invest my energy in something other than my day-to-day. Joining a pickup basketball league here in New York City has helped me realize the value of getting outside of myself and has made me a more well-rounded leader. We have a team of unique and innovative people from a variety of industries, and I’ve been lucky to learn from their different perspectives. On the court, as in business, teamwork is essential. Playing with a new team has uncovered opportunities to grow in both my personal and professional life.
Opportunity is the external influence that can come from almost anywhere -- your family, a book that you’re reading or your hobbies. Inspiration is more likely to strike when you take a step back, so it’s important to get outside of the office and discover what the world around you has to offer.
Threats can come from external elements beyond our control, like starting a company only to have a recession hit or having a personal tragedy dry up your resources. Threats can also manifest more commonly in the form of a competitor that constantly keeps you on your toes. Once you get beyond the fact that they are called threats, they can be some of the best learning experiences you’ll ever have as a manager. The factors that threaten you may actually be your best resources for inspiration and can encourage you to push the limits of success.
The most important lesson I’ve gained from times of stress is the value of mindfulness and calmness.
You will undoubtedly face countless setbacks as a manager, but by leaning into your vision with a clear head and direction for your team, they’ll be possible to overcome. Trusting in this process allows for something that all entrepreneurs are looking for -- a structured way to creatively think about improvement.
One of the core reasons Silicon Valley has seen such incredible growth is the fact that its leaders are not tethered to one company or project. Instead, they maintain continuity between their projects through a particularly successful management style. Elon Musk, for example, started out in fintech with PayPal, and is now revolutionizing travel with Tesla and SpaceX.
The role of tech founder/CEO is increasingly greater than just leading one successful company. It’s about being a visionary that extends past immediate projects to look for future innovations. Companies can come and go, but great leadership is everlasting. Leveraging a SWOT analysis of your own management style could be the key to make that move from good to great.