People say “leadership can’t be taught.” I don’t know these people, and haven’t actually heard anyone say that out loud. But it’s on the internet so it has to be true.
Anyway, people say leadership can’t be taught, but “it can be learned.” This seems like a contradiction to me, but it also looks nice as a photo-quote with a foggy forest background, so let’s go with it.
Having experience being employees and leaders within a small company and startup, we thought our combined knowledge would give an interesting perspective on this issue.
There are some things aspiring entrepreneurs and current small business owners can do to improve their leadership skills, and ultimately their relationships with employees, business partners, and customers.
1. Help Others Feel Empowered
At a big corporation, it’s easy to feel like a needle in a haystack, or a cubicle in a skyscraper. For both entry-level employees and middle management, vertical distance from decision makers (and even your own boss) can make your job feel a bit worthless in the grand scheme.
Some companies have noticed this issue, and big companies are already working to combat it, especially those that recently got big, like Shopify.
Small businesses owners and entrepreneurs have the distinct advantage of being close in proximity to their employees. In both company structure and (quite literally) being close together in the office, leaders of small operations have a ton of opportunities to make their employees feel valued, and they’re work vital to the progression of the company.
That doesn’t mean you have to constantly stroke your employees’ egos or give them participation trophies for mistakes. But a little recognition once in a while, and a clear route from their projects to company goals is always appreciated.
It may even keep someone around longer than they intended to stay.
2. Be Transparent
Another advantage small operations have over large ones is how truly open they can be with their employees.
Regulations, laws, and complex structures can force upper management to keep information close to their chests, even if it’s vital to company progression or employee retention.
Of course you don’t have to divulge important board meetings, confidential numbers, or your credit card information. But, there are things you can do to make your employees feel more involved.
Holding bi-weekly or monthly company-wide meetings to talk numbers, direction, and goals will not only give everyone insight into upper level management strategies, but gives everyone a goal to work towards. In startups and small businesses, the “next thing” is often always the goal. With something to shoot for, your employees may look outside of the box more often, instead of continuing their day-to-day.
3. Take Challenges and Mistakes in Stride
Speaking of egos, there’s no reason to hold tight to your own.
Nothing’s worse than a boss that’s constantly screwing up, but won’t admit it. Or, even a boss that makes a rare mistake, and still can’t bring themselves to own it.
Not only does this attitude make you come off as unaware, pompous, and arrogant (among other things), it produces a toxic work environment. People afraid to fail or that are unwilling to admit mistakes (or push the blame on someone else) are the same people unwilling to try something new or risky.
Small operations are dynamic, and can afford to change course quickly, and turn back if things aren’t going well. To operate like a corporation simply for fear of mistakes and failure is just bad business sense.
In startups, entrepreneurial ventures and small business, a new idea, good or bad, shouldn’t be shot down or held in. Small operations are dynamic, and can afford to change course quickly, and turn back if things aren’t going well. To operate like a corporation simply for fear of mistakes and failure is just bad business sense.
As a leader, being open and honest about your mistakes and challenges is a great standard to set for your business partners, employees, and even your customers.
This might be the most important, and hardest tip for leaders to fulfill.
There’s no big meeting, no talks with employees, and no celebrations. Reflection and introspection are solely and agonizingly personal tasks. It’s not that complicated on the face of it. Have some awareness of yourself, learn from it, and try to be a better person, right?
The real importance of reflection in this context is that it can improve your business and partnerships. All of these things we’ve mentioned, whether it be owning up to mistakes or celebrating the good times, are about you.
As a business owner or entrepreneur, reflection isn’t just for your own sake. Sure, you’ll learn more about “you,” which is always great. But the real importance of reflection in this context is that it can improve your business and partnerships. All of these things we’ve mentioned, whether it be owning up to mistakes or celebrating the good times, are about you.
Asking yourself questions after failures and successes is important for understanding the path your business will take. Why did we choose this path? Why not this one? Would this have yielded better results? Would it have failed? It’s obviously all hypothetical, but looking back on your decision making may change the way you take on future challenges.
Leadership is more than being at the helm. You have to own every part of it. The good and bad. Whether that means throwing yourself under the bus, or driving it.