Meet Oliver Aust, our valued member at Mindspace Friedrichstrasse and one of Europe’s leading communications advisors. He is the CEO of Eo Ipso Communications, host of the ‘Speak Like a CEO’ podcast, and author of four books on leadership and start-up communications, most recently “Message Machine: How Communications Will Make You an Unstoppable Founder”. Oliver and his team are active members of the Mindspace Friedrichstrasse community in Berlin, often holding workshops and supporting other members develop killer communication skills. Today, he shares his insights into common traits of successful founders.
Having interviewed hundreds of founders and CEOs for my books and my podcast, I couldn’t help but notice common traits. Here are five things they have in common. The good news is that these are not innate qualities but skills we can all learn.
1) They have a leadership style fit for our age
In recent years, we have seen a massive shift from an authoritative leadership style that is based on competence, to a personal leadership style that is built on trust. Successful founders engage in consistent communication with their teams, their customers and their investors. Their tone is personal, and they have developed their own, authentic voice. They are not playing a role. Instead, what they believe, what they do and what they say is consistent.
2) They are excellent at building trust
Today companies move at the speed of trust. As a founder, your investors, customers and employees need to trust you so that your company can enter a high-growth trajectory. Great founders understand the importance of trust, and how to build it. Building trust requires three elements: competence, integrity, and benevolence. In other words, you have to be good at what you do, tell the truth and create win-win situations. Successful founders understand that trust is also a two-way street. For your customers, investors and colleagues to trust you, you must also trust them – their intelligence, competence and good faith. They will sense that you trust them and will repay you by extending their trust to you in turn. Building trust takes time and visibility, and the best leaders have a knack for creating multiple touchpoints for their audiences to get to know them, their products, and their company.
3) They prioritize communications
Communications can be an afterthought for inexperienced founders until they hit a wall due to a lack of customers, investors or a rudderless team. That’s why successful leaders transition from a communications last to a communications first mindset. Successful founders embrace the fact that communication is their master skill because each of their key tasks requires proficiency in communication. It’s what gets them results. They even start to enjoy communicating because it makes such a positive difference for their business.
4) The best leaders are thought leaders
Business leaders who become thought leaders help their companies enormously. As we all know, there is a battle raging for attention, and that makes it very hard for anyone to stand out from the crowd. Communication is also more personalized today: people trust people, not companies. A thought leader is a business leader who is perceived as a leading voice on a relevant topic or industry. Thought leaders don’t just follow trends, they make trends. Without thought leadership, you won’t reach your or your company’s full revenue potential. It is one of the most effective tools at your disposal. Books, podcasts and speaking at events are great ways to build thought leadership credentials.
5) They have a highly engaged team
The best leaders recognize the importance of communicating with their teams and strive to inspire others to do inspiring work. When a company grows faster than the communication skills of its leaders, this area quickly becomes a company’s biggest challenge. Leaders who inspire their teams create a workplace culture that is higher-performing and where employees feel a greater sense of purpose and joy at work. As a founder, you want to avoid a top-down, one-dimensional communication style. Simply telling people what to do and expecting them to execute it like a machine does not work in a startup environment. The risk is that team members will either leave or disengage, and the company won’t go anywhere. Smart people joining startups want to be inspired to do great work, not told what to do. Trust that you hired good people and give them the space to do their jobs excellently.