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Small Business Tips

How to develop your business leadership skills

MileIQ Team

If you want your business to run smoothly, you need to be organized, detail-oriented and methodical.

But inspiring your staff and getting the best out of them? That’s a whole other ball game. That’s where you have to use your leadership skills.

For some of us, leadership comes naturally. But if you’re not especially comfortable taking charge, don’t worry. With practice and dedication, you can develop leadership skills too.

What are good leadership skills?

So, what makes a good business leader? Bill Green, CEO of LendingOne and author of All in: 101 Real Life Business Lessons For Emerging Entrepreneurs, thinks great business leaders have the following traits in common:

1. Self-awareness

Do you understand what you’re good at and where you need to improve? If you know your strengths, you can keep building on them. Similarly, if you know your weaknesses, you can address them.

2. Decisiveness

Former US President Barack Obama once joked that, upon leaving office, he’d open a t-shirt shack in Hawaii. The shack would stock only white t-shirts, size medium. That way, he wouldn’t have to make any decisions.

The point here is that leaders have to make hard decisions all the time. So, if you want to be a good leader, you’d better get comfortable with the idea.

3. Fairness

This means treating everyone equally based on a set of clear and consistent principles. As much as you might want to look at every situation on its own merits, that would make it hard to be effective in a fast-paced business environment.

To quote Bill Green himself:

As a leader, you don’t have the luxury of looking at each and every situation, conflict, or personal issue with a detailed eye. What’s more important is having principles and practices in place that ensure you reach positive desired outcomes, faster. This means handling internal company issues with clearly established principles that are fair to all.

4. Enthusiasm

As a leader, you’ll find others looking up to you to take charge and show them the way. It’ll be hard for them to do so if you’re not setting the right example.

Says Green:

No employee will want to work for someone who doesn’t embody the same characteristics they’re being told to have and hone themselves… As a leader, it’s your job — not to tell, but to show — those around you what enthusiasm looks like…”

5. They earn their staff’s respect

If you’re constantly having to pull rank to get your staff to do as you say, you’re doing it wrong.

SMS Marketing’s Mike Dan says: “A great leader does not lead by forcing people to follow. Instead, a great leader motivates people. They encourage others to follow them.

6. Knowledge

To be an effective leader, you need to stay on top of every aspect of your business. And that includes keeping abreast of current trends.

How will you be taken seriously if you don’t know what you’re talking about?

7. Vision

Great leaders set ambitious goals. But, more importantly, they have the confidence to keep working towards them even when others voice doubts.

Shortly before the first iPhone launched, Marc Andreessen — co-author of Mosaic, the first internet browser — had dinner with Steve Jobs. As they waited for a table, Jobs took out his iPhone prototype and started showing him its features.

Andreessen said: “Steve, don’t you think it’s going to be a problem not having a physical keyboard? Are people really going to be okay typing directly on the screen?”

To which Jobs replied: “They’ll get used to it.”

Guess who was right?

8. Resilience

Like everything else in life, your business is going to go through ups and downs. And part of being a good leader means rolling with the punches.

Says Green:

You won’t have all the answers. You won’t always know where to move next. You’ll have your wins, and you’ll have your losses. But through it all, you can’t lose your sense of confidence. You have to always believe in yourself and your ability to see things through to the end.

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5 steps to developing better business leadership skills

So you want to develop your leadership skills? Or become a better leader?

Here are five steps to help you get there.

1. Understand your strengths and weaknesses

As we’ve already mentioned, you can’t improve unless you understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie. For this reason, the first step to developing leadership skills should be an honest assessment of yourself.

What kind of leader do you want to be?

Do you want to solve problems? Bring people together? Or something else?

More importantly, which areas do you need to improve in?

Perhaps you could do better at seeing the bigger picture. Or maybe you tend to ‘manage’ people instead of guiding them.

Set aside some time to think and write it all down.

2. Set SMART goals

To develop your leadership skills, you need to set goals and track your progress. And the best way to do this is to use the SMART technique. This means setting goals that are:

  • Specific

    Does your goal have a clear objective? Saying you want to ‘communicate better’ is too vague. Instead, set yourself the goal of ‘giving more feedback’
  • Measurable

    So you want to ‘give more feedback.’ But what does ‘more’ actually mean? To find out if you’re improving, you need to be able to measure your progress. So, substitute ‘more’ with something more definite, such as ‘one piece of feedback to each employee every day’
  • Achievable

    While you shouldn’t be afraid of aiming high, you need to be realistic. If your goals are too ambitious, you may get discouraged
  • Relevant

    Does your goal help your business? For example, Gallup found that employees who receive regular feedback are more engaged. So, ‘giving one piece of feedback to each employee every day’ is a relevant goal
  • Time-bound

    Deadlines help you make sure you don’t put your goals on the back burner. So, for instance, you could give each employee one piece of feedback daily for the next three months

3. Find a mentor

Isaac Newton once said: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” By which he meant that he wouldn’t have managed to achieve what he did had he not built on the work of his peers.

The same goes in business. You don’t have to go it alone. A mentor can:

  • Help you see things from a fresh perspective
  • Help you identify strengths and weaknesses you weren’t aware of
  • Give your confidence a boost
  • Keep you accountable as you work towards your goals

Not sure where to look for a mentor? Micromentor connects mentors and entrepreneurs for free.

4. Ask for feedback

Just as you assess your employees’ performance, you should also seek objective opinions about your own. Whether it’s your mentor, colleagues, peers or even your staff, honest, constructive feedback will help you grow.

Plus, you’ll be developing your listening and communication skills. Both of which will help you be a better leader.

5. Keep learning

Becoming a better leader is a lifelong journey. So you should always be evaluating your progress and building on what you already know.

It’s worth setting aside some time each week to read books and blogs, attend a seminar or sign up for a professional development course.

More to the point, soft skills such as communication and adaptability are just as important as academic knowledge.

So join an improv class. Try your hand at public speaking. Or, perhaps, start playing video games.

The more you work on sharpening your abilities, the easier leadership will come to you.

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