written by Cherie Mclaughlin

The scariest part of hiring your first employees isn’t the costs or the risk of a bad hire. It’s wondering if you’re the right person to lead your business to success. Managing employees is a lot different than founding a company, and entrepreneurs that make great founders don’t always excel as CEOs.

The Difference Between Founders and Leaders

Founders are visionaries. In exchange for their creativity and passion, the character flaws of founders tend to go overlooked. However, when a founder transitions to a leadership position, those flaws are magnified, The Telegraph explains. In some cases, they become a source of toxicity that infects the company from the top-down.

One way that founders struggle is letting go. While micromanagement can be an asset in the startup phase, controlling bosses erode company morale. As a leader, you have to be willing to step back and put faith in your employees. Remember: Your job as a leader isn’t to run the company’s day-to-day affairs, but to enable and empower the people who do.

4 Qualities You Need to Be an Effective Leader

Being an effective leader means cultivating the qualities that make people want to follow you. While creativity and inspiration are important, they’re not enough to lead a team. You also need:

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is at the core of effective leadership. As a leader, you have to understand your employees’ goals so you can communicate and motivate them in a way that resonates. And since your team likely includes people from a variety of backgrounds, you need to have the cultural competency to adapt to your audience.

Communication skills

Emotional intelligence and communication skills go hand-in-hand. Whether you’re leading a team meeting, giving feedback, or negotiating compensation, effective communication requires understanding what’s relevant and important to your employees. Good communication is also important for efficiency. When you’re leading a big team, you can’t afford for things to get lost in translation.


An ego is an asset when you’re pitching a startup, but once you’re moving forward, founders need to leave ego at the door. That’s because the best leaders are ones who value their team’s input and give credit where credit is due, whereas managers who put winning over the good of the team erode employee morale and team cohesion.


One thing that leaders absolutely can’t be? Inflexible. Transitioning from founder to leader is a learning process. And as educator Marshall Goldsmith put it, “What got you here won’t get you there.” In order to succeed, founders need to be open to continued learning (which you can do easily these days by taking courses online) and personal growth. While you might not be the perfect leader from the get-go, you can get there with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

Is Becoming a Leader Worth It?

If these traits don’t come naturally to you, you may be thinking it’s easier to hand off the leadership role to a hired CEO. While this is an option for startup founders, it doesn’t get you off the hook for learning leadership skills.

The traits that make a great leader also contribute to a business’s success in other ways. Leadership skills:

  • Keep your company aimed toward its vision.
  • Improve your processes and systems.
  • Drive sales, investments, and partnerships.
  • Strengthen your brand.
  • Drive revenue.

How to Become a Better Leader

Do you want to hone your leadership skills? These are some tips you can use to be a more effective leader:

  • Invest in professional development. Leadership programs, free online courses, and organizational management degrees could be the answer to closing your skills gap.
  • Hire people smarter than you. Look for employees that complement you, not ones you can control.
  • Know how to act decisively, but don’t be afraid to express doubts and solicit input.
  • Accept that you’ll be wrong sometimes. It’s better to make the occasional mistake than to be paralyzed by uncertainty.
  • Understand what motivates employees. They may not be as invested in the growth of the company, but happy employees will work hard for your business.

Expecting to jump seamlessly from founder to leader is a recipe for disaster. While some founders make the transition to CEO successfully, it’s not without introspection and personal development. By making an effort to develop the skills you need to not just start a company, but lead it, you can watch your business grow from a fledgling startup to a respected organization.

Image via Unsplash

Cherie Mclaughlin has been creating and growing couch-based businesses since her couch was in a dorm room. Through both success and failure, she knows that all it takes to be successful is a willingness to go into it with the understanding that it’s a learn as you go process, and the boldness to step out of your comfort zone and give it a shot.
Learn more about Cherie at couchbasedbiz.com

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