For the small business owner, leadership skills are not just a nice-to-have, they’re an integral part of running a successful company - whether you’re responsible for one employee or one hundred. Managing others and actually leading them however, while often confused for the same thing, are two very different talents. We can’t all be natural born leaders, but we can learn to develop the skill set that defines one.
To become a successful leader, owners, managers, and other business executives must be willing to be more than just a “boss”. Beyond the supervision of others in assigning work and managing schedules, leaders strive to guide and inspire their personnel by modeling and encouraging:
- Innovative thinking,
- Creative problem solving, and
- Mindful performance
Employees who feel engaged and motivated tend to be significantly more productive, and as one of your most important assets, they add increasing value to your business. Honing your leadership skills should be an ongoing process, but by implementing small, targeted changes today you can be well on your way to becoming an effective leader tomorrow.
Let’s look at a handful of fundamental leadership traits that will help to transport you from someone with a great idea who hires staff, to someone who inspires confidence, loyalty, and a sense of personal investment in their team.
Become an Effective Communicator
While running the show often goes hand-in-hand with managing the tasks of others, it shouldn’t end there. Effective communication in the workplace goes beyond the simple transmission of information, to connect and inspire. Taking the time to really listen to your employees, customers, and colleagues will inevitably lead to:
- great ideas that can help to improve your business
- the creation of a supportive work culture defined by happy, engaged, and loyal personnel
When you make a point of always communicating your ideas and expectations clearly, and of providing regular insights into company efforts and progress where overall goals are concerned, you’ll be far less likely to find your work environment bogged down by disgruntled workers who feel disconnected from what’s going on.
Dedicate Yourself to Building a Well-Rounded Team
No man or woman is an island, and as a business owner it’s crucial that you take regular inventory of your own strengths and weaknesses so that limitations can be addressed. This task can be a particularly challenging one for the high-octane entrepreneur who believes they can do it all. But the fact is that hiring talented others with skill sets that complement your own will not only allow you to shore up potential weak points in your day-to-day business affairs, it will positively impact your company’s performance at every level.
Learn to Delegate
Much like raising a child, growing a business requires that you learn to let go a little as your company matures. While many entrepreneurs start out wearing multiple hats, the most successful ones eventually realize that it’s only by giving others equal chance to run with the ball that their business will ever reach its full potential for success. Simply put, the best leaders, delegate. Aside from the obvious time-saving benefits, delegation:
- Fosters an environment of trust, cooperation, and elevated morale,
- Promotes a higher level of efficiency and productivity,
- Produces a more skilled and proactive workforce, and
- Reduces employee turnover
Be Willing to Make Mistakes
Great leaders understand that not only is it impossible to run a business without making mistakes, it’s often those very slip-ups that teach us how to do things better. Learning to deal with and benefit from failure, both in oneself and in one’s employees, is key to becoming an effective leader.
Henry Ford might have said it best when he claimed that “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” While making a mistake may not always be the most pleasant learning experience, failing is usually more about our distorted perception of and emotional reaction to what happened, than it is about bumping up against an insurmountable hurdle. There’s always another way around.
Just because mistakes are an inevitable part of every professional endeavor, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to simply gloss over blunders without a second thought. Both you and your team need to be held responsible for results produced, and for owning up to the fact when something goes wrong. Accountability is a two-way street that begins with the setting of clear expectations, and that relies heavily on leaders who:
- Provide appropriate training and ongoing guidance
- Maintain an open-door policy that encourages questions and feedback
- Give employees sufficient control over their responsibilities
- Model the openness, honesty, and integrity they want to see in their personnel
One of the most realistic predictors of how successful your business will be down the road is the excellence of its leadership. While products and processes can be imitated, it’s the human quality of those in charge that will continue to set you apart from the competition.