Organising an event like Startup Weekend in your city is a bit like owning Sauron’s ring. It is difficult to let go because it is such a powerful tool to make such a great and gratifying impact with. A bit more than a month ago we proved this again by hosting the 12th edition of Startup Weekend Groningen. 84 participants worked throughout an intense weekend to build 14 new startups, learning valuable lessons, gaining confidence, and making meaningful friendships along the way.

In the last 3 years I have been lead organizer of Startup Weekend Groningen. I managed to both organise- and build a holacracy driven self-governing organizational culture of which I hope the startup ecosystem of Groningen will benefit, for a really long time. 

Becoming a super hero

Please think of this; If I would ask you; Do you want to be a superhero? What would your answer be? It is great when others appreciate, love and admire you for what you do, right? It gives a sense of purpose and meaning. 

Despite there is nothing wrong with that, I would love to argue that it’s not sustainable for your ecosystem / company / community if you were to become the super hero. By now surely a hero has crossed your mind. Who were you thinking of? Wonder Woman or Superman perhaps? The hero you were thinking of is probably a strong individual with unique skills and qualities doing remarkable things such as saving the world all by themselves. 

Now here is the issue. I have met many strong individuals who can be admired for who they are, what they do, or the position they hold. You are likely one of them. Some individuals are more exceptional than others. But it’s worthless if performance is all depending on that single person. One day that person is going to hand over their work and they have to make sure others can take over and meet their standard without having to sacrifice a healthy work-life balance.

Superhero or unconscious villain?

Although the world sometimes seems to incentivize hard work or outperforming others to grow to a leadership position. I learned that hard work is not how great leadership can be distinguished. I argue that those heroic leaders who make others feel subordinate or stupid in comparison, even while it happens so unintendedly (which is mostly the case for a variety of reasons) are actually more like pretentious villains than they are superheroes. They are leaders who intrinsically have the right motivations but often trust themselves more than they do trust the people they work with.

Even despite they might be right at times, and actually deliver more trustworthy outcomes, as long as trust is not given to peers, leaders will remain indispensable. Being indispensable might seem appealing to some, but it is not. Superheroes should become superfluous so they can take on new endeavours.

Although the world sometimes seems to incentivize hard work or outperforming others to grow to a leadership position, hard work is not how great leadership can be distinguished.

Team of Heroes

As lead organizer I’ve worked together with the team to create a safe environment in which leadership is distributed to various roles. It doesn’t make sense to try and control everything by yourself, or to think that you know what is best. Someone designated to a specific task or job will always make better informed decisions. Authority should be distributed. Great leaders turn others into equal great leaders. 

Organising team Startup Weekend Groningen 2019 (left to right: Bram, Marleen, Luuk, Yorick, Kristen, Tjarda, Coen, Linn) Photo: Joost Nuijten

All a lead organizer does is safeguarding that environment so the team can explore, make mistakes, create great things, be upfront, feel motivated about the things they initiate by themselves, learn valuable lessons in the process, accomplish their ambitions, become more knowledgeable, do things someone else is considered better at, discover cohesiveness between various parts of the organisation, have authority within their roles and make decisions by themselves in favor of the organization. As a result everyone can lead, freeing up your time and headspace to grow into new things such as becoming more of a community lead instead of an event lead.  

Explicit accountabilities

A coxed four is a rowing boat used in the sport of competitive rowing. The captain or so called coxswain is responsible for steering, calling the moves, responding to the way the other boats are moving and the safety of those in the boat. 

Success depends on the physical and mental strength of the rowers, ability to respond to the environment, and the way in which the coxswain motivates the rowers, not only as individuals but as members of the crew. Everyone has its own explicit accountabilities. The accountabilities of coxswain are impossible to combine with the ones of the rowers and visa versa.

If you would extend these principles into a business situation you could argue that once the coxswain does start to do the rowing – which is what many leaders do when the pressure is high or the priorities are off – nobody is able anymore to successfully take accountability for an essential part of teamwork. Stay humble, don’t be a micromanager. Allow everyone to take ownership and keep each other as a team accountable for the responsibilities each one has.

Great leaders turn others into equal great leaders. 

Want to know more?

Reach out to me if you want to know more or if you have challenges your dealing with that you wish to discuss. I’m happy to schedule a call and discuss further how we did build a holacracy driven self-governing organizational culture. You can also check out our governance here.