As a small business owner, you’re driven and excellent at what you do, but as your business grows, you’ll need to master a new skill—small business leadership.
The qualities that make a successful entrepreneur are not identical to those needed to be an effective organizational leader. The fact that you probably work shoulder to shoulder with your employees only complicates matters—it’s not like you can hide in a corner office when things get uncomfortable.
Take heart that you can leverage your close working relationships with employees to lead and inspire them. Because business leadership research shows that employees are motivated by a variety of methods—from compensation and rewards to mentorship and shared values—insight into your employees can work to your advantage.
Managing employees is complicated. These 10 leadership lessons provide the mini management course you need to motivate your employees and achieve success.
1. Develop a Clear Vision
You can’t lead if you don’t have a clear mission and well-articulated goals. What problems do your products or services help your customers solve? How do you plan to expand your customer base? Once you’ve articulated your mission and goals, you’re ready to share your vision for your company’s future with your employees in a way that makes them feel like they are as invested in your success as you are.
2. Small Business Leadership Should Be Strategic
Being a good employer means making sure your business is as stable as possible. You need to know your firm’s strengths and weaknesses. What advantages do you have over your competitors that you could be deployed more effectively? What opportunities are you not leveraging?
Set priorities that optimize your advantages, including your employees’ talents. Don’t try to accomplish all your goals simultaneously, as that will overwhelm your employees. Create a timeline and stagger your goals.
3. Communicate Effectively
Once you’ve mapped out your vision for your business’s future, communicate it clearly to your team so that it is accessible to employees across specializations. Present information in a variety of formats—text, infographics, video, group discussions, and one-on-one conversations.
4. Be a Good Listener
Small business leadership and communication isn’t about issuing directives or imparting wisdom. Good communicators are also good listeners, and the best bosses are curious about their employees, empathetic about their challenges and supportive of their goals.
5. Create a Culture of Honesty and Transparency
Effective leaders don’t keep secrets. They build workplaces based on trust, fostering an environment where employees feel they can safely provide honest feedback about what is and isn’t working.
Don’t promise what you can’t deliver, and your employees won’t either. Create a workplace where it is safe for your team to be honest about whether or not they can reach a deadline or achieve a goal with the time and resources you’ve allocated.
6. Lead by Example
As a small business owner, you probably know how to do every job on your payroll. Make it clear that you’re not asking your employees to do anything you wouldn’t do by pitching in wherever you’re needed—from making sales to mopping floors. Working alongside them shoulder to shoulder will inspire your staff to work harder on your behalf.
Make it clear that you don’t expect your employees to respond to after-hours emails, routinely work long hours, or come to work when they feel sick. Small business leadership means modelling professionalism and focus during reasonable working hours.
7. Don’t Micromanage
Successful leaders empower and support their employees, helping them grow in their work. They coach, train, and upskill, but they don’t micromanage. They build confidence. They know when to promote their employees and when to let them go. They don’t stand in their way.
Effective delegating starts with learning your employees’ talents and building teams accordingly. Allow employees to take ownership of tasks and initiatives, and once these projects are completed, provide ample public praise. When your employees encounter frustrations, provide additional support. This approach to small business leadership will inspire more loyalty than any perk or bonus (but be generous with those too!).
8. Know When to Ask for Outside Help
In addition to knowing your employees’ strengths and weaknesses, you should know your own as well. When a task that you were once able to manage on your own—say billing—grows in complexity as your business grows, you need to place those tasks in the hands of a specialist. Showing your staff that you don’t have all the answers all the time and that you know when to ask for expert advice, is another way you can lead by example, communicating to your staff that it’s OK to ask for help.
9. Stay Calm During a Crisis
The best leaders are comfortable with uncertainty. They understand that running a small business means navigating through volatile economic cycles when the way forward is unclear. They are prepared to adapt during times of growth and stagnation without panicking.
Be honest with your staff when you don’t have all the answers and encourage them to help you come up with solutions. It will demonstrate how much you value their talent and ideas. A crisis is a perfect time to remind your staff of your business’s core mission and values, reclaiming your employees’ focus and alleviating their fears.
10. Become Invested in Your Employees’ Professional Development
The best bosses know how to coach employees to be exceptional contributors to their bottom line. But they also know how to train them for the next level of their careers. They know when their employees are ready to be promoted or given a new challenge, and when it is time for them to move on.
Helping your employees reach their potential means mentoring them for larger roles in your own organization and beyond. To prepare them for opportunities in your field, forge and maintain mentoring channels with other employers, keep up to date on your industry, and become active in professional associations and business organizations, encouraging your employees to do so as well.
Mentoring employees beyond your own immediate needs could pay off for decades to come as former employees start their own businesses or thrive in related fields and become trusted business partners.
Learn More about How to Build, Manage, and Motivate a Strong Staff for Your Small Business
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