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The Challenges of Working in a Start-up Environment: How do you guide your new manager who is less experienced than you are, in an appropriate manner?

JANET,  VP – US Marketing & Operations,  Technology Start-up Company

Dear Justine, 

Founders of new companies typically begin with a great idea, highlighting their strengths as innovators. If they are smart, inexperienced entrepreneurs hire experienced professionals like yourself, who possess the track record to help them fill in those missing pieces of expertise.


First, we would like to acknowledge that investing your time, talent and career in a start-up company is no small thing! Start-up companies demand that you take on a variety of roles, while requiring total dedication, resiliency, mental toughness, creativity, excellent networking skills and rapid problem solving abilities. Having established your current role in this new endeavor, your position indicates that you most likely possess the necessary skills to guide your new manager in a way that is effective and respectful at the same time.


In a fast-paced start-up environment where “the devil is in the details,” it is particularly difficult to stand back and view the larger picture. However, for the greater good of the company and your standing in it, sometimes you must slow down, pull back and focus on Managing Relationships.


Within the framework of the Genesa method, that means developing the ability to transition from a telephoto view to a wide-angle view by discovering others’ perspectives, finding common ground and managing the conversation.


Researching different views is one way you can develop the ability to transition to the wider frame through curiosity about your manager’s perspective.


While most of us have not developed the Catalyst Leader’s ability to transition back and forth between the details and the wider picture, while taking in all perspectives at the same time, we can break down these steps, practice using them regularly and eventually reprogram our responses to build up to the Catalyst’s unique capacities.


1.      It is important to know what is most important to your manager. If you don’t know, ask!


Is management driven by the bottom line? The allure of start-up fame and recognition? Is it a passion for the product itself? What problem are they driven to solve for themselves, for the company, for their community, for their industry? What problems do they face in achieving those goals? What obstacles does the company face?


2.      What do you think is the biggest problem facing the company? Research compelling statistics that will help you build your case.


For example: According to the Start-up Genome Report co-authored by Stanford and UC Berkeley researchers, 92% of technology start-ups fail within three years. However, founders that learn are more successful. Those who have mentors and who track metrics have 7 times the money and 3 ½ times the user growth as founders that are not willing to be mentored.

3.      As a marketing professional, learn to market your own expertise! What do you bring to the table that will help the company navigate the obstacles they face, while accomplishing management goals at the same time?


Within the framework of the Genesa method, Managing Relationships means developing the ability to transition from a telephoto view to a wide-angle view by discovering others’ perspectives, finding common ground and managing the conversation.

Finding Common Ground


1.      Now that you have discovered what your manager most cares about, what obstacles stand in their way, what knowledge and talent you bring to the table, you can find the links between these concepts. In the example above, if the greatest threat to the well being of the company is a gap in leadership knowledge and if greater success is proven to lie in the leadership’s ability to track metrics and learn, then you have part of your solution in place.

2.      Brainstorm with your own mentor or coach to find additional solutions, so that you may present options during your pivotal conversation with your manager.

3.      Develop your win-win proposal and set up a meeting with your manager, suggesting that you would like to update them on a few problems you have been working on. Make sure the timing corresponds to a calm time in their day where you can capture their full attention.


Managing the Conversation


1.      Spell out the problems that have occurred, but not necessarily the leadership knowledge gaps that have triggered them until the end of your conversation.

2.      Let them know that you have been working on ideas to resolve the issues.

3.      Ask questions around their interest in how involved they would like to be in implementing some of the solutions you have designed.

4.      Provide choices: If they like to micro-manage then you can offer to mentor them through the solution process. If they admit that they don’t possess the skill set, offer to hire the expertise they might need to fill in their knowledge gaps. You can also offer to take on the responsibility yourself.

5.      Remind them of what their strengths are and how they can best use them in the role they serve.

6.      Use the research (as in the example above) to help them understand the nature of start-ups, the unique attributes that entrepreneurs possess and remind them that successful companies rely on the expertise of the entire team to realize the success that everyone wants to achieve.

7.      If you are still encountering resistance, let them know what is at stake if the problem continues.

8.      Summarize your agreement with your manager (you will hire, mentor or take on) the needed expertise. Agree on a time-line for implementation. Schedule the follow up meeting to continue the conversation. If no agreement has been reached, don’t give up! It’s only the first training conversation.

9.      In demonstrating that you always have the company’s best interest at heart and if you consistently take this approach every time there is a problem that originates from a leadership knowledge gap, you will eventually train your manager to turn to you automatically for support. This approach will build trust over time and strengthen the relationship, providing a more stable and secure foundation from which to grow your team and grow the company, while developing your own leadership skills.

Genesa Leadership offers leadership coaching in all facets of Managing Relationships

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