A Startup Lesson from Beyonce

Remember all the hoopla about Beyonce lip synching the national anthem at the Presidential Inauguration?  I think it dominated the media for close to a week and made her look bad.

But the whole reason it became such big, gossipy news isn’t because Beyonce didn’t sing live.  It’s because she allowed it to become a surprise instead of making a preemptive announcement.

She should have quietly released a statement with something like: “I’m deeply honored to be asked to sing the national anthem at the inauguration.  Unfortunately, the weather conditions and the outdoor setup make it very hard to sing this song in top-quality.  Out of respect for the President and the inauguration, I do not want to take any risks of something going wrong and will be singing a pre-recorded version.”

With hundreds of people sitting around her, did she not think this would come out?  Instead it became a mini-scandal when she could have mitigated the shock factor amongst the press and social media who loves to keep breathing air into stuff like this.

This is all to say: surprises are very bad.

While starting my organization, I was reminded of this very early from a board member.  He loathed the saying, “Don’t ask for permission now, ask for forgiveness later.”  That’s a good way to burn bridges and lose trust amongst people whose trust you need over the long-term.

In the startup environment, I think this advice is especially important when things are very, very unpredictable.  Startup leaders have a lot of ambition and personal pride which can often get in the way of admitting setbacks.  But when it comes to your closest partners (board members, mentors, and colleagues) it is essential for a few reasons:

1) Bad news is likely to come out anyway

2) If you don’t share, no one can help

3) When it does come out, others close to you will wonder what else you’re not sharing and trust you less

4) You’ll be a better leader by not shouldering all the heavy stuff on your own

The answer: over-communicate.  You’ll build trust, create a stronger team, and demonstrate your strong leadership skills.

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