Why Give a Damn:

If you’re anything like I was back when I was a first-time entrepreneur, you’re probably worried about being a good leader. But the way most people address this fear is exactly wrong.


The author of this post, Chris Yeh, has been building internet businesses since 1995 and currently serves as the VP of Marketing for PBworks, as well as a General Partner at Wasabi Ventures.

Leadership isn’t about you; it’s about them. Tweet This Quote

Back when I started my first company, I was a 24-year-old wunderkind. I could rattle off my accomplishments—graduating at 19, seeing my work praised in the press, feeling like a big man on campus at Harvard Business School. What I didn’t like to talk about, but realized, was that I had never run a company. Oh sure, I had been a manager and led small teams, but I’d never had P&L, hiring-and-firing responsibility. And now I was trying to lead a company full of people with similar qualifications and way more experience. I’m pretty sure some of my VPs had been running business units bigger than my entire company… before I was born.

In response, I focused on making sure I was doing everything I could to be a good leader. I did things like dress more formally to set a good example, and I’d work on my speeches and pep talks. In other words, my focus was completely, entirely wrong.

What you need to understand (and hopefully learn at an earlier age than I did) is that leadership isn’t about you; it’s about them.

Employees don’t measure startup leaders based on how they look and how good they are at making speeches (we’ll save that for less important things like selecting the President of the United States). Rather, they want leaders who make good decisions, help them accomplish their goals, and care about them—in that order. Notice how fashion sense and oratorical skills didn’t make the list.

If you can’t make the company successful, advance their career, and make them feel wanted, employees won’t care that you have CEO hair and give great speeches at conferences. In fact, those things will make them dislike you even more.

Employees don’t ask what they can do for their leaders; employees ask what their leaders can do for them. Tweet This Quote

Conversely, if you make their equity valuable, make their CV more employable, and show genuine caring, you could look like Quasimodo and communicate in grunts, and you’d still be beloved.

To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, employees don’t ask what they can do for their leaders; employees ask what their leaders can do for them. But if you move the needle for your employees, they will want to move the needle for you.

The next time you’re concerned about being a good leader, don’t worry about whether your people think you look or sound like a good leader. Just worry about whether they believe that you act like one.

About the author

Chris Yeh

Chris Yeh

Chris is the VP Marketing for PBworks, partner at Wasabi Ventures, and an avid startup investor and advisor. He is also a co-author of The Alliance and serial tech entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.