Business owners are all leaders, but not all act that way. The best ones inspire peak performance, passion, engagement and enthusiasm by everyone associated with the business. For them, “lackluster” isn’t an option. Real leadership equity is earned, not bestowed, says John Hamm, a high-profile venture capitalist who’s led investments in many successful high-growth companies as a partner at several Silicon Valley VC firms. Just because you’ve been granted authority doesn’t mean you’re getting the full, collaborative effort of others.
In the heat of day-to-day business battles, business owners can lose sight of basic principles of leadership. In other cases, they never learned leadership fundamentals or just aren’t cut out to lead and need to understand why. “Normal” leadership is a complex system of behaviors that can tolerate a lot of little mistakes. But extraordinary leadership cannot. Small deficiencies create a radical difference in outcome. The depth, breadth and frequency of the mistakes you make often determine success or failure.
Here are some top leadership lessons for biz owners:
1. Authenticity wins. Authenticity is about owning your failures and shortcomings. It’s about allowing others to really know you, warts and all. It’s about having the guts to seek feedback from others in a sincere fashion. And it’s about being able to maintain your authentic self under difficult circumstances.
2. Your words and moods carry great weight. Leaders must think carefully about every word they say, because others certainly will. “Every conversation with, and every communication from, a leader carries added weight because of the authority of the position behind it,” says Hamm. “Have a bad day and snap at one of your subordinates, and that person may go back to a cramped cubicle and start updating his résumé or miss a night’s sleep. Your momentary bad day could be his nightmare—and something he will remember forever. Your mood matters; don’t make it your employees’ problem.”
3. Trying to squelch bad news will backfire. Excellent leaders work hard to build a primary and insatiable demand for the unvarnished facts, the raw data, the actual measurements, the honest feedback, the real information. “We must install a confidence and a trust that leaders in the organization value the facts, the truth, and the speed of delivery, not the judgments or interpretations of ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and that messengers are valued, not shot,” says Hamm. This will pay off handsomely in getting you accurate information quickly.
4. “Good failures” are like shooting digital pictures. A digital camera is the perfect analogy to the kind of culture you want to create. There’s no expense associated with a flawed digital photo. Hit delete and it disappears. And we know it so we take many more photos digitally than we would have in a world of costly film and sometimes get that one amazing picture that we wouldn’t have if we were paying for all the mistakes.
5. You must constantly renew enthusiasm. A big part of a leader’s job is to be compelling. That means you must recruit “A players” through a big vision of the future and a personal commitment to a mission. But it’s not enough to recruit once and then move on. Never assume “once enrolled, always enrolled.” Even the best followers need to be reminded again and again how fun, rewarding, and meaningful their work is.
6. Chronic underperformers must be dealt with. Chronic underperformers spoil things for everyone else. They create resentment among employees who are giving it their all, and they drag down productivity. Leaders must have a plan for getting these problem children off the playground—and they must act on that plan without procrastination.
7. Not making a decision is usually worse than making a bad decision. As long as they aren’t utterly ill-advised and catastrophic, bad decisions at least keep the business moving in pace with changing events, and can often be rectified by a course correction. Not making a decision at all, although it may seem the safe choice, actually strips your business of momentum, stalling it at the starting line, and making it unlikely you can ever be a serious player.
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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.