Effective Leadership

Owners of healthy and growing businesses usually possess a broad range of skills and expertise, ranging from sales and marketing to finance and management.

There's another skill that's less tangible, but just as important: leadership. In fact, without strong leadership skills, owners and entrepreneurs will only be able to take their companies so far. Effective leadership is often the key ingredient for a small business to reach its full potential.

What an Effective Leader Is … and Isn't

Leadership is tougher to gauge than skills like sales, marketing or financial expertise. However it is a quality that can impact all aspects of a business from sales goals to employee satisfaction.

People sometimes look at owners and entrepreneurs who are good at managing their employees — making sure they are productive and getting things done on time — and assume that they are strong leaders.

But many good managers aren't actually strong leaders: Leadership involves a completely different set of skills and talents than managing does.

The most effective leaders possess qualities that allow them to inspire and motivate their employees in ways that help the business grow and prosper. They accomplish this primarily by laying out a strategic course and a vision for the future of the business.

In fact, strategic planning and vision casting are the two most important tasks for any owner who wants to oversee a dynamic, growing and successful business enterprise.

Once cast, this vision should be shared with employees and with anyone else who has a hand in the success of your business — including strategic partners, vendors, lenders and key customers. Doing this enables employees and other stakeholders to understand how their day-to-day duties and responsibilities contribute to the long-range strategy and vision you have set forth — thus giving them more excitement and motivation to work hard toward making your vision a reality.

How to Define Your Company's Vision

Sometimes, owners get stuck when it comes to casting a vision for their company. The very idea of having to define your company's vision might make your palms sweaty, but it doesn't have to be as intimidating as it sounds.

Start by setting aside a block of time when you won't be interrupted so you can give some deep, serious thought to the future direction of your business. During this personal brainstorming session, ask yourself questions such as:

  • What are your most important goals for your business in the short-, medium- and long-term?
  • How do you want your business to be perceived in the marketplace? What would you like for others to be saying about you and your business?
  • How would you like your legacy as the owner of the business to look after you have moved on from the company? How would you like your business to look three, five and 10 years in the future?

Once you have answered questions like these, you can start to formulate a broad strategic plan for how you'll get there. From this plan, you can then create a brief but powerful vision statement to share with your employees and other business stakeholders. Think big — your vision should excite and energize others and motivate them to follow your leadership toward its ultimate fulfillment.

Demonstrating Leadership Beyond the Company Vision

Being an effective leader goes well beyond creating and sharing your vision for the company. It is also about being consistent in the things you do and say in the course of doing your job — day in and day out, every day of the year.

For instance, do you lead by example? Or are you instructing your employees to do one thing while doing the opposite yourself? Do you keep an even keel, not getting too high or too low, or are your emotions and moods unpredictable? Are you accessible to your employees, with a true open-door policy? Or is that just a slogan, while your employees know it is better not to interrupt you with questions or concerns?

If you measure up a little short when it comes to any of these leadership qualities, don't be discouraged. Contrary to popular wisdom, strong leaders aren't necessarily born — they can be made. Making a commitment today to improving your leadership skills is one of the best things you can do to help ensure the growth and success of your business in the future.