Starting a business doesn’t naturally transform you into a leader. In fact, many business owners we work with didn’t get into business to be leaders. They simply wanted to follow their dream, to use their natural interest or talents to create their own path in life. For these folks, the idea of leading can be anything from uninteresting to terrifying. But what they (and likely you!) discovered along the way is that to really create a world-class company, you need to learn to lead. This is the only way to turn your entrepreneurial vision into reality. But how do you get there?
The first step is to acknowledge and cast aside one common and frustrating misbelief: that leadership is innate—you’re either born with it, or you aren’t. While leadership may come naturally to some individuals more than others, the truth is that everyone is capable of being a remarkable leader. That’s because leadership isn’t a “you either have it or you don’t” gift—it’s a combination of skills that can be learned, practiced and perfected by anyone willing to put in the time and effort. After you embrace that truth, next is to hone in on the five core skills you need to grow your leadership abilities, so you can develop your business and people in the ways you want and deserve.
What is leadership?
At first glance, business leadership might seem like a simple matter of style. Maybe the word conjures someone who’s extremely confident, extroverted, commanding. But when you get to the core of it, leadership isn’t about style: It’s about substance. Just as there are charismatic and outgoing leaders, there are also soft-spoken, serious leaders.
So what is the common denominator? What truly comprises the essence of leadership? It always boils down to vision, action and spirit, all unique to each business owner’s personality. Your own form of leadership, no matter your style, will always consist of setting goals, knowing how to get there, and encouraging others to achieve success with you.
The five core leadership skills
Acknowledging your capacity to become or grow as a leader is an excellent start. But how is it carried out? At EMyth, we break leadership down into five core skills:
Vision is your ability to formulate ideas about your business or parts of your business. A strong leader identifies opportunities and the need for continual progress. This means you create a mental picture of what you want your business to look like in the future and to articulate it clearly in words and images in order to share with others. At the highest level, having vision is the foundation of fulfilling your entrepreneurial dream.
How do you focus under pressure? Discrimination is the ability to see what’s important, to understand the available choices, and to make sound, practical decisions even—and especially—when it’s hard. It’s free-form rather than rule-based decision making, because sometimes there’s simply no hard and fast formula. To be able to discriminate means knowing what questions to ask in any scenario, and being able to answer them in the absence of rules or previous experience.
Strategic thinking is big-picture thinking. As a strong leader, you should allow yourself some freedom to dream, to create a high-level vision and devise an effective path to actualize that vision. This can be a real challenge for many business owners, who spend their days mired in tactical details. But in many respects strategic thinking is your main job: to invent “the rules of your game”, and look to the future, determine what business results you want to achieve, and figure out the best path to take you there.
The strength of your personal commitment to your business vision and goals gives you the determination and energy to follow through, even in the face of obstacles, opposition, uncertainty and risk. Once you’ve written and communicated your vision, your people will have the most important role in helping you realize it. For them to commit to it—to understand, believe in, and enthusiastically work toward it—you need to consistently set the tone and keep the goals ever present.
One of the most impactful qualities of leadership is your ability to emotionally convey the meaning and purpose you feel regarding your business. What does it mean to you and them to achieve the vision? When you do this, your team can more easily find the meaning in their own work and experience a rich sense of purpose as they perform their daily activities. You’ll infuse your team with enthusiasm and dedication, and see an uptick in performance. (You may even help them find the leader in themselves.)
Through consistent and intentional application, these five core skills can be developed and strengthened by any business owner. It’s not about being “the best” leader out there, but simply becoming the best leader you can be. And keep in mind that developing leadership skills is an ongoing process, not a singular event — it won’t occur in a week. Or in a month. But it will happen as you apply yourself to honing these skills in the day-to-day functions of running your business.
Key character traits of a leader
The skills required of a leader aren’t the only components of leadership. While they may determine how effective your leadership abilities are, they don’t speak to the quality of how you lead: this comes down to character. So, the question here: What traits or qualities are expected in a good leader?
While each leader’s character is unique to them, there are a number of key traits that notable leaders commonly possess. Here are some to consider as you think about the type of leader you are and aspire to be. What are your core qualities, and how do you exhibit them in your business?
When it comes down to becoming a real leader in your business, it can feel like a lot of pressure—after all, your business and its vitality count on you. But think about it like this: You’re making a powerful impact on the lives of your team, customers, community and family, and the more you believe in yourself, the better the impact can be. And by knowing where you want to go with your business and how you’ll lead the way, the rest becomes a matter of experience and knowledge. As Antony Jay once said, “The only real training for leadership is leadership.”
If you’re still feeling uncertain about how you can exercise your leadership abilities to aid your business, download the EMyth Roadmap. It gives you a complete outline to help you run your business in a more systematic manner.