Secrets of successful start-up leadership

Following the lead of some of today’s most successful companies, entrepreneurs are increasingly forming new ventures as teams.

“Successful shared leadership at the top has been evidenced in many well-known organizations, such as HP’s Hewlett and Packard; Berkshire Hathaway’s Buffett and Munger; and ABB’s Barnevik and Lindahl,” says Business Management Professor Wencang Zhou.

In a recent study published in the International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, Zhou found that a lead entrepreneur’s decision of who to include in a new venture team sets the stage for success – or failure.

While conventional wisdom suggests that a founding team’s combination of diverse educational backgrounds, experience and managerial skills can enhance creativity and performance, the reality is that successful shared leadership in founding teams depends more on the personalities than the expertise of team members. “New founding teams’ mean scores on conscientiousness and openness and diversity scores on extraversion were positively related to the amount of shared leadership, while diversity on openness was negatively related to shared leadership,” explains Zhou.

Zhou’s conclusions were based on results from a questionnaire administered to new venture founding teams in a technology incubator in China. “Data were gathered from 154 founding teams, consisting of 516 individual entrepreneurs,” Zhou says. “The web-based survey was translated into Chinese and back-translated into English by two independent bilinguals to ensure meaning equivalence across the two cultures.”

The bottom line? “The findings suggest entrepreneurial team founders should share leadership,” says Zhou. “That is, each team member should be willing and able to assume leadership roles when required. [Founders] can promote shared leadership by selecting team members who have a good fit in terms of personality traits.”