Needs-Based Leadership: With Thanks to Jerry Colonna


Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Global Accelerator Network’s Managing Directors Meeting in New York City, where startup accelerator operators from all over the world met to discuss best practices, latest trends, and new opportunities.  Time spent with peers facing similar challenges, albeit in different geographies, offered a unique blend of fun, sharing, and even catharsis.

All the sessions were informative and helpful. However, one in particular stood out for its relevance, not only to startups but also accelerator managing directors.  I could apply it instantly and have done so already with one startup this week.

The session featured Jerry Colonna, the executive coach to both Brad Feld and David Cohen. His emotionally engaging and powerful discussion will be hard to forget for anyone present. Jerry spoke on the topic of Needs-Based Leadership.

The overall key takeaway was a call to simplify the role of the leader to three disciplines:

1)     Hold the vision.

2)     Build and manage the team

3)     Ensure everyone has what they need.

If 50% or more of the leader’s time is spent on activities beyond these there will be clear leadership shortfalls and lack of organizational efficacy.  It is certainly easy to say but hard to practice.

Not long after hearing this talk, I came across an opportunity to share this wisdom when I met with one of our portfolio company’s founding CEO, who was struggling in his role and felt an unbelievable amount of pressure.

It is a common challenge that first time CEOs face – how to manage the guilt of not working constantly in the business with your fellow co-founders and employees.   Add in the fulfillment of the being productive working on things you naturally love and a CEO can quickly drift away from the critical role as leader.

This particular CEO had drifted into the business too far and away from the necessary leadership role for the startup.  As a result, the business was a touch behind on milestones needed to instill future investor confidence.   Furthermore, the leader had lost the edge necessary to hold team members accountable because the leader failed to hold the vision of the business at the forefront.  In this case, the CEO needed to step away from the business, revisit proper leadership disciplines and reengage effectively.

If you find yourself in a leadership position facing a similar struggle, take this advice from Jerry:

  •         Hold the vision of the company and make certain it’s well understood.
  •         Build and manage a great team and make sure each person understands their job.
  •         Ensure everyone has the resources — the people, the money, the clarity — they need to succeed.

Take the time to be an effective leader and Never Stop.

Eric Mathews is CEO and Founder of Start Co. He can be reached at