Last week, one of the business leaders in my Rapid Scale Leadership® (RSL) Circle called me in a panic:
“Lorna...I am confused! What is the #1 thing I need to focus on right now??”
Wow! What a question!
Normally, in 2020 B.C. (as in Before COVID-19) I would have raced to my car and cruise down a highway on autopilot, as I allow the answer to this question to drive me.
Instead, I walked around the neighbourhood, mindful of the attention of the fenced-in dogs, as I tried to find a helpful answer to the question. Not just for Maria but for all other business leaders as well.
The reason Maria was asking the question is because she’s one of many small business leaders, caught in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like most of us, she’s not sure what will happen to her business which is currently closed. The truth is, she doesn’t even know if she will have a business, 2 months from now.
Moreover, when we're under pressure, it’s common to make rash decisions which are not always the ones that are best for us. Sadly, we only know that we've thrown good decision-making through the window, when we look back.
But in these circumstances, quality business leadership matters more than anything else. The problem is, that when you hear the term “leadership” you and most people think of “getting things done through people.” And that’s really okay.
But what you don’t know (or don’t remember) is that leadership does not happen in a happy vacuum. Rather, it takes place in a specific context.
And that brings me around to the answer to Maria’s question.
Right now, the #1 thing you really need to focus on is:
“The unique context in which you will have to lead your business”
Let me break that down for you small business leaders
Generally, the unique context in which you have to lead your business is determined by two factors.
1. the external market/industry/niche context impacting all small businesses; and
2. the internal context or set of circumstances which are unique and special to your business.
This situation leaves you somewhat on your own, because while the market or niche factors are the same for each business, the internal leadership context of each one will be different.
Because each business is different, even as some are similar as well as their business leaders.
Now consider this against your current external context, which is dynamic and confusing, brought on by the global pandemic.
Furthermore, you are now painfully aware that neither your personal nor your business strategies from before, will work going forward.
Do you see how crazy this is?
It leaves you no choice but to focus on finding out what’s your business’ unique context, and determine how you will lead in that context.
Why business leaders should focus on their unique leadership context now
There are many benefits to doing this and here are the ones I came up with for you:
1. it gives you some feeling of control and “in charge” at a time when fear could undermine your capacity to think straight.
2. taking a logical approach to the process will help you to come up with some action steps that you can actually implement.
3. it’s inspirational and motivational for your staff.
4. you will discover if you have the required business leadership qualities and skills.
5. it puts you in a position to play full out in the new environment.
If you can have these benefits by focusing on your peculiar leadership context, wouldn’t you want to get some help how to do it effectively?
How to focus on finding your business context
When we work on this in my Rapid Scale Leadership (RSL)® Programme, we follow a simple 3-step process designed to clarify the issue.
I will share these steps with you so that you can use them and hopefully, you can get similar results to my clients.
Step # 1 – Nail down your foundation
In this step, what you’re going to do, is remind yourself why you got into business in the first place, and what it means to you and for you.
The best way to approach this, is first to answer the following questions as honestly and completely as you can:
1. How long have you been in business?
2. Which market are you in and what’s your niche in that market?
3. What is your mission? (the reason you set up your business)
4. What is your business model? (how you make money with your business)
5. Can you list your top 5 – 7 business values? And how do these differ from your personal values, if at all?
6. Can you describe your business culture and how is it working for you?
7. How well do you know your employees and are you making the best use of their skills? E.g. decision-making?
8. Can you list and describe your top 3 – 5 customers in terms of their contribution to your business?
9. Can you list your top 3 NON-financial and top 3 financial successes to date? What was their individual and collective contribution to the business?
By now, you would have realised that you have reviewed the present internal context of your business.
What you need to do now, is to write a brief review of your leadership in that context. Then, don’t take your word for it, ask your staff for and be prepared to accept their feedback.
Add this feedback to your other answers so that you create a complete picture of your business context.
Try to do this step in the shortest time that you can. When you’re finished, let it breathe for a day or so and then move on to the next step in the process.
Step # 2 – Look to the future
In this step, what you want to do, is to look to the not too distant future and reimagine the context of your business to match what you see.
You will notice that in this step, your leadership is an integral part of the process. This is because as you seek to reenergize and reestablish yourself, how you lead yourself to lead your business, will be of the essence.
So go ahead and answer these questions as fully as you can...
1. What are the 3 – 5 most significant market trends/issues which you think are going to re-shape your market in the next 1 - 3 years
2. What are you doing/can you do now to prepare your business for this “new” market?
3. What is your vision? (where you want your business to be in 1- 3 years)?
4. If you had to change your mission, what would it be and are you up to that challenge?
5. How do you plan to effectively exploit technology in your business going forward?
6. What are the top 3 – 5 risks you think your business will face in any shifts you will make? And how can you mitigate these?
7. Are you personally and professionally prepared to lead your business in its new unique context? How do you know?
8. If what you see in your future appears overwhelming, are you prepared to admit this and seek help? Or will you just give up?
When you have answered these questions, you will be faced with the #1 question most business leaders have faced in their life:
“Do I throw in the towel here and now or do I give this business one more try?”
I wish I could answer that question for you but I can’t...
What I can do for you, if you decide to give it another shot, is help you to take step #3.
Step # 3 – Move to the future
Assuming you've decided to keep your business going, even if only for the moment, you want to rapidly scale that business.
Let me explain what I mean by rapidly scaling your business.
When you scale your business, you increase your revenue WITHOUT significant increase in the cost of generating that income.
In other words, scaling is achieving business “growth” by scaling your service or products in a way that does not require additional resources to sustain that growth.
In my belief and my experience, effective leadership is the single greatest tool available to small business leaders to scale their businesses rapidly.
Perhaps your big question is “why leadership and not something else?”
The answer is simple.
You cannot effectively run a $12 million business with a $1 million mindset. Leadership development provides you with the fastest means to ensure that you grow in equal proportion to the growth of your business.
So how do you move to your future?
1. Review your answers from steps #1 and #2
2. Set an over all goal for no more than a year. This goal should be a BAG – Big Audacious Goal – one which frightens you a bit but one which you know will move you forward. (My university students call this a Bad Ass Goal You choose!
So get your template now and follow along...
3. Decide what actions you will take to achieve your goals. Make sure that each action is clear, achievable and measurable
4. Identify your critical success factors – those things that must happen, if you’re to succeed. For example, X amount of money in Y amount of time.
5. Check your leadership skills and qualities and if you believe you’re one of those small business leaders who is in need of further leadership coaching, don’t be afraid to seek the help you need.
Business Leaders: What you cannot do...
Yes...there is one thing you cannot do. You cannot refuse to take control of your circumstances and by extension, your destiny.
That’s why I’ve laid out the “why” and the “how’ as simply as I can for you.
I understand your fear and I don’t want you to think that I’m not without my own fears. But we can’t let COVID-19 or any other crisis suck us in. With a little patience and the right crisis skills, we will survive and then thrive.
You know that as small business leaders we are constantly required to be more flexible, more adaptable, more creative, more innovative, more collaborative, and right now, more and even more...than ever before.
So...are you ready to play full out?
To you leadership context...