Entrepreneurs Need ‘Go-To’ People, and Be the Model

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Go-to people get things done. As an entrepreneur, you need these people, and you need to be one, if you expect your startup to be successful. That may be easier said than done, since resumes do not tell the story, and without real nurturing, the best people won’t stay around long.

To highlight how rare this breed is, Jeffrey Gandz of the Richard Ivey School of Business relates a quote from a new CEO in a large company, “I have more than 1000 people in my head office organization, 900 can tell me something’s gone wrong, 90 can tell me what’s gone wrong, 9 can tell me why it went wrong, and one can actually fix it!”

Finding and nurturing that one is the challenge for every company and every startup. I like his summary of how go-to people are different from other people, not necessarily because they have unique skills, but because of the ways these skills are configured and integrated with other leadership characteristics:

  • Know how business works and how to work your business. They have what we might call “street smarts” as well as real intelligence. They have a special ability to help people get results, clear away road blocks, and resolve impasses that are frustrating people. Then they use those skills to build support for required actions.
  • Politically astute without being politicians. Unlike many political operatives these people are seen as dedicated to the goals of the business, rather than feathering their own nests. This leaves them with the reputation for being politically astute rather than being labeled with the stigma of being a politician.
  • Know how to use power when it’s needed but seldom use it. They recognize that people are persuaded by those that these people, in turn, can persuade. So they open themselves up to recommendations from those they are trying to persuade. They recognize that people want recognition, so they reward people who get-with-the-program with attentions for doing so.
  • Consummate negotiators but getting it done is non-negotiable. They are adept at seeing situations from others’ perspectives, separating people from principles, building bridges between positions, and bringing people to their senses. But they are laser-like in their focus on project completion, and never sacrifice deadlines for compliance.
  • Networks of reciprocation rather than deals. However, these exchanges of favors and reciprocity are not conditional negotiation elements, but usually based on having done someone a favor without requiring anything in return. The favor is often motivated not by future consideration but by a genuine desire to help someone else.
  • Think out of the box while acting inside the box. Go-to people are creative people who are constantly looking for better ways to get things done. Barriers are challenges, obstacles are opportunities for innovation, the words “can’t do” register as “how can we do.” They use the culture to change the culture, and use channels effectively.
  • Analytical and intuitive, aggressive and patient, confident and humble, deliberate and decisive. These sometimes paradoxical characteristics of highly effective leaders are present in abundance in go-to’s. They escalate what needs to be handled at a higher level and don’t feel that they have to resolve everything themselves.

While many resumes portray people as leaders, resumes are heavily weighted toward “initiators”, those who start things and develop new ways of doing things. Few talk about completions – driving things that they have initiated through to conclusion. You need both, and don’t confuse the two.

If you are not that natural leader, remember that becoming the go-to person in your organization is very powerful in raising positive perceptions of your value. It’s all about who you know, what you know, what you do, and how you can help. Best of all, it’s fun to get things done.

Martin Zwilling , Founder and CEO, Startup Professionals
February 17th, 2013