Mental Fitness and Startup Leadership

Mental Resilience or “Fitness” and Startup Leadership

By Steve Adam and Bob Acton
Being mentally fit or mentally resilient is a critical component for leading a startup to success.

Mental fitness is the mind’s ability to withstand, recover from, and adapt to stress-producing experiences that act upon it. For example, how do you handle criticism? Can I manage a disappointment? Can I manage a crisis in our business?

Anybody can create a startup and have potential success as a result. The idea of starting your own business is thousands of years old but it is only in recent years that we can conceive of an idea, test it, receive feedback, and decide if it is worth pursuing with almost no money and in very short time frames. Methods to manage our way through the wild ride of growing ideas to products are laying strong foundations for beginners and seasoned entrepreneurs alike. Approaches such as Eric Reis’ Lean Startup and Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation have proven to be excellent resources at a time when even MBA programs cannot keep up with the dizzying speed of evolving tactics and methods.
Given the availability of reading material, online courses, consulting, and coaching in the mechanics of building a startup, why does it seem easier for some to go from ‘fail fast, fail early’ to a product to crossing the chasm, growth, or acquisition while others struggle? This question isn’t unique to startups, it is in fact so ubiquitous it is seen in all aspects of our lives. That is…all else being equal (i.e., the books, courses, consulting available to us,…) our experience and ultimate success is dictated by the attitude we bring to the experience, how we manage our thoughts and emotions, and how we manage the relationships surrounding the startup. In other words, we hold the key as determined by our headspace. It’s not about whether we have good or bad ideas since many great ideas die with their inventor and seemingly average ideas do extremely well. In some rare cases great people and great ideas merge (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook). These stories make for great books and movies but do not need to be the only model to measure success. The majority of successful startups become great small businesses that don’t get press on TechCrunch or get bought by Google.
This series of blogs will help support anyone looking to change they way they approach their work, people thinking of or engaged in a startup, and everyone who has ever wanted to do something on their own. We do this by looking at the fundamental core of the startup…you, your thoughts and ideas, and how you handle the various issues that normally arise. What is important to you, what you think about, and how you deal with issues and people determines your outcomes and ultimately your success. It is your attitude, and more specifically your emotional intelligence, that is your ringer. The topics covered in these blogs will focus on fundamental issues like:
  • Startups are for everyone
  • Mindfulness in leading a startup
  • The power of emotions
  • Understanding success and goals
  • The startup as a model for personal freedom
  • Learning how to assess others: the needs and desires of co-founders, VCs, angels, co-founders, family, etc.
  • Being accountable and being human
  • Managing the stress of a startup. It’s impact on your leadership at work and at home.
  • Building a good team: the art of hiring and firing
    Creating the work culture that works
  • Dealing with failure
  • Developing your influence skills
  • Overusing your strengths
What makes these issues particularly relevant is that they are different from the conventional approach most of us were taught. If you are 35 or older (give or take a few years) chances are that you spent nearly all your career using or being taught management practices from the last century. Ideas like command and control management, waterfall project planning, showing up to an office for 8 hours, sitting at a desk a pretending to look busy, 50 page business plans… Trying to apply these ideas to a startup will most certainly lead to failure. Arguably, applying these aging ideas to any practice nowadays is becoming a serious liability. So new times require new thinking. Being mentally fit (resilient) is the answer. The remarkable changes we have seen in the business world as a result of startup thinking are a result of more grounded, human, and creative approaches to solving our problems.
Relax. Focus. Enjoy.