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How to lead with no backup

Louie Bacaj
Louie Bacaj
2 min read
How to lead with no backup

It is easy to lead others to keep going when we know there is backup coming. But how can we lead people when there is no backup, no hiring, and no more help?

Situations where money has run dry, or there was never enough, are more challenging. But these situations exist at startups and large companies alike. They always exist when we are working on side projects or bootstrapping something.

One might quit when resources have run out. But few people quit on their team. Which is why going at it even with a few other people is so important.

Team members can teach each other grit. When one sees the few teammates they've got keep going, they'll keep going too.

At a startup I worked in, I remember looking up and seeing other engineers still working late into the night as we neared our launch, and we didn't have enough people. I remember thinking—damn, this place is different, these people are different. You might laugh at us for working that hard, but we had equity; we had a stake in that company. In the end, every person that was still in that room late is doing amazingly well today.

Learning all about grit from each other didn't hurt us one bit.

When we realize that there will not be any backup, the first thing to go is motivation

Many bad things have been said about motivation, even by me, because it's fleeting and leaves us at times as fast as it finds us. But the thing about motivation for a team of people is that it's just like a fire. A fire we burn logs and sticks in; when the fire is going strong, we are warm and fuzzy. When it's dying out, only embers remain. Each reminder of why we do what we're doing is another log we throw into that fire.

When there is no backup is when we all grow the most.

Many think that growth only comes from hiring more people to manage, and sure growth can come from that. But proper growth comes from people taking on more than they are capable of. It comes the fastest from being an operator and learning by doing things you've never done before. When scope increases, people either fail or step up. Many will step up; those are the people we want by our side.

People want to see growth. Just because we have no backup coming does not mean we shouldn't recognize, promote, or acknowledge people's achievements. Those acknowledgments, by the way, are more sticks for the fire.

The tougher things get, the more we will find out who we are, but it won't happen if we quit too soon. More importantly, when things get tough, we will find out who our teammates are.

In Albanian, we have a proverb, "Miku i mirë gjihet në kohë të vështirë."

Roughly translated, it means we will find our best of friends only in the hardest times.