12 Essential Leadership Skills

Phil Smith
Managing Director | Business West
24th October 2013

Do you regard yourself as a leader? 

The energy to drive a good idea forward may have got you to this stage, but many growing business owners struggle to see themselves as leaders. The good news: leaders are not born but made. As an entrepreneur, you acquire leadership through the experience and challenges of running your business. With the right thinking and the right coaching, you can thrive at leading.

1) Understand and build on your strengths

An important aspect of leadership is self awareness. You need to understand both your strengths and weaknesses. However, your overwhelming focus should be on your strengths – because this is where your purpose will be found. Frankly assess your strengths and how you can build on them, and then you can focus on building your team around them.

2) You don’t have time to sufficiently analyse every decision

Effective leaders are willing to make decisions on incomplete information and trust that 70% of their decisions will be good ones. With the other 30%, they are quick to spot their mistakes and correct them. Good entrepreneurs move the project forward everyday: if you have a penchant for overanalyzing, this will be a struggle.

3) Create an environment that motivates

If you want team members who are creative, self-managing and motivated, it’s in your best interests to learn how to create an environment of trust and respect. Express your leadership by extending trust; you will get it back. An enemy of good leadership is trying to retain too much control. If this happens, you are managing – not leading.

4) Staying on your overall course

To lead well in the hectic pace of a high growth business, you’ll need to remind yourself often of your purpose. Why did you set up the business? Entrepreneurs often get so fixated on the product that they lose sight of the overall intention of the business. The antidote is to set regular ‘review time’ and ask: are the tasks you’re engaged in, this week and next, going to get you closer to that intention?

5) Understand your team’s motivation

To lead others effectively, you need to know what drives them. This is not to be confused with their style or their personality type. Their reasons for working for you will be individual and personal – quite likely unrelated to the business. In order to help motivate your team, aim for a thorough grasp of each individual’s internal drivers.

6) Active engagement builds trust

To build trust among your team, they need to know you are engaging with them. Listening is vital, but alone it’s not enough; you need to demonstrate you are taking what they say on board. This could be as simple as a note or an e-mail to highlight what you took on board and why you appreciate it.

7) When change is required…

Don’t expect people to accept change straightaway. When leading your team through a period of change, the key is consistency: keep focusing on the change, and don’t revert back to what you used to do. At first, you encounter resistance: changing an established pattern involves energy and emotion. Keep talking about the new ways over and over again, and give people time to accept it.

8) ‘Door always open’ is not a great way to lead

It puts the onus on people to approach you, with two likely negative outcomes: you’ll either be interrupted frequently with trivial issues, or you’ll miss out on the feedback you were hoping for, as your team decide not to disturb you. A better way to lead: factor in times for interaction and gathering the feedback your staff want to give.

9) Leadership statements should be simple

If you create a statement to encapsulate what you’re aiming for, it should translate to the entire workforce and should have the simplicity of a mantra. Whether you call this a mission or a vision statement, here’s the key question: is it meaningful to every worker? Some of the most successful high growth companies sum up their purpose in fewer than ten words.

10) Understand where you’re at on the growth journey

A vital thing to understand about company growth is that it rarely moves in a straight line. Just as a staircase has both treads and risers, there may be moments of stagnation or shrinkage in your growth journey. To lead well you need to be able to differentiate a ‘dip’ from a halt in growth, and be able to manage expectations in both phases.

11) Decide on your structure sooner rather than later

When you’re a small team, it’s easy for structure to be informal, but since you’re aiming for high growth, you’ll need to plan your future structure early in order to get the right people in place. The wrong structure will stifle creativity and slow down your growth. Getting it right takes concerted planning: deciding what skills you need to achieve your aims and building the structure around that.

12) Don’t gear everyone up for an explosive launch

You don’t necessarily have to make the big splash in the market that you or your team may be hoping for. Many companies have started quietly, spread the word constantly, and innovated endlessly before ramping up to a period of sustainable high growth. The challenge is to inspire your team for the perseverance required before you see results.

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