The amount of work that goes into a job at a growing startup is insane. As soon as you put one project to bed, three more pop up.
However, the most difficult aspect of the work isn't necessarily the effort required, but the emotions, with fear perhaps being the greatest one of all.
When you're part of a small team, you're indispensable. You are literally doing three jobs at once--three jobs that should probably be done by two people each. It's crazy, but there's also a certain security in that. You won't be fired, because there's no one else to do the work.
As the team grows, however, you're asked to do something most people find really uncomfortable--you're asked to start letting go. You're asked to document how you do your job, maybe your favorite aspects of your job, and to teach it to other people who, on day one, can't do it as well as you've learned how to do it.
The same holds true for relationships. Maybe you were interfacing with inventory buyers, or interviewing every candidate--but at some point, you have to hand over those relationships, too.
If other people start doing your job and leveraging your contacts, what happens to that security? What happens to your sense of identity in the organization?
Every early startup employee faces this choice. Do you dig in and play the territorial game, or do you step up to become an indispensable manager?
An indispensable manager not only builds teams, but recognizes a new level of professional responsibility. You speak with the weight of the company behind you, so you need to make sure you're actually on the same page as the rest of the company. As an individual contributor, you may not see the effects of not being on board with management decisions--but as a manager, people look up to you.
Sometimes you just have to say your peace behind closed doors and then get on board for the good of building something bigger then yourself. At the end of the day, you're not the founder or the CEO--and the decision you have is to stick around and row in the direction everyone else is rowing or jump ship.
Successful startup execs build bridges and consensus. They recognize that what the enable the company to accomplish is their track record more than the series of their own person accomplishments. This means ceding credit to a team and abandoning the "I" for the "we". You don't want to win every last argument--you want the company to win.
This is an extremely difficult thing for the type of go-getters and hard workers that are often attracted to startups. A great individual contributor isn't necessarily a great team builder--but that doesn't mean it can't be learned. The keys are professional feedback and self-awareness. Knowing the ways you get in your own way are key to not letting it keep your career down. Taking both outside and inside feedback--from above and below--to heart is a good first step. I generally assume that any criticism someone has of me is true, until I can as objectively prove to myself that it isn't, and I wrote about that a while back here.
Startupping ain't easy, and neither is developing as an employee into a manager and executive.