Q: What is necessary to get past the early stages of a startup?
A: We sometimes talk about what the right leadership style is in order to answer this. But in truth, there are different leadership styles for different circumstances.
In the earliest stage, you need someone with a crystal-clear vision who is almost autocratic: It's my way or the highway. They have a clear idea of their product and never compromise on that product, because it's the only thing keeping them separate from the competition. You need to have the person who's charismatic and is going to do every job themselves. That person sweeps the floor and talks to the CEO of their supplier company.
You then get to a certain point where growth is not the singular objective. Suddenly, things like consistency, efficiency and cost become important as well.
That doesn't sound like as much fun, and that's why we see many serial entrepreneurs leave organizations at exactly that point.
Problems arise when they retain the tendency to be an autocrat and not to delegate and hire people to share responsibility.
A classic example is Steve Jobs. We sort of forget he got fired from Apple for exactly those reasons. He couldn't compromise and was an authoritarian leader. He left, took some time and was able to come back as a different person when he was invited back a few years later. He was able to give other people responsibilities and ascend to a presidential level within the organization.
We see a small number of people who can make that transition as an individual, like Steve Jobs did. A more common way is to find a partner. It's tempting to hire someone in our image, but we need to hire someone complementary. If you have that charismatic, "my way or the highway" attitude, maybe you need to hire someone who's a careful planner and more low-key.
Those two sides of the coin are both parts of entrepreneurship.
You need to have the inspiring, make-no-compromises personality, but you also need to have some systematic thinking. If you're lucky, you can develop both sides yourself, and if you can't, you need to build a team complementary to your own skills.
John F. McVea is an associate professor in the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.