You’ve launched your startup. Things are going well, and you’re building your team. Suddenly, you find yourself in the position of being the leader, the captain of the ship, and you may be wondering what it means to be a really good leader, and do you have what it takes?
John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Warren Bennis, a pioneer in the field of leadership studies, noted, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
Both of these quotes capture the essence of leadership, but they give us little direction in how to achieve it. Unfortunately, too frequently I’ve seen many businesses implode under the pressures of growth because the founder fails to develop strong leadership skills. Therefore, I’m sharing with you what I think are the key characteristics of strong leaders.
- Shared Vision. To be a great leader for your growing business, you need to be able to share your vision in such a way that others can see it and believe in it. It can’t about you. It needs to be about “us.” Your vision should resonate with the team you bring on board so everyone can move together in the same direction. An inability to share your vision will stymie your growth.
- Confidence. Good leaders are confident about their abilities and they believe wholeheartedly in their business vision. However, they aren’t arrogant. They willingly take bold steps forward without being boisterous and over-bearing. Their confidence is projected in everything they do and is contagious.
- Authenticity. You can’t build a business with a competitive edge without being authentic. Half-truths, puff sales language, smoke and mirrors my work in the short-term, but will ultimately blow up in your face. Once you’ve lost the trust of your team, it will be nearly impossible to build back.
- Respect. Growing a business means all hands on deck at all times. A leader recognizes that no task is too small or too great for his involvement. When your team realizes you’re willing to jump in to get things done, they in turn will be ready to do whatever it takes. But if you relegate team members to grunt work while you keep your hands clean, their enthusiasm and morale is sure to wane.
- Empowering. A great leader gives people an opportunity to flourish. That means as the founder, you need to be able to let go to grow. Empower your people to run with their ideas. Don’t try to micro-manage or dictate how things must be done. If you feel the need to tell your employees how to get something done, you’ll miss the opportunity to harness their creativity and you’ll put a damper on morale. Give them the responsibility and the authority to help you build your shared business vision.
- Be a Teacher. A good leader is also a teacher. Many business owners get so busy that they fail to take the time to teach their team members how to excel in their jobs. The result is, the employee becomes frustrated and bored, and you, the founder, wind up exacerbated because you don’t have the support you need. When you make an investment in a new team member, also make the investment of time to train them so they understand the “why” behind what you do and how to deliver it in line with your culture and values. Remember, a scalable business is one in which the product or service can be taught, repeated and consistently delivered.
- Communicate. Few issues can sabotage a business like the gossip mill. A good leader openly communicates with his team and shares direction, strategy and results. You shouldn’t hide critical from you team. You need to encourage their input to establish goals, objectives and overall strategy so they feel invested and a part of the process. When misinformation and speculation begins to circulate throughout your business, it affects morale, productivity, commitment and ultimately will impact your bottom line.
- Timely Feedback. Many people don’t like to deal with conflict, however, leaders don’t shy away from providing timely feedback. Employees want to know where they stand. So don’t wait for the once a year employee performance review. Provide them with constant feedback regarding their contributions to the company. That encompasses both the good and the bad. When you’re under pressure it’s human nature to point out the negative, but you should just as freely emphasis the positive. Take time to recognize a team member who has done exceptional work, but remember, as I said earlier, be authentic. In sincere praise can be more damaging, than no praise at all.
- Be Humble. Entrepreneurs are confident people and as I noted earlier, confidence is an important characteristic for a leader. However, being over-confident can be a huge negative. You can’t be a know-it-all. Be humble and admit it when you don’t know the answers and be willing to ask for help. Some of the most successful entrepreneurial leaders I know admit one of their biggest keys to success was hiring people smarter than they.
- Share Success. A true leader is quick to share successes with his team. Shine the spotlight on your staff and step aside. You may also want to share the wealth as you build your company. Think about employees who have become wealthy after starting out on the ground-floor of companies such as Costco, Facebook and even McDonald’s.
As you grow your business, get a competitive edge by honing your leadership skills. Remember, these characteristics I’ve outlined. It’s not rocket science—just a lot of common sense.