The reigning theory in business has long been that “alpha” leaders make the best entrepreneurs. These are aggressive, results-driven achievers who assert control and insist on a hierarchical organizational model. Yet I am seeing increasing success from “beta” startup cultures where the emphasis is on collaboration, curation and communication.
Some argue that this new horizontal culture is being driven by Gen-Y, whose focus has always been more communitarian. Other business culture experts, like Dr. Dana Ardi, in her new book The Fall of the Alphas, argue that the rise of the betas is really part of a broader culture change driven by the Internet — emphasizing communities, instant communication and collaboration.
Can you imagine the overwhelming growth of Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter in a culture dominated by alphas? This would never happen. I agree with Ardi who says most successful workplaces of the future need to adopt the following beta characteristics and better align themselves with the beta leadership model:
1. Do away with archaic command-and-control models. Winning startups today are horizontal, not hierarchical. Everyone who works at an organization feels they’re part of something, and moreover, that it’s the next big thing. They want to be on the cutting-edge of technology.
2. Practice ego management. Be aware of your own biases and focus on the present as on the future. You need to manage the egos of team members by rewarding collaborative behavior. There will always be the need for decisive leadership, particularly in times of crisis. I’m not suggesting total democracy.
3. Stress innovation. Betas believe that team members need to be given an opportunity to make a difference — to give input into key decisions and communicate their findings and learnings to one another. Encourage team-members to play to their own strengths so that the entire team and organization leads the competition.
4. Put a premium on collaboration and teamwork. Instead of knives-out competition, these companies thrive by building a successful community with shared values. Team members are empowered and encouraged to express themselves. The best teams are hired with collaboration in mind. The whole is thus more than the sum of its parts.
5. Create a shared culture. Leadership is fluid and flexible. Integrity and character matter a lot. Everyone knows about the culture. Everyone subscribes to the culture. Everyone recognizes both its passion and its nuance. The result looks more like a symphony orchestra than an advancing army.
6. Be ready for roles and responsibilities to change weekly, daily and even hourly. One of the big mistakes entrepreneurs make is they don’t act quickly enough. Markets and needs change fast. Now there is a focus on social, global and environmental responsibility. Hierarchies make it hard to adjust positions or redefine roles. The beta culture gets it done.
7. Temper confidence with compassion. Mindfulness, of self and others, by boards, executives and employees, may very well be the single most important trait of a successful company. If someone is not a good cultural fit or is not getting their job done, make the change quickly, but with sensitivity.
8. Invite employees to contribute. The closer everyone in the organization comes to achieving his or her singular potential, the more successful the business will be. Successful cultures encourage their employees to keep refreshing their toolkits, keep flexible, keep their stakes in the stream.
9. Stay diverse. Entrepreneurs build teams. They don’t fill positions. Cherry-picking candidates from name-brand universities will do nothing to further an organization and may even work against it. Don’t wait for the perfect person — he or she may not exist. Hire for track record and potential.
10. Not everyone needs to be a superstar. Superstars don’t pass the ball, they just shoot it. Not everyone wants to move up in an organization. It’s perfectly fine to move across. Become your employees’ sponsor — on-boarding with training and tools is essential. Spend time listening. Give them what they need to succeed.
Savvy entrepreneurs and managers around the world are finding it more effective to lead through influence and collaboration, rather than relying on fear, authority and competition. This is rapidly becoming the new paradigm for success in today’s challenging market. Where does your startup fit in with this new model?
Martin Zwilling is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.