While the excitement around Pokemon Go may already be cooling off for some – perhaps to the relief of those who never quite understood the point in the first place – its 20-year journey from initial concept to “overnight success” has been the subject of a good deal of media attention.
Such technological trends and crazes have the capacity to turn company molehills into mountains. From Google and Facebook, to Angry Birds and Candy Crush, apps and social media platforms have, in particular, become synonymous with seemingly-immediate successes when they hit on a magic formula that captures the attention and imagination of an eager public.
In the process, they have carried their creators and early investors towards fame, wealth and unimagined success, while also very often planting them at the foot of another not inconsiderable challenge.
That challenge is the future leadership of the companies that must form around their nascent ideas. It is one thing to create a world-beating concept and prove its viability, but quite a different prospect to provide strategic direction to a growing behemoth. There is a point in time at all such businesses when the seat-of-your-pants, do-it-yourself leadership approach will no longer be sufficient.
Such a position is also true of every other entrepreneur who successfully grows a small business into an evidently successful concept, whatever industry they might be in. There will similarly come a moment when their start-up mindset will have to be significantly adjusted to account for the leadership of a business that has become an entirely different beast. One day, they will raise their heads to realise they have multiple employees, customers and other stakeholders, all making demands on their time and laying expectations at their door.
At this point, many of the things that might have made them perfect start-up entrepreneurs may actually start working against them. Whether they’re a technical genius with a winning invention or a culinary whizz with a sterling restaurant concept, the early development of their final product in all likelihood required a huge quantity of specialist knowledge, total single-minded belief, and a fair amount of unilateral action.
When a business grows, however, these attributes can start to act as a drag on effectiveness, holding a person back from being the leader their organisation needs. Instead of complete focus on one thing, they need a far broader perspective to strategise and compete in the market. Rather than acting unilaterally, they need to learn to delegate, release control and realise they cannot micromanage every aspect. Their decisions must be weighted with far more varied considerations – employee engagement, shareholder responsibilities, public relations, for example – and listening to opinions becomes a must, rather than a source of likely distraction.
It is also not an irrelevant question for a would-be leader to not only ask themselves whether they are ready to lead, but also whether they really want to. Some people may have arrived at this juncture driven by a genuine and enduring passion for a very particular subject area. They will now be expected to become invested and engaged with things like human resources, corporate strategy and company finances. They may need to start caring about stock prices and reporting standards, and get used to the idea of being in the public eye while doing so.
For some, this will be a natural – even desired – step. For others, it could be a path that draws them far away from the aspect of the work they really loved. Certainly you can see this possible reaction in the examples of serial entrepreneurs who are highly driven when creating new ideas, but who seem to lose heart and interest once they’ve made something a success.
The often unconventional route that start-up entrepreneurs take towards leadership can, then, be both a blessing and a curse, principally because they might arrive there without the more expected background of continual skills development and experience. While this evidently doesn’t negatively affect every such leader, it still requires entrepreneurs to shift their way of thinking substantially. They must realise, above all, that a successful business idea doesn’t automatically qualify them as a successful business leader, and they should be prepared to apply a similar level of drive and dedication towards mastering the second as they did with the first.
Ahmad Badr is chief executive of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group.
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