The 4 Most Important Skills for First-time Leaders at Scale-ups

27 Oct, 2022gregortowers

On route to global success, scale-ups take talent on an exciting and hectic growth journey. However, there’s another vulnerable side to the scale-up world: not everyone can keep up with their rapid growth. Especially their first-time leaders. Straight out of university, they are faced with the responsibility and pressure of not just their own work, but the work delivered by the team they manage. How can such leaders be supported? 

Lepaya hosted a discussion with leadership experts Noor van Boven, Co-Founder of Invested, and Lindsay Ross, CHRO at Bitpanda, to explore which 4 skills L&D managers need to prioritize for their first-time leaders to succeed at a scale-up. 



  1. Develop talent to develop a team 
  2. Reflection amidst hypergrowth 
  3. Managing Conversations
  4. Authentic leadership to develop style
  5. Combining the 4 Most Essential Skills for First-time Leaders 


Develop talent to develop a team 

Scale-up leaders land in fast-growing environments and have to manage an unpredictable element of.growth: their teams. Someone who was hired yesterday, may be working in a role tomorrow, that doesn’t even exist today. But team building doesn’t stop after recruitment, it needs constant nurturing.

Team leads need to identify which candidates are suitable for their work environment and then develop them into specialists to drive the team forwards. However, at scale-ups, which future specialists the company will need is unclear. Therefore, discussing career planning with each member of the team is essential to encourage a growth mindset and to align an individual’s vision of their personal development with the team’s progression. 

Reflection amidst hypergrowth

While building a team at a scale-up, team leaders experience pressure from different angles. Demands from higher management, expectations within their team, changing working environment and everything has to be instantaneous. 

First-time leaders must learn to reflect amidst pressure because only with the necessary overview can they guide their team’s growth: 

  • Is my team the right size?
  • Are we setting the right priorities? 
  • Is everyone here in a position that is right for them?
  • Does my team have the necessary experience for the tasks?  

Only leaders who learn to pause and notice downward developments in time can solve them with effective communication. 


Managing Conversations 

It’s one skill to identify negative developments, it takes another skill to approach them with the right conversation. Thoughtful communication and analyzing the system as a whole are key to deal with difficult conversations

Therefore, first-time leaders need to learn how to manage conversations and listen properly. In scale-ups, these conversations need to focus on career planning because employees are highly motivated to develop and want to achieve career goals beyond the company. 

And first-time leaders must learn to accept this because talent fixated on future development is not a disadvantage for a scale-up. On the contrary, with the right communication skills, leaders can motivate their team to develop skills which benefit the company and their personal development. This is why, out of the 5 leadership skills Lepaya trained, over 80% of Picnic’s 300 first-time leaders reported a 28% improvement – the biggest skill development – in effective communication. 


Authentic leadership to develop style

First-time leaders need the right communication skills to be transparent about their new leadership. No one expects perfection. On the contrary, leaders who openly share mistakes exemplify to their team that they are also allowed to make mistakes. 

Therefore, trial and error is indispensable at scale-ups as it grants talent the freedom and autonomy to be creative. And through trial and error, first-time leaders subconsciously learn to develop their own unique leadership style to get the most out of their team. 


Combining the 4 most essential skills for first-time leaders 

Scale-ups are vulnerable in their nature but their unpredictable growth doesn’t have to leave first-time leaders behind. With the right L&D leadership solution, scale-ups can make first-time leaders feel secure on a challenging yet rewarding growth experience. 

Building the right team at a scale-up amidst change is challenging. Therefore, leaders must first identify candidates with the right potential and then drive their talent’s career growth to form a team. But to understand the team’s development needs, leaders must learn to reflect under pressure and act upon their reflections with meaningful conversations. Engaging in dialogue with their talent to align career expectations with the scale-up’s development helps build stability, trust and growth opportunities. And with such open and authentic communication in the team, first-time leaders will naturally grow and develop their own unique leadership styles to foster an environment where trial and error is encouraged. 

Now interconnecting and developing all 4 essential leadership skills in a scale-up working environment, builds a foundation for first-time leaders not just to keep pace, but to excel on the growth journey.


Want to learn more about how to empower your leaders? Discover more on our Power Skills or request a personalised demo