In my business of mentoring new entrepreneurs and advising small company owners, I recognize that most don’t start as experienced leaders, and most don’t realize that people leadership is a primary key to their future success. Building a business is not a one-person job, and leading by edict rarely works today. You need to pick the right people and learn as you go to lead the team.
I just completed a new book, “The Self-Evolved Leader,” by Dave McKeown. While directed at larger enterprise leaders, it really hits all the key elements of learning and evolving as a leader that I recommend to entrepreneurs. It should convince you that no matter how much you know about technology, leading a team, as well as vendors and customers, is a whole new challenge.
I find that the hardest part of becoming the business leader you need to be is learning and changing yourself, rather than trying to change the people around you. Here are the key internal characteristics that McKeown and I both see as critical to your growth from a technical expert who can develop a great solution, to the recognized business leader you need to be to prosper:
- Measure yourself on how much you have learned lately. True leaders are never satisfied with what they know about their leadership, as well as their products, and are always in pursuit of new learning. That means constantly seeking feedback, taking time for relevant seminars and guidance, and looking for positive changes in the organization.
Another approach is to tackle one specific problem at a time. For example, if feedback tells you that you don’t communicate well, start measuring yourself on how many times you send out unsolicited notes on status, strategy, guidance, and praise for results.
- Don’t be afraid to demonstrate your vulnerability. Without vulnerability, you can’t have an objective understanding of your leadership effectiveness. Until you admit your weaknesses, such as marketing or communication, your team won’t have the courage to take the initiative to show what can be done, and help you learn how to improve.
In my own business career, this was a tough one for me. I felt that vulnerability itself was a sign of weakness, and the team needed strength. Over time, I learned that I could get more personal results, as well as satisfaction, by enlisting the natural strengths of others.
- Practice deep empathy for everyone on your team. With empathy comes compassion and an understanding of the impact your decisions as a leader have on your team. It’s the necessary foundation for helping everyone on the team develop into their best selves and optimizing the output to be greater than the sum of the individual capabilities.
If you’re naturally low on the empathy scale, make an extra effort to not just recognize team member feelings and your impact on others. In private team member discussions and counseling, don’t be afraid to ask about feelings, and be willing to share your own.
- Foster a sense of connectedness between team members. Self-improving leaders recognize that what positively impacts one member impacts others, to improve actions, careers, and lives. All are interconnected, so optimal team performance is dependent on optimizing each individual role to their particular set of strengths, including yours.
One of the best things you can do to establish that connection with your team members is to focus on building strong personal relationships with each, and foster relationships between them. As the leader, you must reach out to them, not the other way around.
- Understand what you can control and accept what you can’t. No leader can control all external circumstances around them, whether it’s politics, people, economics, or even the luck of the draw. Good leaders never complain about what they can’t control, and never demand results from team members which are outside their control.
A key part of the acceptance process is learning to be the team model for coping with a crisis. If it involves elements outside your control, you must keep your emotions in check and make a more conscious decision about how to deal with the difficult situation.
The successful entrepreneurs I know all tell me that as they learned to be better leaders, they were able to spend less time on daily crises, and more time for the important things, like long-term direction and people development. Equally important, they were able to reduce their own stress level, improve business-family balance, and enjoy more satisfaction from their efforts.