When you get down to it, your business is all about meeting the needs of people. Customers, employees, vendors, lenders, investors and members of the community are all people with very human needs. And to make all of that happen, a business needs leadership. The qualities of leadership drive the ability of the business to meet its own needs and the needs of the people who depend on it.
So the real work of the business owner is rising to the constant challenge of developing the leader within themself. If you don’t develop the skills and attributes of a leader, your business will stagnate. Then it’s only a matter of time before you sell it or close the doors for good. And it will slowly drain the life out of the people who come into contact with it, including you!
Are leaders born or made?
Some people believe that leadership is something that’s innate … you’re either born with it, or you aren’t. While it is true that some individuals are born with leadership traits, there is more to being a true leader than genetics! The truth is that leadership is a combination of skills that can be learned, practiced, and perfected by anyone willing to put in the time and effort.
Leadership, what is it really?
At first glance, business leadership looks like it’s simply a matter of style. But when you get to the core of it, leadership isn’t about style at all. It’s about substance. Vision, action, and spirit … these comprise the essence of leadership. They have nothing to do with style and everything to do with substance. The substance of leadership consists of knowing what to do, knowing how to do it, and influencing others.
The style of leadership is largely a matter of personality. There are quiet, low-key leaders as well as aggressive, charismatic leaders, and an infinite variety in between. Style is superficial. Style doesn’t create vision, doesn’t get anything done… it just looks good or bad.
“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”
Five basic leadership skills
It’s not enough to just acknowledge your need to be a leader, you need to know exactly what is involved. Let’s look first at what makes up the five basic skills of effective leadership:
- Vision – This is the ability to formulate ideas about the business or parts of the business; to understand opportunities; to create a mental picture of what the business will be in the future; and to articulate all of that clearly in words and images. At the highest level, it’s the creation of the entrepreneur’s dream.
- Discrimination - Being able to see what’s important, to understand the available choices, and to make sound, practical decisions. It’s knowing what questions to ask, and being able to answer them in the absence of rules or previous experience.
- Strategic Thinking - The ability to see the big picture and devise an effective path, the right actions that will lead to realizing the vision.
- Commitment – This is the determination and energy to follow through and make the vision a reality even in the face of obstacles, opposition, uncertainty, and risk. Without an underlying passion for your vision, commitment is difficult to maintain.
- Inspirational Communication – This is the skill of communicating vision and strategy, and being able to infuse the organization with enthusiasm, dedication, and some of your own passion.
The Bottom Line: The good news is that through consistent and intentional application, these skills can be developed and strengthened by any business owner. The critical point to keep in mind is that developing leadership skills is a process … it won’t occur in a day, or even a month … but will gradually happen as you apply these skills in the day-to-day operation of your business.