Build-A-Founder: 7 Traits of Highly Effective Startup Leaders

Jun 8, 2020

highly effective startup leaders

Being a founder and/or leader of a startup requires an extremely diverse skill set. Large organizations generally focus on depth in an area of expertise for a position, requiring less breadth of skills. In a personnel and resource constrained startup, you must be able to gracefully transition from role to role, often many times in the same day.

This post examines the personality traits of founders that are strong leading indicators of startup success. Long story short, if we could build-a-founder, we’d choose these 7 attributes first.

7 Traits of Highly Effective Startup Leaders

1. Ambitious

The degree to which you believe in your company and its ability to succeed will always set the ceiling for the rest of your organization. Founders should set lofty goals that truly push the team to heights that investors and even team members may feel are too aggressive. Setting your sights high is a major part of finding out where the limits of your organization are and maximizing its achievements and value.

2. Grounded

Ambition is great, but you must also remain realistic. Setting goals and expectations for your team that are completely out of whack with reality can be a culture killer. Always aim high, but continue to listen to feedback from your team and peers while analyzing market trends and your company’s performance.  There’s a time to ignore the naysayers and execute, but you also must know when to reflect on your progress and change course.

3. Tenacious

Tenacity isn’t the ability to take a single punch, it’s the dedication to take 10,000 and keep coming back. As a startup leader, you are going to take more punches than you land, especially in the early stages of the company. Whether it’s a right hook of a sales lead telling you to go spit, a jab of friends and family questioning your life choices or an uppercut of failing to secure funding, there are going to be setbacks. Your ability to respond to and overcome adversity regardless of the situation will keep your company on the road to success.

4. Self-Aware

Dedication is great, but there’s a fine line between bravery and foolishness. As a leader in a startup, you must know how to prioritize your efforts and know when to take time for yourself. You simply cannot sprint the entire way. Attempting to do so could not only lead to a personal downfall but also sets an unhealthy tone and culture for the rest of your staff.

5. Passionate

You can be the most intelligent, driven founder with an amazing product, but if you don’t let your emotions enter the game, you’re never going to accomplish true greatness. Passion is infectious and will drive your team to follow you and invigorate interest in your company. If you aren’t able to let your guard down and get emotional about your business and objectives, then you and your team will not have the emotional commitment needed to dig down and grab that 6th gear when it’s needed most.

6. Rational

Emotions are powerful, but you must also be sure to not let them take over. Being able to divorce emotion from key business decisions is paramount to ensuring you are making the right tactical and strategic decisions. There are times that cold hard calculation is needed and you must be willing to make the decisions that are best for the company, even if those decisions are painful in the short term.

7. Clever

Note that we used clever instead of smart or intelligent. As an organization, we will take an individual that can assess a situation and find the most clever solution to maximize opportunity over a person with deep knowledge or subject matter expertise any day of the week. Startups are all about responding to surprise opportunities or challenges with little notice and figuring out how to make the most out of limited resources. Academic institutions and research organizations need individuals with vast wealths of knowledge. Startups need the agility that can only be brought by cleverness and ingenuity.


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