Start-ups are where tomorrow’s leaders emerge. But with fast-expansion comes faster challenges. So just how do new leaders keep pace with ever-changing expectations, and can effective leadership be taught?
I spoke to MILK Beauty’s founder, Lucy Patterson, owner of the UK’s fastest-growing mobile beauty service, and Barney Whiter, investor, to explore the future of leadership.
In the wake of the digital tide, business must keep moving. Big brands and established corporations have proved they know how to lead and manage sizeable numbers of people. But what about a start-up blazing a trail in a new sector?
According to Lucy Patterson, “There’s no blueprint for how to run your business. You can't look to the established giant and refine from there, instead you need to build from the bottom up.
“It’s a learning curve that will inevitably have to be ridden, and challenges are part and parcel of the journey,” she continues.
“Along the way you make mistakes and you have to be quite open about the mistakes with the team. The key is to build a team who thrive on this uncertainty and challenge.”
Entrepreneurs are most likely to start off small – it’s the most defining part of the journey when it comes to learning and growing as an individual and as a business. However, thinking of new ways to grow and lead in an ever-evolving digital and economic backdrop takes a fresh perspective.
Coming from a corporate finance background, Lucy’s mindset shift was realising that not everyone thinks like her or sees the world in the same way, “People have different ways of seeing situations and solving problems. I’ve had to reset my view to see this diversity as a huge strength of our business.”
With old leadership models being deconstructed, Barney Whiter, a start-up investor, believes it’s not hard coming up with ideas and beginning to put them in motion; it’s the execution that counts.
“It’s easier than ever to start a business, but to survive and grow requires founders to have a mix of old-fashioned virtues like resilience, optimism and adaptability as well as the flexibility to use modern tools provided by technology.”
The ability to not be affected by setbacks is cited as a premium quality for MILK Beauty’s leader, “Resilience definitely comes at the top of the list. All start-ups face huge hurdles, and you need to not be disheartened by the setbacks, but you have to take the learnings and refine how you do things.”
The future of leadership
Leadership has evolved, no question about it. Lucy believes that large organisations with fixed hierarchies and ridged long-term planning are being replaced by nimble, decentralised structures. “Future leadership will place much more emphasis on creating fluid frameworks to create success and growth.”
It seems investors who are or were leaders can sometimes morph into the position of mentor. The investor/start-up dynamic has always been a source of invention, possibly where world’s and agendas collide. But investment, especially at venture capitalist stage, means that those backing the enterprise can add their experience to the pot. Couple this with a fresh mentality and it can make for a very potent leadership combination.
Lucy supports this theory, “I am very lucky that I have met some great mentors during my career. I turn to each of them for different reasons and different questions.” Her advice to potential leaders would be to have a great support network who start-up leaders can take counsel from.
Anyone running a start-up will learn a huge amount including leadership skills.
Honing the possibilities
The ability to think and lead differently is within everyone. Traditional models of leadership are evolving into something more collaborative and kinetic. Finally, I asked Lucy if effective leadership can be taught.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Anyone running a start-up will learn a huge amount including leadership skills. I believe just about everything can be taught — it's just whether we are willing to learn and master what’s needed.”