Making a key decision in a startup can feel similar to deciding whether to run the ball from the one-yard line in the dying seconds of the Superbowl. Get it right, and it's high fives and downtown parades. Get it wrong and you're forever the guy that should have run it.
When working with a startup, procrastination isn't an options. Decisions need to be made constantly and, as a leader, it ultimately comes down to you to make them. The truth is, sometimes there's no right answer, just 'an' answer.
Here are the four things I think about before making any decision as an entrepreneur:
Trust your intuition. When decisions are made, and the outcome isn't favourable, it's easy to blame it on the lack of time. Although this might be true, it will always be the case. When you're in a crunch to make a difficult decision, there's never enough time.
With hindsight on your side, you can afford all the insights you need as to the causes of why things went wrong. The important truth is that, as a leader, your team is looking to you for direction, regardless of whether or not it is the 'right' direction.
A huge amount of time is spent by entrepreneurs desperately trying to make that right decision. While it's admirable, it doesn't account for the immeasurable impact that simply making a decision can have on the company's momentum. When you work to eliminate the intense worry surrounding right or wrong, decisions tend to become more intuitive and teams more productive.
Confidence. From experience, the best decisions tend to be made when a leader is confident. The ability to maintain a healthy level of confidence when running an early-stage company can, however, be challenging.
Drawing on past experience is key. If an entrepreneur is blindly knocking down walls in an effort to get ahead, and not learning along the way, the show won't go on for long.
Without taking time to understand how outcomes today are affected by decisions made yesterday, it's impossible to gain any clarity on what works and what doesn't. Decisions as a leader might not always be 'right,' but when they're made with confidence born from keen awareness of previous lessons learned, they'll far more commonly lead to a positive result.
What it means to the company. As an entrepreneur, there's an inherent responsibility to act in the best interest of the company. This is common sense. But while it stands to reason that you should put your company first, it can be surprisingly difficult to do so in the heat of the moment.
In high-pressure situations, it's essential to determine 'what's right' versus 'who's right', and figure out which path best serves the company, even if it means taking a few hits as the leader. It seems like this should be an easy thing to do, but the dialogue changes when it's time for the decision to be made. Being a leader, a true leader, means being the first to take responsibility and the first to put aside your ego if it's standing in the way of the best solution.
What it mean to the shareholders. This is often the most difficult part, and the most fundamentally important piece of making any decision as an entrepreneur. For companies that have raised outside finance, or even friends and family investment, there's a responsibility to these shareholders.
When it comes to the significant decisions a company has to make and the pivots they undertake, there should always be an underlying responsibility to act in the best interest of the shareholders and the company. Often these two things align, and what is good for one is good for the other. Occasionally, however, they operate at a disconnect. When this happens, the greatest leaders are able to use their own clarity, focus and conviction to inspire a level of trust in the process able to unite everyone involved.
Cameron Chell is co-founder and CEO of Business Instincts Group, a venture creation firm in Calgary that finances and builds high-tech startups. To learn more about his work with sustainable startups visit www.CameronChell.com