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Top ten leadership tips for business owners (as published in the Globe and Mail)

Many business owners struggle with growing their business while still attempting to engage and lead staff. Both activities can be time consuming, but only one will put money in the bank, while the other tends to reduce it. Listed below are ten quick tips to help you become a more effective at being a leader, all while freeing up additional time to focus on business development while still retaining high levels of employee engagement.


1.     Verbalize your mission.

Not enough small business owners verbalize, document or communicate their goals and ambitions for their business. Staff can therefore only assume there will be little change in the coming months or years, and are therefore indirectly working against your growth ambitions. If, as a coach, your baseball team didn’t win the championship, but you never communicated this as your goal or desire. Who is to blame?


2.     Demonstrate leadership.

Steve Jobs left a legacy, and despite the size and complexity of Apple, there was never a doubt in anyone’s mind that Steve was the leader. On the contrary, many small business owners are still engaged in the day-to-day transactions and routines, creating confusion for staff who seek a leader. Learn to work through your team, delegate responsibility, build competencies, and mentor staff progressively.


3.     Let go to move forward.

Many business owners still enjoy being connected with the daily dealings of their business, from making a sales call through to delivering the finished product or service. Despite the uncertainty, many of us learned to let go when we first attended university or college. In virtually every situation, we learned to grow both intellectually and as individuals through this experience. By letting go despite the unknown, we progressed forward. Learn to let go of accountabilities and tactical tasks related to your business and allow your team to do what you pay them to. Let go to progress.


4.     Shape up or ship them out.

A colleague of mine owns a small business, and still operates with at least one of the staff he originally hired nearly six years ago. He feels indebted to this individual, who had stuck with him when times were tough, despite the fact that this individual is an under-performer, misses deadlines, and is rarely courteous to customers. Underperformers (UPR’s) are like a cold. They arrive at the worst possible time, never leave when you want them too and their poor performance is infectious to everyone around them.



5.     Invest in team development.

Very few small business owners have the funds available to invest in training staff. However, many of these same businesses belong to local Chambers and trade associations, all of which run either low-cost or no-cost workshops and enrichment sessions. Rather than personally attending these events, provide the opportunity for staff to allow them to learn, grow, and bring greater value to your organization. Have them share what they learned upon their return to extract and spread value to others on the team.


6.     Choose a leader.

Recently, a peer who owns a small firm confided to me that his biggest challenge is in managing his time. He recognizes that, as the face of the company, he must invest time in business growth.  However, since he is the most knowledgeable in business operations, the staff tends to bring him all of their problems and then stand back to admire his talent as he brings prompt resolution. There comes a time when you must invest in a leader, general manager, supervisor, or some other point person who can field staff issues.  Time you invest otherwise simply detracts from business growth.


7.     Capture knowledge.

In small companies, the sharing of knowledge is often rare. As individuals are provided responsibility, they become versed in their area but have little time or motivation to share their lessons with other staff, creating a hoarding effect that can reduce team cohesion. You must find means to capture and share tacit knowledge, allowing your operation to function effectively during vacations, sick time, or in the event of a sudden employee departure. By documenting basic processes and developing staff in multiple areas, knowledge becomes less of a secret.


8.     Reward as a team.

With the exception of an annual Christmas party, many small business owners do not invest in rewarding employees. Earlier in my career I was employed in a small family-owned business, and the most enjoyable time of every week was Friday afternoon. A small group would gather in the owner’s office and talk about anything but work; in fact you were perceived as insipid if you discussed work-related issues during this time. Rewards don’t have to be monetary; keep in mind that many stay employed in small businesses because they seek more personal relationships with the company’s owner. Invest some time to talk with employees and develop an informal ritual. You might just find significant improvement in team morale.


9.     Plan for the worst.

Do you have a succession plan in the event of your sudden or unexpected departure from the business? The goal of being a business owner is to support your family, your community, and to provide a product or service that is beneficial to your customers or clients. Being a leader requires contingent plans in the event of your sudden departure or extended leave. Identify individuals who can lead the business, discuss plans with your team to ensure they are aware, and request feedback relative to training and knowledge gaps that may need to be filled. Just like buying life insurance, you must make investments and plans now, to ensure your family, community, staff and customers are protected and served for years to come.


10.Have fun.

Recall the reason you first entered the entrepreneurial life, and consider the satisfaction and happiness you bring to those whom you employ. Leading is not about being authoritarian or a purveyor of charity, it is about enjoying what you do, sharing your vision, providing direction and assistance, and satisfying customers. The key to any effective leadership is not to take yourself too seriously.


Being a business owner does not make you a leader; but by practicing just a few of these tips, you will see notable improvements in staff motivation and performance, clearing the path for future business success.


© Shawn Casemore 2011. All rights reserved.

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