The First Step For Developing Leadership in Small Business

Apr 25, 2017, Written by Jim Miley


Start with the premise that if a business leader has enough time to discern between pertinent facts and less relevant data, and then put their full attention toward a good decision, the outcome is likely better than a rushed, more speculative one.

I recently published a post on the value of developing leadership in a small business.

Too many of the small business leaders I encounter seem to feel they lead alone.

Recall the image of the mule suspended high in the air by the harness of it’s wagon which is overloaded and you get the picture.  Maybe you know the feeling?  Often it’s not a good feeling and may have a negative affect on both your performance and, even worse, your ability to truly enjoy your work.

The good news is there is a real path to improving the situation; the bad news is the improvement takes time and effort.  Go figure.

Unless you are the only employee, you don’t need to bear all the burden of leading your business alone.  Even a very small business holds opportunities to develop leadership in your team, whether the team is 2 or 200.

So, whether you have several levels of management with which to work or just you and a few, there are some solid steps you can take to build your leadership base.

I’ll tackle step one, after recognizing you want to act, in this post.  Stay tuned for follow up posts on execution in recruiting leaders for the small business.

Developing Leadership: What is Step One?

The first step toward finding leaders for your business…

Brainstorm and pray on what business activities you can or should delegate to a capable and willing business associate. 

How do you do that?

Avoid dwelling upon perceived shortcomings of individuals or whether you have the talent on your team.  Focus upon the business functions and which activities would be best handled by someone else.

Not things you simply don’t like doing, but rather business items that keep you from adding maximum value to your company.  An example could be you delegating following up on past due A/R to make time on your calendar for business development.

There are so many activities that tie you up when running a business.  We tend to cling to everything as critical but at some point you can not grow if you don’t let go.

You must learn to delegate, but if you only delegate tasks with no growth opportunity for the staff in terms of role, problems with employee engagement are probably coming.

Think in terms of building a framework of responsibilities that, if handled well outside of your having to do the work, would move you to the next level of serving your business well.  Create a model job role that includes these accountabilities within the context of your business.  This almost always means shifting responsibilities between existing employees to flex and allow someone to take the lead on your changes.

Once you have some clarity on business items that would be helpful to delegate, test the new job roles for how they add opportunity to your team members.

What You Choose to Delegate Matters

The goal is to develop leadership by expanding other roles, not dump your undesirable tasks with no benefit to the employee; subtle but critical difference.

The changes should be development opportunities that you are able to articulate for the individual(s) who step up.

Be empathetic to how a candidate for the new role may feel about the opportunity.

  • How does this advance my career?
  • Is there greater opportunity or just more work?
  • Will this affect my earnings opportunity?
  • Do I actually gain any authority over the new accountabilities? 

You should be able to provide reasonable responses to questions a candidate may ask themselves with a high probability the right candidate views the change favorably.

Note that not everybody has the same drivers.  Some people will care most about the money, some the esteem of a promotion, some the joy in the work.  Recognize the potential benefits of your new roles and be prepared to sell them.

Lastly, you can’t sell what you don’t have.  It is imperative that there be real benefits to employees who are developing and taking on responsibilities.  Some fundamentals in recognizing your opportunity to create these benefits may be helpful.

  • An employee taking on more responsibility and performing well is more valuable.
  • Position authority over a business activity tends to improve confidence.
  • Being accountable often improves ownership and engagement.
  • All of these bullets together represent leadership development.

If you recognize the benefits of developing leadership in your business, start with creating the position and organizational changes that create the opportunity for your leader(s).

I’ll pick up with the next step in execution in the coming posts.

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Jim Miley

As a Business Coach, Jim brings a broad background of operational and sales management skills and expertise to help small business owners grow their business and reach their highest potential. He has 30 years of field-proven professional experience.

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