In the early years of a business, it's easy to neglect -- or even forget entirely -- the importance of being a leader. A friend of mine who started a consulting business fell into just this trap. He had a clear idea of he wanted to do, and worked hard to make it happen, but it never really got off the ground. He and his partner weren't aligned. He hired people who didn't understand what was expected, and then didn't deliver properly. My friend put almost all his energy into logistics and dealing with clients. He didn't lead his organization.
In contrast, the most successful entrepreneurs I know recognize that they have two jobs: build the business, and lead the people. Even if you only have a few employees, it's important to be a leader to whom they'll commit.
We've found that people look for six characteristics in deciding whether to align around a leader. "Followable" leaders are far-sighted, passionate, courageous, wise, generous and trustworthy. Here's what that looks like in the day-to-day of entrepreneurial life.
Being far-sighted means you see and share a clear and compelling vision of the future with your people -- staff, partners, investors. You see past obstacles and difficulties and focus on moving toward the future you all want to create.
As a passionate leader, your followers know what you stand for, and that you'll stick to your guns even when the going gets tough. At the same time, you're open to hearing their questions and concerns. You are committed without being dogmatic.
Being courageous means you make tough, necessary decisions even when doing so is uncomfortable or risky. And if a decision turns out badly, you'll take full responsibility: admit your mistakes, apologize, and work to fix what's wrong.
Being wise means you combine curiosity and objectivity. Your team can come to you for counsel, because they know that you're reflective about important decisions and that you learn from your mistakes.
As a generous leader, you believe in your folks, provide balanced feedback, share credit, and teach what you know. As a result, your people can take on bigger and bigger roles in helping you grow the business.
Being trustworthy makes you a rock and a haven for your followers. They know you'll always do your best to tell them the truth and to keep confidences. And they know, too, that you'll do everything possible to get the results you promise.
It's easy, when you're starting a business, to think that leadership isn't that important. Your staff is small, you're all in it together, and you're focused on just-getting-this-thing-off-the-ground. But in some ways, this is the most important time to show your leadership. This is when you can build a foundation of being the kind of leader to whom people turn and say "I'm with you - let's go."