How Do You Find Leadership In Your Small Business?

May 5, 2017, Written by Jim Miley

Do you ever feel alone in your business?  It’s great when you have confidence in trusted support around you; a team that moves with confidence, competence and commitment.

This is a follow up on our recent post on developing leaders in a small business.

Last week I covered the need to define what you need in a developing leader.  What parts of your business call for the most help and what does an emerging leader look like?  Once you have some clarity on these questions, you are ready to look for candidates to develop.

Keeping it simple you should 1) look for both the aptitude and desire and 2) consider existing team members first.

You need to have at least one member of your team with both the desire and the aptitude to serve in a leadership role.

This is the biggest hurdle for most small business leaders but don’t be scared of it.  Your population is relatively small so not often full of leadership talent found in larger organizations which means you need to be all the more intentional about developing this resource.

Float a trial balloon.

Start with careful evaluation of whether the potential exists in the existing staff.  You must first establish “non starter” hurdles to avoid letting expectations get out of control.  Clearly you don’t want to target someone for development where success is just not possible.  But I caution clients that often they discard candidates without any objective evaluation of the individual.  Be objective.

If you have someone already on the team who may be a candidate for development, schedule time to float a trial balloon.  A simple and frank conversation with the people who might be willing and able to step up is a good way to assess where people are and help clarify both your plans and the employee’s potential.

Lay out your business plans clearly with the leadership activities and accountabilities as a business need.  No names attached but a discussion of how we can fill the need.  Does the employee get it?  Are they eager and willing to meet the need or are they back peddling to avoid taking on more responsibility/work?

If you find a team member responds with a clear willingness to step up, great!  Go a little deeper with the conversation.  Let them know you are happy that they are willing to help and desire to develop.  Be careful to not set any unrealistic expectations but go ahead and firm up mutual understanding of what it means to you for someone to carry additional leadership responsibility.

Conversely if the candidate is apathetic or expresses a lack of desire to take on more responsibility, politely move the conversation to a conclusion and know that you need to look elsewhere.

Do not depend upon someone for leadership or accountability where they have expressed a lack of desire to willingly accept the responsibility.

Time out…  If there is nobody on your team after your first pass, you need to review why you are looking to begin with.  If your objective is to develop your staff, you may be a little more assertive in a second round of conversation.

If your need is more business or personal mission critical, then you should immediately move to find alternative solutions.

Without anyone already on the team who is willing and able to step up, you know an outside hire is your next best option to build leadership.

If you determine there is no hidden leadership talent waiting to be uncovered in your existing staff, take a step back to assess what other skills or capabilities might make a headcount add practical.

A couple of common examples:

  • Sales growth is a good place to look. Can you leverage a headcount add to drive business growth or allow you to drive business growth?
  • Cost reductions. Can you confidently lower expenses by bringing a service in house and increasing the impact of that service.  Consider the situation of hiring a Controller where the reduction in outsourced accounting fees funds much of the expense.

The elephant in the room.

You need to answer the less pleasant and hard question.  Do you need to replace any of the existing staff in order for the business to move forward?

As a business owner, there is no right or wrong answer to the hard question given that you determine the objectives and mission for the business.  But you need to regularly weigh your objectives against the team and confirm you have an adequate business foundation with which to achieve both your short term objectives and your long term goals.

If you’re not clear on your short term objectives and long term goals, you can download Crossroads Clarity Kit here for help.

How have you found leadership in your small business?

Reader Interactions


  1. gold for investment says

    You’re so awesome! I don’t think I have read through something like this before. So wonderful to discover another person with some genuine thoughts on this issue. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This site is something that is required on the web, someone with a little originality!

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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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