If you’re a business owner then by default you’ve stepped into a leadership role, even if you’re not explicitly aware of it.
You might have started your own business because you wanted more freedom and flexibility. Perhaps you wanted to do things on your own terms instead of working for someone else. Maybe you wanted to be more impactful and serve others more directly, rather than getting caught up in corporate processes and red tape.
Whatever your motivation for starting a business, if you’re like me, you probably didn’t start a business in order to become a leader. I started my business so I could make a difference. And leadership is something I’m growing into because I can see that my business will only thrive if I level things up and step into a leadership role. It’s a continuous journey of personal and professional development, but one that you can use to inspire and uplift others along the way.
All successful business owners:
- Step out of the shadows and claim their position as a leader;
- Have a clear vision that inspires and resonates with people;
- Know how to communicate their vision to their audience and why it’s important;
- Know how to serve their people with services and products that help move them towards that vision.
If you want to create positive change in the world as a business owner, learning the art of influential leadership will serve you very well.
Great leaders have a genuine passion and devotion to serving their people.
It’s often easy to tell who is in the game of leadership to further their own egotistical pursuits (power, status, influence, or control) as opposed to those who are in it to make a difference.
In his book Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win (2015), Fred Kiehl describes the results of seven years of a landmark study of more than 100 CEOs and over 8,000 of their employee’s observations of their leaders.
In other words, great leaders make much more money and impact!
Kiehl defined four qualities that leaders of ‘strong character’ consistently display:
As I reflected on those qualities, it took me back to some of the moments in my life when I’ve personally experienced leaders of ‘strong character’ and the profound effect they had on me, including:
- The boss who came past each morning and asked my team members and I individually how we were going. Not in a superficial chit-chat kind of way, but in a genuine “How are you and is there anything you need to do your best work today?” kind of way.
- The senior colleague who believed in me and empowered me to step up, break out of my comfort zone, and achieve more than I thought was possible.
- The manager who took it upon himself to undertake hard negotiation with company executives on our behalf to significantly improve our salaries and workplace conditions.
- The manager who took responsibility for a ‘big mistake’ on behalf of our team, worked with us to brainstorm solutions and empowered us to collaboratively get things back on track; no blame, just compassion, forgiveness, and empowerment to move ahead.
- The manager who very compassionately told me to go home to rest and take care of myself when I wanted to keep working through a personal crisis.
- The leader on Twitter who says she’s working on a particular issue of national concern and would like to hear everyone’s input and feedback in her comments section. She then reads all of them and acts upon them, responding to all the concerns raised.
As a small business owner, it’s even more critical that you go out of your way to show qualities of strong character because your strength of character is your business; it’s your personal brand.
And since Kiehl has shown an astounding 5-times increase in financial performance in businesses with ‘leaders of strong character’, strong leadership is critical to deciding whether your business will thrive or fizzle out. Leaders who inspire and uplift others, succeed.
So to all you small business owners out there who want to step up your leadership game and more consciously and proactively choose to be a leader of ‘strong character’, focus on these things below.
7 Ways to Become an Inspiring Leader in Small Business.
1. Have a clear and inspiring ‘Why’.
As Simon Sinek famously says, “Your job is to do business with those who believe what you believe.” What do you stand for as a business? What’s your vision? What’s the future that your business is working towards? Let your vision serve as your personal inner compass and the compass for all your business decisions.
If you’re not sure how to develop a compelling ‘why’, business, and mission statement, check out this article: Why You Need to Know Your Business Why, Vision, and Mission.
Communicate your business vision in all the important places you can, such as your website, the descriptions on your social media platforms. Write regular posts about your business ‘why’ and vision. Put them in your email signature and on your business letterheads. Take every opportunity to remind your audience what you stand for.
2. Embody the morals, principles, and values of your business vision.
Integrity is number one in Kiehl’s top four qualities of influential leaders. As a business owner, you need to “walk the talk” loud and clear. People can smell misalignment a mile away and you’ll lose trust immediately if your behaviours and actions don’t match the philosophies you say you stand for.
Be a walking example of the future that your business is contributing to.
3. Demonstrate your genuine passion for serving your people.
You know how awful it feels to be treated like a number, and not a real person, right? I had this experience just recently with a digital marketing agency who I felt (rightly or wrongly) just wanted my money and didn’t actually care about the success of my business. It’s not a good feeling and we never go back after an experience like that (and we spread the bad word too!).
But on the flip side, we all know how good it feels when we feel like someone genuinely cares about helping us. We become loyal customers for life. Be the business owner who cares about the success of your clients and make your clients feel special, because they are.
4. Request feedback, listen to your audience and act on their feedback.
As humans, we all love (and need) to feel seen and heard. Your clients will appreciate it if you take the time to ask them how they’re finding their experience with you. Ask them what’s working well and what’s not working so well. Request their advice for improvements, and then be sure to act on that advice. Let them know you’ve taken their advice on board. There’s no point in asking for feedback if you’re not going to act on it. Once again, it comes down to integrity.
5. Believe in your clients and inspire them to be better.
Inspire your clients to be more, do more, and reach higher. Just as we all need to be seen and heard, we also need someone to believe in us in order to be the best version of ourselves. Be that person for your clients.
6. Admit your mistakes, take responsibility.
Admitting mistakes doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong. It takes strength of character to be transparent and vulnerable and to own up to your mistakes. Admit openly where it went wrong, and tell your clients how you’re going to make it right. This builds trust and shows your commitment to the client. There’s a good reason why ‘responsibility’ is the second-highest quality of great leaders. Leaders who take responsibility gain the long-term trust of their clients.
7. Practice forgiveness.
Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to others. Always remember the saying:
Even when someone is being obnoxious or aggressive towards you (which happens often in customer service as we know!), always try to validate their experience and understand where they’re coming from. Err on the side of kindness and compassion, and you’ll find that with kindness, many of the complaints dissipate and get resolved easily.
What are some of the commitments you can make to yourself to uphold greater levels of ‘character’ and become a truly inspiring leader in your role as a business owner? I’d love to hear them, leave a comment for me below and I promise I’ll respond!
Are you starting or growing your own business? Download your FREE copy of my FEMPRENEUR SUCCESS HANDBOOK to fast-track your business success! This value-packed guide contains everything I wish I knew back when I was starting my own business in 2011. Click here to download it now.
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In service to your success,
Kate De Jong, Ph.D