Empty Leadership

This last week, TechCrunch reported that a startup named “Color,” which had raised $41 million in venture capital, was in big, big trouble.  So what does the valiant CEO do?  Take 3-4 months off for a sabbatical, naturally.

Having fought through countless battles building four startups and now backing entrepreneurs as a profession, this absolutely infuriated me.  A glaring example of Empty Leadership.

In my mind, this guy is the worst kind of “leader.”  Actually, he is not a leader at all since he doesn’t deliver anything but hype.  He takes no responsibility for the success of his company, doesn’t care about the money he took from investors, and jaunts off when things get tough.  The only thing this guy is good at is BS.  And check out his quote from the article:

“The roles of founders and CEOs is to get everyone engaged and give opportunities to people. And when things haven’t worked out as expected, the best way for me to recharge is to go on sabbatical.”

Are you kidding me?  The role of a CEO is not to spin people up with hype.  The role of a CEO is to be in the trenches, shoulder-to-shoulder with his team.  Fighting for survival in tough situations.

The role of a real leader is to lead through the challenges and fight with everything he has.  It is to put his own impulses (like flitting off on vacation) aside and put the collective best interest of the company ahead of his own.  A leader is someone who earns respect by doing and sacrificing and delivering, not by rah-rah speeches and conning investors.

In contrast, two scrappy leaders of startups that I’ve backed personify the non-negotiable attributes of real leadership.  Paul Glomski, CEO of Detroit Labs and Beck Besecker, CEO of Marxent, are:

•         Determined, driven, and passionate about delivering results, not hype

•         Obsessed with being accountable for their commitments

•         Willing to admit mistakes and take responsibly for them

•         Insistent on treating investor’s money like their own

•         Committed to do whatever it takes to win, no matter how personally uncomfortable

It comes as no surprises that both companies are doing incredibly well and growing like crazy.  The thoughtful, understated, and disciplined leadership of both Paul and Beck translate into meaningful results while the vapid, imposter leadership of many other startups send them spiraling into despair.

Winning at the highest levels in any endeavor requires a commitment to relentlessly fight through adversity.  To take personal responsibility for making things happen instead of making excuses. The willingness to claw and scratch; to get knocked down again and again yet keep on fighting even when it hurts.

Real leaders don’t jet off to Maui while the ship sinks.  Real leaders hunker down for the fight.


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