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How to Be a Great Small Business Leader

  • Entrepreneurs often only work for themselves, but leadership skills are a must when you have majority ownership with your partners or when you bring on employees
  • How leadership skills can give your company direction, set the tone of your business, and create and maintain a cohesive company
  • Clear communication, developing a vision, and other advice for stepping into the role of a leader

By Denis Jakuc

When you start your business with partners but retain majority ownership, or when you hire staff, you assume the role of a company leader.

Leadership is extremely important in today’s ever-changing business environment. Without effective leadership, it’s difficult for businesses to grow. This is particularly true for businesses with only a few employees, as the company leader needs to keep them motivated and working in the same direction.

Here are the things leadership can do:

  • Give direction. A great leader sets the direction of the company. This includes the vision of what the company will be, and the goal or goals needed to get there. That way, everyone is working for something bigger, not just showing up for work every day. It makes everyone more productive. A great leader should also be good at giving individual direction to employees who need it in their daily work.
  • Set the tone of the business. A company can range from being laid back and casual to driven by tight deadlines and dress codes. The leader sets the standard here, so everyone takes the same approach and functions as a way more effective team.
  • Create and maintain a cohesive company. The net result of giving the direction and setting the tone for the business is a company that’s working together, which is always a more efficient and more effective way to get you where you want to go.

Here are the things to focus on to improve your leadership abilities:

Communicate clearly

Start by recognizing that different people process information differently, so seek to communicate in a variety of ways. Put instructions in writing. Explain them in group settings. If some have trouble understanding you, approach them one-on-one and ask them to tell you what they think they heard. Use visuals where possible to help communicate your ideas.

The key to being a better communicator is to be a better listener. When the other person is talking, hear what they’re saying and try to understand their thought process. Don’t just think about how you’re going to respond.

Develop a vision

What’s the special value you want to deliver as a company? Think about the problems you’re solving, the needs you’re fulfilling for customers. Consider whether anyone has ever done anything like what you want to do. Determine how your vision positions the company as innovative, charitable, personable, or some other trait.

For ideas, look at the visions of successful companies, or think about positive experiences you’ve had with other businesses. In order to inspire others to help achieve your vision for the company, your vision must be clear.

Write it down. Keep it short, something you can deliver in two minutes. Give it a timeframe of where you want to be in six months, and one, three, and five years.

Be approachable and dependable

Engage with employees when you see them. Respond to emails as soon as you can. Keep your door open, except when you’re in a private meeting. Follow the same rules as your employees. Above all, never promise what you can’t deliver.

Monitor your strengths and weaknesses

Regularly do a SWOT analysis to assess your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

  • Strengths: What can you do better than your competitors? What unique resources do you have? Why do your customers choose you?
  • Weaknesses: What resources do your competitors have that you don’t? What areas of your operation can you improve?
  • Opportunities: What trends in your industry can you capitalize on? Are there any changes in government regulations that might benefit you? What recent events can you leverage to your advantages?
  • Threats: Are there any concerns about your financial situation, technology, or outsourcing issues? Are you, your partners, or your employees experiencing any personal issues?

Don’t shy away from feedback

Your customers and employees are key to your success, so it’s important to know their concerns. With customers, invite reviews on your website or Facebook page. If you want to keep criticism private, put a message box on your website customers can fill out. If the feedback is good, ask the customer if you can use it as a testimonial on your website or Facebook page.

The best way to approach employee feedback is to have regularly scheduled meetings. This lets everyone suggest minor adjustments in direction to keep small issues from becoming major problems.

If people are hesitant, ask them questions, such as:

  • What do you like most about your job?
  • What do you like least?
  • What would you do if you were me?
  • What are people saying about our company?

Leverage outside resources

When things get busy, hire a contractor to produce work your staff can’t deliver. Outsource functions that aren’t central to your operations, such as IT work if you’re not in a tech-driven business. Hire a consultant when you have challenges and don’t know what to do, or when you need the extra expertise to address them.

Stay on top of finances

A big reason small businesses fail is financial mismanagement. Pay attention to revenues, expenses, and cash flow. Use software to make the job more manageable. Consult with your accountant whenever you have a question about your financial condition.


In all these areas, your overall job as leader is to always know what’s going on with your business. Do that and your success is assured.


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