One-third of businesses will not survive their first two years in business, and only half will survive five years. The strength and ability of the leader is the critical differentiator for business failure or success. How can small business owners become the leader they need to be to ensure their business survives and thrives?
Small business leaders don’t get special leadership training programs from HR. Chances are, they are HR. So how can small business owners become the leader they aspire to be? I suggest they focus on three areas for growth. The first is Focus, the second is Team Development, and the third is Execution.
The first step to becoming a better leader starts with knowing yourself. What are your personal goals and objectives? How does that influence your Vision for what you want for your business? A good leader is in alignment between what they wish for themselves and what they want for their business. And, with that alignment, they are better able to create a clear path forward for the company that they can communicate effectively for the team.
When a leader has focus, goals and priorities become crystal clear. And with that clarity, decision making becomes more manageable. Is it aligned with the Vision, or isn’t it? Does it advance the business toward the larger goals you’ve set, or doesn’t it? And finally, does it bring value aligned with achieving your priorities and meeting your objectives.
Focus enables the leader to be clear on how they want to run their business. As their business grows, they won’t speak to every employee individually every day and ensure they execute their way. They can’t do it; it’s not how they should spend their time. So getting clear on the “how” of the business and communicating it is the only way to ensure that the team aligns with their values.
In corporate America, there is always some initiative or other on how to develop their people. In small business America, it is more difficult to achieve. It isn’t seen as a priority because there is so much else to do. So, how can you scale team development to small business resources?
It begins with hiring well. Take the time to build a process of hiring that provides consistent outcomes and results. That starts with clear job descriptions. This helps outline for you the skills and talents you need from eth candidate. And, it allows the candidate to see if the position is a fit for them.
Assessments are helpful tools as well. We recommend the Core Values Index (take it free here) as it defines the innate strengths candidates bring to your firm. It is not the only criteria to use for hiring, but it can guide your questions for the candidate and show how well they align with the position’s needs. They also will help you understand how your team will interact.
Once hired, the next step is providing clear guidance and direction to your employees. This gets back to our first point on Focus. When you are focused as a leader and have clear goals and priorities, you can communicate them quickly to the team. And you have to share them often. The more people on the team understand where the business is headed (Vision), the better they can see how they contribute to that Vision. And that brings alignment and engagement, so you have less turnover.
Finally, as a leader, you need to encourage frequent feedback to your teams on performance, both good and bad. A former boss told me that “problems don’t age well.” Deal with issues as soon as you become aware of them. And, more importantly, catch people doing something right and acknowledge it.
The last piece of the puzzle for small business leaders is to focus on execution. Execution is paying attention to how well you are meeting your objectives and advancing on your priorities.
Objectives are the measurable, graphable goals that tell you how your business is performing. They consist of lagging and leading indicators to know if you are making the achievements today that will deliver your results tomorrow. These should be reviewed at least monthly and discussed with your team. Compare your outcomes against the prior year and plan. And assess what those numbers are telling you about the future and make adjustments to a forecast as necessary.,
Your priorities are the work that needs to be done. These are the big business building projects that deliver the future for you, your team, and your customers. In a year, you do not want to have more than 9 of these with no more than three in a given quarter. Each month you should check progress on these projects against major milestones and budget.
And don’t hide your progress on your essential execution items. Too many leaders don’t want to “make the team nervous,” so they hold back bad news. The reality is, if you’re not hitting your deliverables, employees can see it in their workload. Make a point to deliver updates on these items to your team in a monthly town hall or report out.
Being a successful leader is not a happy accident. It requires attention to focus, team development, and execution regularly. If you want to become the leader you aspire to be, join our community of leaders at clearpathcoaches.com/community to learn best practices, ask questions and find a group of like-minded leaders where you can find support.