When you get down to it, your business is all about meeting the needs of people. Customers, employees, vendors, lenders, investors and members of the community are all people with very human needs. The best businesses understand this and do their best to meet those needs. In order to do this, a business has to satisfy its own needs. It needs to attract customers. It needs to satisfy those customers. It needs to recruit, hire and train employees. It needs a way to keep track of the money.
And to make all of that happen, a business needs leadership. The qualities of leadership drive the ability of the business to meet its own needs and the needs of the people who depend on it for convenience, security and in some cases, their very lives.
So the real work of the business owner is rising to the constant challenge of developing the leader within you. If you don’t develop the skills and attributes of a leader, your business will stagnate. It’s only a matter of time before you sell it or close the doors for good. And in that time, it will slowly drain the life out of the people who come into contact with it, including you!
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Even a stagnant business can be brought back to life with effective leadership.
Are Leaders Born or Made?
Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. John F. Kennedy
Some people say that leadership is something that’s innate—you’re either born with it, or you aren’t. While it is true that some individuals are born with leadership traits, there is more to being a true leader than genetics! The truth is that leadership is a combination of skills that can be learned, practiced, and perfected by anyone willing to put in the time and effort.
Simply being the owner is not enough to create a world-class company. You must also be able to direct your energy and passion—and that requires leadership. Leadership is what turns your entrepreneurial vision into reality. In a small business, the owner, the entrepreneur, and the leader are one person. Most likely, you are the founder, the majority shareholder, and CEO. Therefore, it is imperative for you to cultivate effective leadership skills in order to build and manage a successful small business.
Leadership – What is it Really?
At first glance, business leadership looks like it’s simply a matter of style. But when you get to the core of it, leadership isn’t about style at all. It’s about substance. Vision, action, and spirit — these comprise the essence of leadership. They have nothing to do with style and everything to do with substance. The substance of leadership consists of knowing what to do, knowing how to do it, and influencing others to achieve it.
The style of leadership is largely a matter of personality. There are quiet, low-key leaders as well as aggressive, charismatic leaders, and an infinite variety in between. How effective they are depends on how well they carry out the substance of leadership. Don’t mistake style for spirit. Style is superficial. Style doesn’t create any vision, doesn’t get anything done… it just looks good — or bad. The substance of leadership, however, can be acquired and learned.
Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall. Stephen R. Covey
It’s not enough to just acknowledge my need to be a leader, you might be saying — what, exactly, does it involve? Let’s look first at what EMyth considers the five core skills of effective leadership:
- Vision This is the ability to formulate ideas about the business or parts of the business; to understand opportunities or the need for change; to create a mental picture of what the business will be in the future; and to articulate all of that clearly in words and images. At the highest level, it’s the creation of the entrepreneur’s dream.
- Discrimination being able to see what’s important, to understand the available choices, and to make sound, practical decisions. Discrimination is free-form decision making rather than rule-based decision making. It’s knowing what questions to ask, and being able to answer them in the absence of rules or previous experience.
- Strategic Thinking The ability to see the big picture and devise an effective path — the right actions — that will lead to realizing the vision. Inventing “the rules of your game” (as Michael Gerber puts it) and creating your business philosophy and key policies.
- Commitment This is the determination and energy to follow through and make the vision a reality even in the face of obstacles, opposition, uncertainty, and risk. Without an underlying passion for your vision, commitment is difficult to maintain.
- Inspirational Communication This is the skill of communicating vision and strategy, and being able to infuse the organization with enthusiasm, dedication, and some of your own spirit and passion.
Volumes have been written about leadership, leadership traits, leadership qualities, and biographies of great leaders are abundant. But defining the skills of leadership is a bit more problematic. While the skills we have listed might equally apply to any leader in any situation, we have focused on the needs of a business leader.
And the good news is that through consistent and intentional application these skills can be developed and strengthened by any business owner. The key is not to be “the best” leader out there, but to simply become the best leader you can be. The critical point to keep in mind is that developing leadership skills is a process, not an event — it won’t occur in a week. Or in a month. But it will happen as you apply yourself to these skills in the day-to-day functions of running your business.
What About Character?
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. Abraham Lincoln
One might argue that while leadership skills constitute the efficacy of a leader, character traits determine the quality of the leadership. The idea that character matters is one that runs throughout the literature of leadership. And it would be fair to assume that character matters to you and your employees, as well. While each of us might like to think we are people of good character and possess any number of desirable traits, the question here is what traits or qualities are expected in a good leader?
Keep in mind that it is one thing to develop a skill, even a leadership skill; it is something else altogether to develop character traits. Simply being aware of their existence in our makeup — or lack of them — can be a challenge!
However, a number of key traits have been identified over the years that are consistently noted and described as being essential for leadership.
Here are the top ten:
- Able to communicate
When it comes down to becoming a real leader in your business it is helpful to remember the primary purpose of a leader: to lead others somewhere. Knowing first and foremost where you are going with your business is absolutely essential for being a leader. All the rest becomes a matter of accrued experience. As Antony Jay once said, “The only real training for leadership is leadership.”