Those of us who choose to be a small business owner are in some way required to step into leadership, even if we’re not explicitly aware of it.
When I quit my corporate career of almost fifteen years as a Consulting Engineer in 2011, it wasn’t because I wanted to become a leader. I’d taken on various leadership roles throughout my career and enjoyed the opportunity to lead, support and inspire others. But I quit my corporate career because I wanted to experience more joy in my work, more creativity, more authentic self-expression, and perhaps most importantly, I wanted to be more impactful and to serve others more effectively.
As time has gone on, it’s dawned on me that in order to fulfil my dream of creating positive change through my business, I need to consciously and proactively step into leadership; which is not something I was prepared for, at least initially.
As I grow and evolve my ‘craft’ with time and experience, I’m realising that if I want to thrive as a business and as my own personal brand I must:
- Step out of the shadows and claim my position as a leader;
- Have a clear vision that inspires and resonates with people;
- Be able to communicate that vision and why it’s important;
- Know how to serve my people with services and products that help move them towards that vision.
Like all of us, I’ve had the opportunity to observe some great leaders over the course of my life, and some not-so-good examples of leadership. The great leaders are, of course, the ones we all aspire to be. And if we want to create positive change in the world as business owners, we need to be great leaders.
To me, the single most defining quality of a ‘great leader’ is their 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. He showed that leaders of ‘strong character’ achieved up to five times the Return of Assets (ROA) for their organizations than leaders of ‘weak character’.
Kiehl defined four qualities that leaders of ‘strong character’ show:
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 small business owners, it’s even more critical that we continuously display qualities of strong character because our strength of character is our business; it’s our 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 our business will thrive or fizzle out. 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’, here are my 7 tips on how to do it:
- Have a clear and inspiring vision of the future that serves as your inner compass and the compass for your business – #vision.
- Embody the morals, principles and values of your vision – ‘walk the talk’ – #integrity.
- Demonstrate your genuine passion for your vision and for serving your people – #service #passion #devotion.
- Genuinely care about the people you’re serving and leading. Connect with them. Request regular feedback, listen to the feedback and act upon it – #listen #Compassion.
- Believe in your people and inspire them to be better, do more and reach higher – #empower #believe #inspire.
- Be transparent and vulnerable when you need to be. Admit your mistakes. It’s OK to be ‘imperfect’ and still lead your people. Genuine vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness and your people will respect you even more for it – #responsibility #forgiveness
- Be kind, compassionate and forgiving to others. Failure is success when we learn from it – #failureisfeedback.
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?
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In service to helping you live your brightest life,
Kate De Jong, Ph.D