17 Essential qualities of great startup founders — Lionesses of Africa

When I started Lumo Naturals, I was at the salon every day; the first to arrive and the last to leave. I worked late nights almost every other night; planning, plotting and preparing to solve an existing problem or an imagined one. Suffice it to say, I was always exhausted, which affected my ability to think clearly about the next quarter or plan for the next year.

Running a successful startup is about leading a great team to execute. The founder’s ability to delegate and manage changes will therefore be tested. Like the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built overnight” and so, great founders are not born, they are made. They learn with time and grow into the role required to steer their company’s affairs right. What are the qualities you will need to become a great founder? Let’s look at some of them;

  • They are aware of their weaknesses; One of the best ways to quickly build a great team is to be aware of what you don’t have as a skill and find someone who fits that role, while you focus on your strength and build around it. This works perfectly when you have co-founders that complement each other, and it FastTracks the company’s impact.

  • They inspire people; Great founders are doers. They think on their feet and work swiftly. With consistency and discipline that is very inspiring to the average person. They push everyone around them to do more, and always strive for better. This inspires those they lead to easily follow and get the work done.

  • They manage their ego; Everyone has an ego. As a founder, it is very easy to get carried away by the newfound fame and/or success of your growing startup. It is however very important to stay grounded and focus on getting the job done, by killing your ego and looking beyond what you think is your self-worth. In other words, if your company fails or not, don’t step on a pedestal you are bound to fall from.

  • They manage diversity; We live in a multicultural world and dynamic times. As a founder, you need to be open to hiring competent people by being ethnic blind. You must be willing to unlearn certain biases and accept people’s choice to live their lives as they choose to, as long as it doesn’t affect their work ethic and contribution to the team.

  • They show empathy; There is a very wrong notion that comes with being the boss. Most people have confused it to mean being cold and difficult to a point that makes people feel unsafe. While you shouldn’t compromise on your values, a great founder also knows how to be firm without being demeaning and overbearing.

  • They command respect; Great founders know that respect is reciprocal, and they command it by actions and not words. They create a safety net for the people around them, to know what the company culture is, and adhere to it.

  • They are ready to learn; I am sure you have heard of the saying that great leaders are great readers. This applies here. Great founders are humble enough to ask for help when they need it, and they know that it is okay not to know it all.

  • They are ready to listen; A major trait of great leaders is the ability to listen. In the case of a great founder, they listen not just to respond, but also to understand. Knowing fully well that the company’s success doesn’t just rely on them, but also how well the entire team works. They are good with relationships; Relationships are at the heart of every great organization, and startups are no different. The ability to study human behavior, genuinely care for people, and connect with different people at a certain level, is a special skill every founder needs to learn.

  • They make tough decisions; Founders are very decisive and firm. When it’s time to make the big decisions and wear the heavy crown of failure, they don’t throw their team members under the bus. They do what is necessary and play their part to manage tough situations.

  • They are flexible are how to get to the finish line; Great founders understand tides and waves. They are not rigid and unyielding when the reality is different from what they envisioned. They are flexible and open to changes, as long as the solution gets to the person who needs it.

  • They prove their capability; We have established earlier that great founders are doers, but by doing so, they also prove what they are capable of. When they say something, they make sure to deliver on that promise and communicate when it’s taking longer or why it cannot be done at that agreed time.

  • They don’t act on sentiments; Great founders know that humans are as flawed as they come. This is why they form lasting alliances and relationships, and the interest of the team and business always takes precedence over their own emotions. They can manage their anger and be fair regardless of how they feel about a person or group of people.

  • They identify seasons; Great founders know when to wait, and when to pounce. They take calculated risks and weigh their options. They know when it’s the season of building and hard work and they are not afraid to stand in the rain, so the harvest time can be big enough for all to testify.

  • They have foresight; Great founders are not only visionary, but they also have the foresight to observe market trends and build their company towards fitting into their consumers’ needs. They know when certain people fit the role they want them to play, and they are unbiased about cutting off those who are bad for their company’s ethos.

  • They manage expectations; When building great teams, it is possible that a founder can unintentionally hype the big picture to the point that it paints a picture of Eldorado in the mind of its employees.

  • A great founder recognizes when this error has been made, and they are straightforward and honest about the true nature of the business at every point. They can read body language and set the record right before it becomes too late to salvage the situation.

  • They think different; Being an entrepreneur requires you to think outside the box and solutions. Most great founders tend to see the gaps first and become obsessed over creating the answers, beyond the challenges.

  • Do you recognize some of these qualities as yours or that of someone you know? Don’t be alarmed if you find that you fall short based on the items on this list. Remember that habits are cultivated overtime and your ability to read situations and work intuitively are just as important.

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