Three vital leadership lessons for up-and-coming founders

Where are today’s entrepreneurs learning leadership skills from?

This is largely an unanswerable question. There are of course a myriad of ways to learn leadership skills but it’s the unexpected lessons that can teach us the most.

Entrepreneurs find gaps in the market and use their abilities to turn ideas into reality. In many cases, entrepreneurs end up in leadership positions without meaning to.

If their product or service sees widespread adoption, there is suddenly pressure to know how to manage a vast number of people, large budgets and constantly evolving external pressures.

Honing leadership skills is vital to the success of a business. Entrepreneurs needs to inspire the troops and build an army that can carry the dream if the business is to be successful.

But learning how to be a leader is not linear and there is no blueprint. So where to start?

As an entrepreneur myself, and someone who has also been thrust into a leadership position that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, it has been a challenge to know how to answer this.

Last month I took part in a youth leadership conference in Costa Rica. When I set out, I imagined myself learning about classic traits and tropes of leadership but what I actually found was that more lessons lay in me and those around me – the 19 other young social entrepreneurs and Global Laureate Fellows – than any equation for leadership.

As I spoke to the other fellows it became obvious that many of us had found ourselves in positions of leadership without having set out to lead.

Our goals were about fixing broken systems, helping minorities find their voices and turning our passions into our projects.

We had become leaders by virtue of our work. Interestingly, the program recognised this and instead of teaching us common traits of leadership, we were taught to understand how our innate skills are our most powerful leadership tools.

It’s about understanding how we work naturally and what that means for engaging the people we work with and the communities we support.

Here are three key takeouts I think are worth sharing.

This is not a journey of one

A leader is only one cog in the machine. Their strengths and purpose are only effective when they work with those around them, not in isolation.

It’s a leader’s job to coordinate, organise and cooperate in an environment, rather than seek to control it. It’s as important to learn how the people around you like to be communicated to, not just how you like to communicate.

Giving, taking, and the obscure difference

Research shows the best leaders are actually ‘givers’ by nature.

The good ones harness a giving mindset while still exerting enough control and discipline to ensure the job gets done without being a burden on their resources.

This is a structured and intelligent way to bring people with you as a leader. Don’t hoard your time, advice, assistance and intelligence but just remember you need these things too.

Balance time on the dance floor and time on the balcony

It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday detail of our work and forget to check in with the big picture every once in a while, to get off the dance floor and onto the balcony.

I’d heard it before but this analogy came to life for me over the course of the week.

Youth Action Net was my opportunity to stand on the balcony, to take a moment to look around and realign myself with Hireup’s big picture.

It’s given me a renewed sense of purpose now that I’m back home and on the dance floor.

It could be anything for each of us, from a holiday to a conference or simply a coffee with a mentor. It’s important that you take the time to get a higher view on what you’re trying to achieve.

We don’t all have to go to Costa Rica to learn leadership skills, but we should all be taking the time to look in unexpected places for these lessons.

Jordan O’Reilly is the co-founder and CEO of Hireup. 

Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn and iTunes


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.