Many startup founders think that business growth is the be-all, end-all objective—often at the expense of personal growth.
“Personal growth,” after all, is nebulous. It’s harder to quantify than top-line revenue, or daily active user growth, and it’s therefore harder to correlate with the success of a business. Thus, startup founders often deprioritize personal growth—and put their businesses in grave danger as a result.
As a startup founder, you have an existential imperative to grow alongside your business.
Why? Because as your business grows, the demands on you as a leader grow, as do the stakes and consequences of each one of your actions.
Personal growth should be an equal priority to business growth. And an essential way to track personal growth is to collect feedback—high-quality feedback, from as many sources as possible, as often as possible. The actions of a leader impact everyone associated with an organization; feedback shows you what kind of impact you’re having on your people.
Founders: Here’s how to make sure you’re getting the right feedback from the right people
Who to get feedback from:
1. Yourself. As a founder, you have to turn yourself into as honest a source of personal feedback as possible. You should be able to register the impacts that your actions have on the people around you, and reflect on those impacts as objectively as possible.
How can you do this? You can start by asking yourself probing questions around high-sensitivity areas: “How do I deal with stress?” “What’s my natural response to conflict?” “How transparently do I communicate with my peers/reports/new hires?”
The more you get in the habit of reflecting on these essential areas, the more you get in the habit of looking at yourself and your actions in an unbiased mirror.
2. Your employees. Your employees are the people you’ve tapped to bring your entrepreneurial vision to life. Especially when your team is small, your employees will be heavily impacted by your leadership qualities—and you’ll need to know whether your style is resonating.
As a leader, it’s on you to set up a feedback loop, train people to take it seriously, and reward those who do. At appropriate intervals, ask targeted questions about your performance, and listen closely to what your employees have to say.
Also, bear in mind that not all feedback is explicit. Some is implicit—in the way people act and treat you on a day-to-day basis. Significant nonverbal feedback—positive or negative—should become legible to you, too.
3. Your users/customers/clients. The other risk startup founders run is getting trapped in an echo chamber. You can be intimately familiar with how you and your employees feel about the state of your business, while at the same time be in the dark about how your customers feel.
In fact, there’s a natural disconnect between the one delivering the value and the one consuming it. You likely have deep experience and expertise in your space, and you’re likely stimulated by innovation. All your customer cares about, on the other hand, is whether you make their lives easier.
To bridge this divide, set up and encourage feedback channels between your business and your customers. This is best done (and most easily done) early, before you’re overwhelmed by a flood of users.
4. Your investors. As a startup founder, you’re going to be in the weeds of day-to-day operations for a series of years, if not longer. Startup founders have to wear numerous organizational hats, put out fires, play an active role in hiring, and much more that the C-suite of more established companies don’t have to do.
One of the biggest areas of investor value is helping you see the big picture—whether you’re focusing on the right strategic areas, whether you’re hiring the right people at the right time, or how to think beyond your current challenges, though they may feel all-consuming.
Altogether, feedback from these sources forms a kind of instruction manual on how you can grow as a leader and as a person. But, a couple things to keep in mind: 1) Not all feedback is gospel; and 2) Growing isn’t easy.
The transition from founder with a big dream to bona fide leader of a visionary organization is a little bit like the transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. You need constant nourishment and perspective to make it successful—both of which come in the form of consistent, high-quality, diverse feedback.