I find that the hardest part of becoming a better business leader is accepting that sometimes you need to change yourself, rather than try to change the people around you. When mentoring new entrepreneurs and advising small-company owners, I recognize that most don't start as experienced leaders, and most don't realize that the ability to lead people is a primary key to their future success.
Building a business is not a one-person job, and leading by edict rarely works these days. You need to pick the right people, and learn to lead the team as you go. I just completed a new book, The Self-Evolved Leader by Dave McKeown. While directed at larger-enterprise leaders, it includes many of the key elements about learning that I use when coaching entrepreneurs.
Here are the key practices that McKeown and I both see as critical to your growth as a business leader:
1. Measure yourself by how much you have learned.
True leaders are never satisfied with what they know about leadership, as well as their products, and are always in pursuit of learning.
That means constantly seeking feedback, taking time for relevant seminars and guidance, and looking for positive changes in the organization.
Another approach is to tackle one specific problem at a time. For example, if feedback tells you that you don't communicate well, start measuring yourself on how many times you send out unsolicited notes of strategy, guidance, status, or praise for results.
2. Don't be afraid to demonstrate your vulnerability.
Without vulnerability, you can't have an objective understanding of your effectiveness as a leader.
Until you admit your weaknesses, your team won't have the courage to take initiative and help you learn how to improve.
In my own business career, this was a tough one for me. I felt that vulnerability itself was a sign of weakness, and the team needed strength. Over time, I learned that I could get more personal results, as well as satisfaction, by enlisting the natural strengths of others.
3. Practice deep empathy for everyone on your team.
With empathy comes compassion and an understanding of the impact your decisions as a leader have on your team. It's the necessary foundation for helping everyone on the team develop into their best selves, and to create work that is greater than what each individual can produce on their own.
If you're naturally low on the empathy scale, make an extra effort to recognize your team's feelings, and your impact on others. In private team member discussions and counseling, don't be afraid to ask about feelings, and be willing to share your own.
4. Foster a sense of connectedness between team members.
When one team member has a positive learning experience, they are more likely to help elevate and teach those around them.
Teams are interconnected, so improving team performance is dependent on optimizing each employee's role to their particular set of strengths.
One of the best things you can do to establish a connection with your team members is to focus on building strong personal relationships with each, and foster relationships between them. As the leader, you must reach out to them, not the other way around.
5. Understand what you can control and accept what you can't.
No leader can control all external circumstances around them, whether it's politics, people, economics, or even the luck of the draw.
Good leaders never complain about what they can't control, and never demand results from team members when things are outside their control.
A key part of the acceptance process is learning to be the team model for coping with a crisis. If it involves elements outside your control, you must keep your emotions in check and make a more conscious decision about how to deal with the difficult situation.
Enjoy the benefits of continuous learning
The successful entrepreneurs I know all tell me that as they learned to be better leaders, they were able to spend less time on daily crises, and more time on the important things, like long-term direction and people development. Equally important, they were able to reduce their own stress level, improve business-family balance, and enjoy more satisfaction from their efforts.