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Leadership Cannot Be a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

As your position and company grows, your leadership style must evolve.

Key points

  • As a leader, you must learn how to manage yourself, others, and the business.
  • Building and recognizing your leadership style is crucial to your success.
  • Developing psychological safety in the workplace is a must have, not just a nice to have idea.
Kraken Images/Unsplash
As your role and company grow, so must your leadership style.
Source: Kraken Images/Unsplash

Some people will tell you that leaders are not born; they are made. If you ask Alisa Cohn, the number one start-up coach in the world and author of From Start-Up to Grown-Up, she will tell you that leadership is an unnatural act. She should know; after all, she spent two decades coaching founders of such notable companies as Etsy, Venmo, DraftKing, and Foursquare.

The path from noodling on an idea and drawing it out on a back of a napkin to starting a company and leading people is challenging and filled with hidden surprises and unintended consequences. Knowing how to dodge these start-up bullets and even thrive takes coaching from experts like Cohn.

Cohn has extensive experience helping start-up founders transition to CEOs and works with them to make their business a household name. From Start-Up to Grown-Up summarizes the tools and practices she teaches her clients. She astutely divided the book into three parts, perhaps representing the three primary responsibilities of a founder and leader:

  1. Managing you
  2. Managing them
  3. Managing the company

Who Are You Managing?

When you manage yourself, you need to increase your self-awareness. “The job of a CEO,” shares Cohn, “Your natural style, your triggers and some of your demons” need to be recognized, dealt with, or leveraged.

When managing others, recognize that what worked for you when you were five friends around a folding table from Costco may not work when you have 500 or 1,000 employees. You need to learn to hire, fire, and develop your employees. You need systems, structure, and processes, which Cohn calls necessary and sexy.

Managing the company goes far beyond the bottom line and includes everything from how you handle meetings (Cohn loves them when they are done correctly) and whether or not to have a ping-pong table in the workplace.

Do You Have Psychological Safety at Work?

In the age of transparency and authenticity, a driving factor for employees is psychological safety in the workplace. Coined by Amy Edmonson of Harvard Business School, it boils down to people feeling safe at work. They should not be concerned that they will be disrespected, bullied, humiliated, harassed, or anything else that does not make them feel whole.

So what is a positive sign that people feel psychologically safe at work? “They feel comfortable complaining to the boss,” shares Cohn. They do not feel there will be retribution for sharing an unpopular or dissenting opinion.

Building Your Leadership Style

Copying someone else’s leadership style rarely works. Every person and organization has its own unique culture, so you need to do what comfortably works and feels authentic. Cohn recommends five things to learn and embody to start building your leadership style:

  1. Create psychological safety
  2. Use positive attention to motivate others
  3. Set clear expectations
  4. Hold people accountable
  5. Delegate

Respond, Don’t React

As a leader, when things do not go as planned, you need to exercise emotional self-control; instead of lashing out, stop and pause. Respond, do not react; there is a difference. One is fueled by the emotion and heat of the moment, while the other is more rational. Which of the two do you think garners a better response from people?

While Cohn wrote the book for founders of start-ups, it is perfect for anyone who wants to enhance and elevate their leadership skills. A special bonus are the scripts at the back of the book for the difficult conversations, which are often needed, yet too readily avoided. From Start-Up to Grown-Up is a playbook for any leader who wishes to succeed.


Cohn, A. (2021). From Start-Up to Grown Up. Great Britain, Kogan Page.

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