I could smell the frustration coming from the young man from way across the room.
"Good Morning...you must be Mike!" I offered brightly. I actually hesitated before I offered my hand because he looked as if he would yank it straight from my shoulder, albeit unintentionally.
"And you must be Lorna! They tell me you know a lot about how to lead! Leaders must really be born...because I am no leader and I have made a complete mess of my business! And...
"Whoa! Hold up Buddy! Let me assure you that small business leaders just like you are indeed born", I assured him with a smile, as I watch the surprise on his face.
Now before you jump down my throat or "eat me raw" as we say in my country, hear me out.
So...Are small business leaders born knowing how to lead?
I don't believe that any leader is born, as in given birth by their mother, especially small business leaders.
As leadership goes, leaders are "born" out of the need to continuously motivate a group of diverse individuals to operate as a high-performing team. You want them to perform like a practiced orchestra, which will achieve your world-changing vision.
For this to happen, you have first to "give birth" to the leader in you. Then you must carefully nurture it like any newborn so that by the time it reaches puberty, you have a good idea how to lead.
It is your leadership that will release the imagination and resourceful of your team and facilitate the innovation that you so deeply crave. It is knowing how to lead your team that gives birth to new ideas, new solutions and new cures.
Yet, your leadership skills are shaped mostly by the dynamic circumstances and myriad of “people” issues which you have to deal with in your business daily.
It follows then, that to keep your small business afloat and to grow it rapidly, you need to get a better handle on this "team leadership thing.” And fast.
To lead your team effectively, you need to understand not only the members of the team, but the nature of the team as well.
What do you mean by "the nature of teams"?
In order to help you understand the nature of teams, and by extension, how to lead, I want to refer to Kevin Eikenberry’s concept of teams. Let me say right here, I support his view whole-heartedly.
He advances the argument that there are basically two types of teams – a basketball (hockey, football, netball) team and a track and field team.
The “basketball” team operates as a single unit, in which regardless to the position you hold on that team, its success requires you to perform your role as required. You need to be flexible, able to perform any or many roles on your team, at a moment’s notice.
The players depend on each other, acutely aware that goals are scored and success is achieved only when they are working together in unison.
The “track and field” team on the other hand, while representing the same club or organisation and in this regard can be considered a team, they really operate independently of each other.
Here's how I understand this. If enough of the team members perform at a high level, the team will win. BUT the actions of the sprinter is not dependent on those of the high jumper and neither is hers dependent on those of the cyclist.
What does all this mean for how you lead?
Both types of teams can exist in your small business at the same time…and that’s okay.
However, you have to become your own leadership detective and find out which type of team, or even if both, exist in your business. And then you have to decide how to lead each team.
I know what you're saying..."this sounds good Lorna, but are you even aware of our own small business reality?
I do...as a Small Business Owner myself, I am acutely aware of what you live, day by day.
You simply do not have the resources to address the specific needs of each type of team. Even if you went to the trouble of distinguishing them, your big questions must be:
Is there a set of leadership and teamwork strategies I can use for both types of team?
Will these strategies produce similar results for each team?
And will they show that I know how to lead my team like a boss?
These are valid questions which show your deepest concerns. And yes there is a such a set of strategies. I call them my "Starter Pack" and I will share 5 of them with you below.
Leadership and teamwork strategies:
Here is my "Starter Pack" of strategies to help you lead your team and save your business at the same time.
They work because they are focused on you the leader. They are easy to implement and they will produce results for you, regardless of the team you're leading.
I know they work because they are my "go to" strategies for leading teams and my clients who have used them repeatedly and successfully, swear by them as well.
1. Become a supportive and knowledgeable team leader
By the time your first employee has been in the job for two week, you would have realised that leadership is a two-way street.
While you're looking to get things done through people, these same people are looking to you for guidance and support.
Yes, it is important that you have the technical knowledge of their job to guide them to do their job efficiently and effectively.
But now you have to go further and be willing to provide the emotional support and inspiration that will motivate them to give their very best effort to your business.
This is usually the hard part because you have to be willing to give that support when they mess up.
Then, that support takes the form of a coaching session, acknowledging what went wrong, deciding how to fix it and establishing behaviour for the future.
When you take this approach you reduce turnover, you improve productivity and you build incredible loyalty.
2. Set clearly defined goals, roles, and responsibilities
You need to ensure that every team member knows what he or she is supposed to accomplish and how this fits in with what other team members are doing.
You should make this the standard, regardless of the type(s) of team which exist in your business. Nothing creates more confusion in your business and migraines for you leadership than when people are not sure of their roles.
When you set clearly defined goals, roles, and responsibilities, you set yourself up to manage the many egos that will be present in any team.
3. Give members decision-making authority
If you want to save you, and your business, you have to make sure that decisions in your business can be made closest to where the problems occur.
Encourage team members to make decisions which impact their work, and your products and services, and hold them accountable. They too need to learn how to lead.
Moreover, when you give people ownership over what they are doing, they perform so much better and make your job as a leader so much easier.
4. Create a culture of open and honest communication
This is critical to your achievements, growth and innovation.
Share your vision openly and honestly and also share the role of each team member in achieving it. When you do, you galvanize them into action.
Also, encourage team members to communicate openly and responsibly among themselves. This works wonders for your team spirit.
You should extend your communication process to include a means by which your team can feel comfortable calling out each other for poor performance.
Then you take this to the next level and allow your team to feedback to you on your performance, without fear of being punished. When you do, you will set yourself apart as a “boss leader.”
5. Reward and recognize team members for accomplishing goals
Constantly remind your team that their efforts are valued and appreciated.
What better way to guarantee this than to give your team performance-based recognition and rewards?
There are several recognition programs which you can modify to suit your needs or working with your team, you can come up with your own.
Remember, these do not always have to be about money but they have to be about showing that you understand their needs and that you care.
I have seen things like "personal days" which are not part of statutory holidays, work wonders for camaraderie and productivity in several small businesses.
How to lead? Now it's over to you...
Lord knows I know how Small Business Owners struggle with leadership.
I also know that a big part of your problem is your persistent internal beliefs that leadership is not an issue for small business.
That was the mindset that Mike (at the beginning of this post) came to me with. At the end of our meeting, he had a different view of his role as a leader, he had agreed to a coaching programme and I was happy that I had raised his expectations of himself.
So how am I doing with you?
I have exposed and explained for you the critical issue that stands in your way when you come to lead a team - understanding the nature of your team.
Whatever the state of your leadership, you now have a "Starter Pack" of strategies which you can now use to improve your skills.
You can no longer sit on the sidelines and hope that the problem fixes itself.
You have to do something about your leadership and you have to do like right freaking now!
Look over the strategies again. Pick the one which you believe will give you the fastest results. Start working on it at once. Your success will be motivating for you and your team.
Give it a try and let me know it worked for you. Will you?
To your leadership success...