Reinventing your leadership: the new challenge for entrepreneurs



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Debrief of the Ateliers du Galion 2021 How to build, adapt and reinvent its leadership, in order to adapt it to the various stages of growth of the company and to the new challenges it must face? Arbia Smiti, Nicolas Chartier, and Nicolas Debock shared their feedback.


After a first career at L'Oréal, then the sale of his first company to an industrialist, Arbia Smiti launched Rosaly in 2019, a fintech whose mission is to simplify the payroll deposit for employees. Engaged in several Tech communities, in this workshop she shares her first mistakes and her evolution as a business leader. Nicolas Chartier is a serial entrepreneur who co-founded Aramis Group, the European leader in the sale of used cars. He co-manages a group of 1600 employees spread over four countries. Nicolas Debock, an investor at Eurazeo, brings his expertise on how venture capital investment funds can help entrepreneurs develop their leadership.


How do you learn leadership? Arbia prefers to play down the question at the outset: “you always break your teeth in the way you manage during your first experience”. No perfect theory to find “the magic formula for perfect management”, but practical advice based on experience.

1/ Peer exchange

“No two entrepreneurs have followed exactly the same approach. But if there is one thing that all business leaders do, it is meet and discuss regularly with other CEOs,” says Nicolas. Peer exchange seems to be the cornerstone of leadership learning. Arbia confirms: “I was learning very quickly from people I identified with, who were experiencing the same problems as me.” It is a real asset to benefit from the feedback of other business leaders, in particular by joining networks of entrepreneurs (such as Galion,...). Sharing advice, drawing inspiration from the best practices of others, and comparing different points of view necessarily opens up the field of possibilities.

2/ The books

Books are a resource that is particularly popular with entrepreneurs. Nicolas Chartier, himself co-author of the book” Becoming a Lean Leader with a Sensei: Learning to see and act on the ground to create sustainable value”, particularly recommends the book by Eric Schmidt,” Trillion Dollar Coach.”

3/ The videos

Arbia favors “more dynamic and more embodied” learning formats, such as videos. Social networks now provide access to countless video and audio resources that deal with leadership: broadcasts of events, conferences, summaries of books and thoughts, explanatory videos... The important thing is to find the format that suits everyone.

4/ The “benevolent advice”

It can be tricky to get kind and objective advice from your own teams. That's why an entrepreneur called on five business leaders, including Arbia, to set up a “caring council.” The aim is simple: to discuss freely, from a point of view external to the company, a problem that the entrepreneur must face. Since this request, Arbia has herself set up this type of system in her company, which she calls “squads”: “each of these squads with which I communicate regularly focuses on a specific theme (recruitment, marketing, etc.). The entrepreneurs who take part are not paid: they are friendly meetings, over a good meal for example,” explains Arbia.

Nicolas Debock adds: “To be benevolent is to be a better leader. This is not a scientific rule: it is human.”, adding that investors attach a lot of importance to this know-how of entrepreneurs. So, naturally, entrepreneurs who inspire self-confidence, leadership and caring are one step ahead. He emphasizes that self-confidence and leadership often go hand in hand: “Being a CEO and being a leader means transmitting beliefs.” To feel, as an investor, the atmosphere, the relationships between leaders, and between founders and teams, he recommends going out into the field: “You very quickly feel the relationships of power, respect or not between people when you are in the offices.”

5/ Coaching

For Nicolas Chartier, leadership goes hand in hand with humility: “Improving your leadership means accepting that you are not good at the start.” Recognizing, in short, that your leadership is not irreproachable. To correct his mistakes and capitalize on his areas of improvement, Nicolas Chartier underlines the importance of the role of the coach and/or mentor. This is a long-term task, which the vast majority of successful entrepreneurs comply with, and which can be done in a variety of ways.


“Eric Schmidt asks a simple question, based on the following observation: the best athletes in the world are coached. So how do you want to learn to develop your CEO skills, to become the best CEO, without being coached? ” asks Nicolas Chartier.

The coach does not make decisions for the entrepreneur: on the other hand, he leads him to make better decisions, by bringing an outside perspective. In general, there are 2 types of coaches: a more psychological profile, and an operational profile, especially with former CEOs who have already encountered the same problems as the entrepreneur. The choice is highly personal and is based on the intuitive personae: “To identify the right person, you have to test to find the right fit,” insists Arbia.

Nicolas Chartier prefers, to the concept of coach, the concept of “sensei”, which focuses on field work alongside the entrepreneur: “it's one day a month, prepared in advance, where we go together in the field, at the heart of the teams (factories, dev, customer services...). The sensei forces you to see what you are doing wrong, the problems that I don't see — or don't want to see — without psychological dimensions. We focus on the operational side.”

Arbia was also looking for a very practical approach and invented a position for this: a non-executive director, to which she gives BSAs. In return, he works with her 3 times a week on her operational problems during workshops in which she can involve her partner or various collaborators: “I monitor my actions with him according to my needs.”

Nicolas Debock confirms this growing trend among entrepreneurs to call on coaches: “It's like the Mental Health : no one was talking about it 10 years ago, now everyone is talking about it.”


How to evolve and improve your leadership as your startup grows? For the 3 speakers, several elements must be taken into account in the evolution of the way they manage a company:

  • The size of the company: You don't run a very small business in the same way as a growing startup.
  • The personal maturity of the CEO: it is acquired with experience, by dint of living and reacting to different situations on the ground.
  • The evolution of the business environment: We don't manage a business in the same way before or during a global health crisis. When things go wrong, it's harder and more important to be a good leader, and we don't work the same things: it's the work done in periods of calm to prepare teams that makes teams know how to adapt in times of crisis.

With regard to the personal maturity of the CEO, Arbia testifies to the evolution of its management on several points:

· centralization vs decentralization: At the beginning, we tend to be too focused on the operational side, to not know how to delegate, when we should be more focused on middle management and the scalability of the model.

· team motivation vs transparency: Arbia says that she tended to always want to show a smiling and dynamic face to unite and motivate her troops, even in difficult times, even though she promoted transparency as the value of her company. “You have to find the right balance between federating, finding smarter people, focusing on your qualities, and also communicating her difficult moments to her team in the right way, without demotivating them,” she concludes. “We have to find the right balance between federating, finding smarter people, focusing on her qualities, and also communicating her difficult moments to her team in the right way, without demotivating them.” Learn it by slapping.”

To answer these questions, Arbia Smiti, Nicolas Chartier and Nicolas Debock are unanimous: you have to confront the reality on the ground, and not be afraid of making mistakes. “I don't see any other way to learn than to fail” concludes Nicolas Chartier.


1) You were talking about your difficulty in delegating. How do you allocate your time today in your company?

Arbia: “I realized that the CEO's role was above all to surround himself and build his teams. Today, I devote 50% of my time to operational matters, 30% to management and 20% to recruitment, because C-Levels must absolutely be recruited by the founder.”

2) What do your teams bring to you in your leadership?

Nicolas Chartier answers:

“It is indeed a very important point. Nowadays, there is a high expectation on the part of our employees (even more than before) to evolve in an environment where their point of view is valued, where they are listened to and taken into account. Personally, we have a whole system to encourage suggestions from employees, get them up to speed, help them make decisions without ever taking them for them... In my opinion, decisions must come from the field.
But the leader's job is not to empower, it's to create the conditions for the autonomy of the employee, and to provide him with support when he hesitates in decision-making.”

3) What do you do to have a real dialogue with your teams when you are still the boss?

Nicolas Chartier:

“I am on the ground two days a week. It's work prepared beforehand, with a whole methodology: someone from my team goes out in the field before I come to help employees start discussions, with materials that are valuable for them. The most important thing is to create an environment Safe for employees: this arrival should not cause absolutely no risk for employees. That's exactly the work I'm doing with my sensei.”

4) What is the evolution of leadership between entrepreneur and manager?

It's different, Arbia points out! Anyone can learn, but you have to want to. Because they are different roles, like the founders of Google, who left and then came back.

5) You have a partner: does he also manage this part of the land?

Nicolas Chartier:

“I'm more focused on this operational part, because that's what I like, but we're leading the box in pairs. The advantage of co-managing the business is that everyone can focus on what they like to do the most.”

6) We talk a lot about Americans when we talk about leadership (whether it's books, coaches, etc.): have you identified typical French biases?

Nicolas Chartier:

“I think it's a disaster! I see it in particular with British, Belgian or Spanish culture: French leadership would simply not work there. It comes from education, from the model. The French bias is not being positive and going through repression, bad grades, etc., at all costs, to hope for progress... It's unfortunate.”


Aramis Group - B2C

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