Are you a leader?

Developing and growing a business requires leadership. Successful businesses are a collaborative venture. Businesses are built through people, and the bigger the business, the bigger the team (usually). Businesses need a team to get things done and teams need leadership.

Despite this most business owners do not consciously think of themselves as leaders and, more significantly, do not proactively address the leadership function. Many argue that they are not a “born leader” or dismiss leadership as an irrelevance.

I believe leadership is critical even in a small business, mainly because management is very difficult in a leadership vacuum. Many times I have been asked to assist with a management problem which turned out to be a manifestation of poor leadership.

What is leadership?

Leadership is about setting the rules that define the environment which sets the expectation of behaviour. By rules I don’t mean a codified list of things to do or not do, but the values and standards that make all the “rules” obvious. Leadership is about being clear about what the business stands for (core values), why it exists (core purpose) and is about setting objectives around which the team can unite (the vision).

People like to understand what is expected of them. Have you ever checked the dress code before going to a restaurant? We all like to know what we should be aiming for. How can we feel good about our achievements if we don’t know what we are striving for? Leadership is about setting the tone. It’s about deciding what the organisation is tolerant about and what it will be intolerant about, things that it will compromise on and things it won’t. It sets the tone and sets the standards to which the whole organisation aspires. It is the basis for all recruitment and provides the framework within which an organisation challenges and develops its people.

Good leadership means less management. Investing in the leadership “processes” gives a return in the form of a smaller management overhead. Good leadership solicits that “discretionary effort” that employees “donate” to the business when they believe in their organisation and commit to each other.

Leadership is a mentality, but also a process. Even people who think of themselves as the most unlikely leaders can “do” leadership. It’s a function and just like most functions it merely requires some thought and activity. Activities like defining core values, core purpose and a vision for the business. It means setting time aside to communicate values, purpose and vision on a regular and frequent basis. Values, purpose and vision can, and should, be embedded in “management” processes like recruitment and team appraisals, as well as forming the backdrop to management meetings.

In this moving TED video on leadership, Simon Sinek makes the point that leadership is not a rank. He refers to the US Marine Corp and how they set high standards of mutual dependence and selfless support. Their leaders put themselves last, not first. We can’t all run organisations that stand a comparison to US Marine Corp but the message is clear. Leadership is not a rank. Leadership is earned. Ultimately the test of leadership is not where you are on the organisation chart but whether you have followers.

Research by Goffee and Jones, published in their Harvard Business Review article “Why should anyone be led by you?”, found that good leaders were quite often humble and understated, destroying the myth that leaders are always “larger than life” characters. My experience confirms this. When business owners take responsibility for leadership and “do” leadership, they become good leaders. Leaders are made not born. Leadership is a choice not a genetic inheritance. Your choice! So what’s it going to be?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on leadership so please do drop us a note using the comment box below.

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