Leadership is a discipline I have studied most of my adult life from ROTC to the Air Force to Business, and finally as an adult leader with the Boy Scouts of America.  One of my favorite quotes on leadership is the Successories® poster:

The Essence of Leadership

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.  He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.  In the end, leaders are much like eagles… they don’t flock, you find them one at a time.”

So where is all this “leadership talk” headed?  In the post Small Business Growth Simplified I introduced the small business growth model.  It describes 2 sets of factors (leadership and management) impact a business’ ability to grow. Under the Leadership category there are 4 critical factors:

  • Owner Goals
  • Operational Skills
  • Managerial Abilities
  • Strategic Thinking

Look closely at these owner characteristics. Leadership is a major discipline needed for business growth.  That may seem apparent, but how many companies have you come in contact with that seem to be operating without a leader?  Maybe you know one of these intimately (wink, wink)?

Taking steps for stronger leadership

Leadership begins with vision. that ability to see where the group needs to go.  As an owner it’s your job to define the direction for your business.  It’s disheartening how frequently I as the question “where do you see your company in 3 – 5 years” and the owner does not have an answer!  If the owner can’t answer this question, then how can you expect the employees to understand where they are heading?

Your vision is the starting point for all your business goals.  If you don’t know where you want to end up, then there is a good chance your business will flounder, just wandering aimlessly wherever your market takes you.

Next, to me a good leader you need to be able to set the example for your employees.  This means being willing to do anything that you’re asking them to do.  That means you’d better understand your operation.  In large organization this isn’t always the case, because most of the leaders are far removed from the operation.  In a small business it’s just the opposite.  You may need to roll up your sleeves and get in the “mud” with the other workers.  Often the owner was the original worker in the operation.

This changes as the small business grows.  As you get into the survival stage and especially in the self-sustainability stage of the growth cycle the owner needs to become more of a manager and delegate to others.  This is a major characteristic of leadership – the ability to delegate to others and motivate them to have the same passion for the vision as you.  Until you can master these skills your company will bit be able to achieve the self-sustainability stage of small business growth cycle.

Do you apply strategic thinking?

Finally, leadership requires the ability to think strategically.  That is to look at a situation and determine the most effective solution based on the conditions.  This can be difficult skill for some owners to master.   In a previous post titled Lack of 2 Diverse Skills Hinder Owner Success I discuss how it is often difficult for small business owners to disengage from the day-to-day and thing long-range.  If you cannot do this from time to time it become nearly impossible to create a vision and a game plan for getting there.

Strategic thinking has brought us full circle.  A vision is needed to grow a business.  If you can’t think strategically it becomes difficult at best to create a vision.  Without a vision your goals are short-term objectives leading you nowhere. This makes a pretty good case for leadership as a critical success factor to small business growth.

Where are your leadership skills with respect to your business’ stage of growth?  For those of you that have achieved your vision with a business what part did leadership play in your success?