Unfortunately, there is not a single dimension or factor that you can attribute to someone’s leadership capabilities. Enough has been written on leadership and leadership styles. There are many definitions. However, I have observed some common leadership traits by leaders of very successful small businesses. In essence, these leaders often determine the positive or negative outcomes for their businesses – if their company sustains and grows and if their customers or employees are happy and satisfied.
On a personal note, I am dedicating this chapter on leadership to the great small and large corporate leaders that I have had the pleasure of working with, observing and emulating them across my 30 plus years of management experience across different geographies and markets..
A note on leadership styles
I have I have often heard the misnomer called “leadership style” – Leadership is much more than style. It is a characteristic or quality that involves a totality of character, morality, motivation and many others.
Sp what are the dimensions, attributes and traits of a leader?
- Conceptualize and visualize – As an SME owner or manager, a leader is someone who can conceptualize and visualize a future for his or her business.
- Leading people –Small business owners must lead people to a greater outcome than it otherwise would have been. Period!
- Steer and motivate – A small business leader must have the ability to steer and motivate a group of people to a common purpose.
- Empowerment – To be a true leader, a small business owner or manager must empower others and believe that it is this empowerment that is the key to their success.
- Confidence – A small business leaders who have developed an idea or a business that has passed his or her “moral compass” test and one who has evaluated his or her risks will then must be committed to the vision, idea or project with deep rooted confidence that is conveyed to everyone around them.
- Courage – Leadership in small business also means having the courage to take corrective action to improve your business even if if it means that you will have to fire a few employees.
- Character – As small business owners and leaders, you must demonstrate something that may be defined as “character.” You must have the highest integrity of soul and purpose so that others are absolutely certain that whatever you, as the small business leader advocates, is what is best for the business.
- Convince others – In a SME setting, a leader is one who is able to convince others to join him/her on the journey. In small businesses, leaders must have the have the have the ability to share their vision, purpose and passion with others so that others are willing to do remarkable things – things that they didn’t believe they could do.
- Impetus for positive change – Leadership in a small business also means making a difference, creating a positive change around you and facilitating the impetus that creates an atmosphere of change that improves the world, or at least the small part of the business world that you are in.
- Change agent – Small business owners and investors should be the change agents for changing things that can be changed, of providing new thinking, new energy, to an existing situation that needs to be changed or improved.
- A sense of practical optimism – It is said that great leaders are often optimistic. It is also said that pessimists make lousy leaders.
- Exemplification of a set of behaviors – In small businesses, leadership is exemplified by a set of series of behaviors. At the very core is the belief that things will get better. The small business leader will have to use his or her pulpit as the owner to influence others to help.
- Work, emotion, and inspiration – A small business leader must have an excellent work ethic, have a high emotional intelligence and is able to inspire others to join his or her journey.
- Paced communications – Small business owners should have the ability to pace and communicate effectively and share their vision widely across to all stakeholders. These effective communications will allow other to see, share and participate in their vision!
- Always accept blame – Small business leaders must be quick to accept the blame when blame occurs.
- Sustained actions – A small business leader must demonstrate leadership by sustained actions over a period time.
- Sense of practicality and realism – SME owners and managers must be practical and It means facing the reality of business, and not have pie in the sky dreams and conversely not being overly pessimistic.
- Decisive and deliberate – it means that small business owners must take the bull by the horn and deal with situations. It means connecting the dots in business and life. Leadership for small business also means taking concrete actions in your business and biting the bullet when you have to.
- Listen, translate, decide and motivate – Small business owners must have the ability to listen, translate, decide and motivate others.
- Source of guidance – A small business owner or manager must often be the authority sought out for information, guidance, and consultation.
- Respected – It goes without saying that a small business owner or manager must be respected by all stakeholders..
- Foresight and evolutionary – Small business leaders must have commitment to positive change in their business. You as a leader must have the foresight to see the evolving and future needs and trends of the business.
- Doing what is right – A small business owner or manager must dos what is right for the business. It certainly is not an effort for recognition, glory and receipt of accolades.
- Perceptive – Small business owners must be perceptive about people, issues, challenges and trends around them.
- Strong willed – Small business leaders must possess strong will that what they believe is best is, indeed, best.
- Create a buzz or energy around them – Small business owners must have the ability to create energy, motivation and action in a group of people based on your businesses mutual values and ideas.
- Intellectual – Small business owners and manager must exhibit Intellectual leadership by taking risks with ideas and by challenging existing belief systems and urging your employees to react, think, argue, and grow as depicted through your everyday communications to their employees..
I think true leadership is demonstrated by example; in addition, it is the creation and support of a structure that allows all members to contribute to the best of their ability.
Further, my definition of leadership is that it is an opportunity for a person to assume a role in which they can interact with colleagues to achieve a certain end or goal. Leadership is the quality required of a leader to make that interaction occur in a meaningful way.
All the above dimensions, characteristics, attribute and behaviors could be summarized into 3 main categories or components. These are the 3 leadership components that matter. Each of these components is important. The weightage of each of this component depends on the SME owner or manager’s role and level in an organization.
Small business owners and SME investors and managers can apply the principles outlined in this chapter to determine the level of importance and weighting that they should give to each of the leadership components.
The first part about being a leader is being Strategic. You really need to have the big picture and know the trends, the competitive aspects of your industry and all that good stuff that folks learn in school and in everyday life. You need to have a view as to where your industry is heading, the new technologies, the substitutes and so forth.
Component 2 – A leader must have operational management know how and capability
Knowing the big picture alone is not good. You need to have an Operational know how of your business and your industry in general. You need to be able to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty in the muddles and puddle of business. Most small business owners do this.
Component 3 – People leadership matters
Last but not least, your People leadership is very important. It is the people in your business who are delivering the results for which we are all paid for or are making money through their efforts. .
A caveat on the 3 components of strategic, operational and people leadership
It should be remembered that as one moves up the corporate ladder or when a business grows, and when responsibility increases (hopefully with your pay and perks along with it), the right dosage or rather the right weightage of the strategy, operations and people leadership skill components are required.
For example, a CEO of an established and growing small business will have to have the highest weightage on his strategic skills, know-how and application. A general manager in your business, who manages a large number of people would probably require a heavy weightage on his or her operational and people leadership skills. A small business owner just about starting his or her business will probably require equal application of each of the strategy, operational and people leadership components..
So remember, that leadership is not about being a great strategist, or knowing and doing the nuts and bolts of your business or about just being a good people manager. It is about having the right combination of all the three at the right phase of your career or business life that matters. Having the big picture or being a micro manager or being a good people manager alone is not going to get you to achieve your dreams. You need the right combination of all the three.
In summary, as a small business owner, achieving the strategic, operational and people leadership skills alone are not enough. Small business owners MUST have the quality of leadership and the capability to influence the behavior of others to an intended direction. As a small business owner or manager, you may influence by rhetoric, logic, action and or personal example. In the end, it all boils down to “We should do this; follow me.”
In other words, knowledge, wealth, position or power has nothing to do with leadership. Simply put, a leader is one who leads or guides! As Dwight Eisenhower said “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”.
A final note on leadership – don’t confuse leadership with management – As one of my favorite management guru once said “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things”.