Startups and Leadership: Kevin Mulleady on How Small Businesses Can Grow and Evolve
When it comes to leadership styles, there are as many out there as there are successful leaders. With so many different perspectives (all of which might seem to have some validity), it would be easy to get confused if you’re trying to track down the correct answer. Kevin Mulleady has founded and co-founded many successful companies by this point, and he’s learned a lot about how startup leaders should (and shouldn’t) be operating. He weighs in on how to develop your style — even if you’re starting from Square One.
Relinquish Your Doubts
The leader has an intense amount of responsibility. While most people see the perks of leadership, like having people answer to you and having control, what they don’t always see are the downsides. Leaders are expected to make endless decisions, and if they make a mistake, their head is often on the proverbial chopping block.
Despite this, there’s no reason why a leader should let this prevent them from trying. Mulleady says that while not everyone wants to be a leader, everyone can be a leader under the right circumstances.
So even people who begin their companies without any real leadership experience should start with some degree of confidence that they can learn what they don’t know. This doesn’t mean that the leader is always right (in fact, far from it), but it does mean that all successful leaders have to have some faith in their abilities to know which direction to go.
Prepare for Change
Kevin Mulleady has always stressed that leaders need to be ready to evolve when needed. Startups too stuck in their ways will often fall prey to more flexible competitors. If you don’t start with a premise of change, it will be difficult for anyone to pivot if and when the time comes. Leaders set the tone for the organization, even when they don’t realize it.
If the startup leader is sticking with a plan that doesn’t work, it can give people the impression that there’s no room for the company, or by extension, themselves, to grow. If a startup leader instead informs their team that change is inevitable and it’s everyone’s job to manage it as effectively as they can, it gives startups a little more freedom to move around in their market and come out ahead.
Even before the pandemic, people searched for more meaning in their careers. This didn’t mean that they’d dismissed the importance of salary or benefits packages, but it did mean that they wanted to make a difference if they were going to give up their precious time. Kevin Mulleady works in biotech, among other sectors, so it’s been relatively easy to convince people that they’re doing something worthwhile with all those hours they logged.
However, he says that all leaders can rally their employees and/or customers if they look at the situation correctly. No matter your industry, you’re providing value to your target demographic. So whether you’re offering a new software program or a life-saving therapeutic, there’s something to be gained. Centering around a cause helps people focus on their work, which can lead to much bigger margins in the future.
The art of leadership will ultimately be different for everyone. Mulleady has seen how even the most promising startups can crash and burn and how the pressure and stakes can take down people who start with the best intentions. There is no magic formula (unfortunately), but there are ways to set a few core standards so a leader can strive to live up to them every day. From evolving to rallying to believing, startup leaders must develop a style that they can live with day in and day out. Sometimes, it’s as easy as a slight shift in mindset.