You probably think that the fact that you have started your own business validates your leadership ability. It may confirm that you were a leader yesterday, but do you have what it takes to be a leader tomorrow? In this era of rapid change, you can’t afford to stop learning, or you will find that your competitors, your customers, and your team, may soon be following someone else.
In fact, you may have noticed in a recent study, that the business CEO turnover rate last year was the highest in 10 years, and may go even higher this year. Real business leadership requires continuous improvement, just like your products and processes. Fortunately, contrary to popular opinion, the evidence is that leadership is not a birthright, and can be learned and improved.
Most people agree that leadership is primarily a set of behaviors that capitalize on relationships and a current market and customer understanding in a complex world. It’s not about a title, raw intelligence, or domination. Based on my own experience in large and small businesses, as well as mentoring entrepreneurs, here is my list of behaviors which will keep you ahead of the pack:
Focus on managing relationships more than tasks. Leaders in new companies who have had to do much of the work themselves sometimes find it hard to now find time for the people who are now critical to their future. Building new relationships, inside and outside the company, and nurturing old ones, is a key to long-term leadership.
Be the visible role model for accountability and trust. Team members and other constituents carefully watch what you do, as well as what you say. If you are too busy to be visible, or don’t practice what you preach, their perception of your leadership will diminish. You can’t hold others accountable, if you don’t take the high road yourself.
Spend more time asking questions than dictating answers. Top leaders are always looking to grow by asking probing questions and gathering new insights from a broad range of relationships, rather than advocating their own views. They show empathy to constituents around them, encourage followers to step outside their safe zone.
Practice active listening and full attention to those present. Many busy new venture owners believe they have heard it all before, so they tune out of conversations, or revert to multi-tasking, thus diluting their leadership. Don’t forget that the world is changing around you, so only your focused attention on all new input will keep you in the forefront.
Restrain emotions and ego when you hear critical feedback. Resist the urge to be defensive, and focus on learning the “what” and “why” of every opposing point of view. Avoid the appearance of interrogation in questioning disagreements, and use your emotions carefully in making a point, or reacting to peers or other constituents.
- Broaden your communication circle to be more inclusive. Everyone is listening to how leaders take credit or give credit to the team, rather than themselves. Your words are important in garnering the trust and loyalty of your team, your peers, and partners. You need their commitment, feedback, and continued support as the market changes.
Take more time for celebrating the success of others. People will follow you and keep you updated, if they sense your gratitude and appreciation for their efforts. Many new venture owners have trouble disengaging from the escalating demands of their business to celebrate the small successes of the people and customers who depend on them.
Work on being a facilitator rather than a driver. The best leader personality for larger organizations is one of providing help and resources, rather than extracting performance. That means a priority on coaching and mentoring, as well as training and tools, before focusing on results metrics. Let people make their own decisions wherever possible.
Eliminate the use of “off-the-record” comments. The world today is much less accepting of off-the-cuff remarks from business leaders. What you might perceive as a casual remark to friends may cause emotional reactions in others that can damage your leadership and business. Be aware of your environment and new devices around you.
Control your non-verbal cues as well as your words. Such cues include body language, tone, inflexion, and other elements of voice, dress, and association. Practice the positive body language of eye contact, smiling, and confidence, rather than contempt, disgust, or anger. Remember that you will always be judged by the company you keep.
Learning to recognize and practice these behaviors doesn’t require any super-human skills, but does require continuous effort and focus. As your company matures, and the market changes, your leadership expectations and requirements also have to change for your long-term success. Start today by acquiring a mentor, as well as really listening to some trusted voices around you.
*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 05/09/2019 ***