Taking advantage of the cold, rainy day yesterday in New York, I stayed inside and read Derek Lidow’s Startup Leadership: How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn their Ideas Into Successful Enterprises.  I read a ton of business books and this is probably one of my favorites.

The reason I liked it so much is because Lidow takes an approach that is different from other business book authors.  Rather than focusing on the companies, strategies, and competition, Lidow looks at the people behind startups – the entrepreneurial leaders – and what makes them succeed and fail.

Among the outstanding content in this book is:

  • A very compelling chapter on entrepreneurial motivation and how entrepreneurial leaders almost always fail without an extremely strong, and often selfish, desire to be a successful business leader.
  • Lidow’s “Projects, Processes and Culture” thesis about different types of startup activities – essentially the startup equivalent to Clayton Christensen’s Resources, Processes and Values (RPV) framework.
  • A four stage model of startup development that I thought was as relevant and more accessible than Steve Blank’s “Four Steps to the Epiphany” model.

However, the one part of the book I liked most was about change management and the stages you have to go through to successfully conduct an organizational change.  Lidow gives his instructions in the form of “ducks” – as in – you need to get your ducks in a row.

There are five ducks to organizational change management:

  1. Comprehension:  Everyone must have a clear, shared understanding of why the change is necessary and the desired outcome of the change.
  2. Motivation: Everyone needs to have their formal and informal incentives positively aligned to the change – without proper motivation people may undermine or even sabotage the change.
  3. Skills: The team managing the change must have the necessary change management skills (e.g. knowing how to design the new org, motivate the team, etc).
  4. Resources: The team managing the change must have the proper resources to execute the change (e.g. the equipment, desk space, budget, etc.)
  5. Communication: Everyone impacted by the change must fully understand what the change means for them personally and what is expected of them.

It seems simple when it’s written down, but these five steps are easy to overlook when you’re in the middle of managing a change.

Lidow goes on to focus especially on duck five: communication – particularly the difference between communication and broadcasting.  Communication requires a two-way discussion where the leaders of an organization allow the employees to cooperate and actively participate in the change.  Broadcasting is one-way communication and often ends with disengaged or even angry employees and failed organization change.

For me, the little tips like these that focus on the human aspect of running a startup make Lidow’s book really special.

Starting a company is definitely about strategy and ideas and funding – but more than all of that, startup leadership is about people.  When it comes down to it, it’s people that mean the difference between success and failure in a young company and if you want to succeed you need to put people first.

Startup Leadership