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How to develop your leadership as a startup founder

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by Startacus Admin


Honing your leadership skills is a must if you're a startup founder. Pamela Odukoya from Toastmasters International shares some tips to help you do just that.

As a startup founder you are putting yourself into a leadership role from day one.  What style of leadership will you adopt to set the tone for your new venture? 

christina-wocintechchat-com-vLwH8bWoi_8-unsplashMy leadership career has covered seventeen years to date. I view leadership as an opportunity to collaborate with a group of people and motivate them to achieve a common goal. I’ve adopted the transformational leadership style as my dominant leadership style because it gives me the opportunity to inspire and develop others whilst building productive relationships and using a great deal of creativity. 

Whatever their style, every leader needs to be able to use resources efficiently and effectively, be innovative, set goals and motivate their team to achieve the shared vision. Most importantly they need integrity which includes the ability to own your mistakes, and to be fair, transparent and consistent.

Let me share some tips as you develop your leadership in your new business venture.

Build your knowledge

Both formal and informal learning can help aspiring leader to develop.  I would recommend these online resources as starting points. 

  • Future Learn: 

  • The Chartered Management institute:  

  • Consider reading ‘What Got You here, Won’t get You There’ by Marshall Goldsmith. It provides some excellent insight into the leadership behaviours. 

Develop your experience

photo-1551836022-4c4c79ecde51To get some experience of leadership at senior level, I would suggest you consider applying for a trustee role in a charitable organisation. As a trustee, you will be part of a board and you will have legal responsibility for the management and administration of the charitable organisation. Some resources to help you explore the role of a trustee are:

Or you can try to take on a leadership role in a volunteering organisation or professional association.

Understand your team 

Successful startup founders inspire people to work towards and achieve goals. Developing productive working relations will be an absolute must. Time invested in understanding the personalities, values and aspirations of team members by listening and engaging with them is well spent.

I recognise that my team members have their unique beliefs, values and aspirations. Therefore, I seek to gain understanding of these aspects through formal and informal meetings and listen actively to their story. Though this process can be time consuming, the benefits are immense. It helps me to gain my teams’ trust and create a safe working environment which can subsequently impact on their performance and productivity. In addition, it also helps me to be alert to their situation and identify signs of demotivation early.

Encourage the development of potential

My passion for personal growth and development gives me the drive to empower others and support them to realise their full potential. Apart from regularly assessing my team’s training needs, it’s important to be find creative ways to motivate and stretch my team. In one of my leadership roles, I created mini projects for team members which gave them the opportunity to work at a different level and influence change. As a result, they developed new capabilities and greater confidence to engage with a wider group of stakeholders. 

Show your appreciation 

airfocus-DvQIwyafV7A-unsplash.jMany leadership writers agree on the benefits of showing appreciation, as it has a positive impact on individual and team performance and wellbeing. This is echoed by many theorists such as Frederick Herzberg in his ‘Theory of Motivation’ and Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’.

Some of the ways I have showed recognition to my team include simply saying “Thank You”, announcement at team meetings, communication via team correspondence and of course the power of a chocolate cake on a Friday afternoon. You can also consider tangible forms of recognition such as certificates or awards, as well as monetary gifts. 

I have learnt that some team members prefer private recognition rather than public recognition. Therefore, I apply the Platinum Rule, which basically says, "Do unto others as they would want to be done to them." I follow this rule by tailoring how I treat people to respect their preferences.

When showing recognition, it is important that you are fair and consistent otherwise it can be deemed as a form of discrimination, and this can affect the team’s morale. 

Another aspect to be mindful about relates to how you recognise your team at external meetings. Do you focus only on the metrics? Do you single out only the top performers? How about that team member who never gets a mention despite working so hard to support the team? Have you spelt every one’s name correctly? These behaviours can be harmful because they impact on the team member’s status within the team. Always aim to build an atmosphere of inclusion and belonging. 

Useful next steps

  • Start by reflecting on your current skills and attributes. Some might be linked to leadership competencies. For instance, if you enjoy organising events for your friends and family, think about how you can take your organisational skills to the next level. Sound organisational skills can be linked to leadership competencies such as collaboration and teamwork.    

  • Reflect on (the possibly many) examples the poor leadership styles you have experienced. What do you think these particular leaders could have done differently? 

  • Read some autobiographies of great leaders, for example, those of Nelson Mandela and Brian Tracy. This helps to identify great leadership behaviours that you could model yourself in your startup.

  • If you are preparing to start a business you could apply for, or stand for election for a leadership position in a volunteering organisation such as Toastmasters International. This will give you a safe way to explore all aspects of leadership such as organising, influencing and motivating others. 

Decide what you will do next as you take your business idea forward.


Pamela Odukoya is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit

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Published on: 28th April 2022

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