10 Leadership Tips and Traps for Business Owners

Here’s a sobering thought that escapes many business owners and startup entrepreneurs: Even companies with valuable, innovative and cutting edge products and services stumble when strong leadership is lacking.

Two key areas set apart the portion of companies (an estimated 13 percent) that consistently and successfully execute their own strategies. One is that leadership doesn’t let fear dictate that strategy. And the other is that successful companies foster a strong sense of connectedness through the conversations they have with employees.

Fear-based business leadership is doomed to failure. Such leaders set out to control the possibility of failure. But in the process, they stress out everyone around them and turn good employees into cynical, nonproductive ones. The harmful side effects of fear prevent the business from effectively executing its strategy.

Below are five traps that fearful business owners fall into, followed by five ways to spur employees be high achievers.

5 Signs You are Driven by FearLeadership

1. Trying not to fail is your main goal. The simplest yet most damaging strategy a small business can follow is simply trying not to fail. Too many business owners are invested in not failing rather than taking the kind of risks that have the potential to pay off.

2. You cling to strategies that are familiar. Just because something has worked before doesn’t mean it will work again. Business owners can easily convince themselves that the old strategy is working – that more of the same can only be better – when in fact it isn’t. “The difference between a rut and a grave is only about five and a half feet,” says Dan Prosser, author of Thirteeners: Why Only 13 Percent of Companies Successfully Execute Their Strategy. “Instead of digging themselves out of a rut, leaders who cling to old strategies end up digging themselves in deeper when the marketplace changes.”

3. You assume you – and you alone –have all the answers. Fearful business owners often act like lone wolves. They have to do everything themselves to feel confident it will be done right. They don’t even consider others’ recommendations.

4. You rush to judgment when things don’t go well. Maybe it’s an unexpected drop in sales, bad news from a client or a promising deal that fell through. Resist knee-jerk reactions made out of fear. These can have long-lasting negative effects on your business.

5. You address only symptoms. When disruptive issues arise, there’s an urge to snuff them out quickly. But treating only symptoms rarely works. Instead, look for the core issues and consider changes needed to correct the root of the problem.

Using leadership to help others be more productive will also help your business succeed. Here are five conversations that encourage others to contribute.

1. Acknowledgment: For some business owners, saying “thank you” and “good job” can seem awkward. “But I promise you, the rewards of your efforts will greatly outweigh any discomfort,” says Prosser, who is also CEO of The Prosser Group and has over 40 years’ experience building companies.

2. Alignment: In businesses that successfully execute their strategies, everyone heads in the same direction. There’s minimal confusion and everyone looks out for everyone else. Be clear about expectations, and allow others to bring ideas to you.

3. Relationship building: For business owners and other managers, a big part of this is simply listening. Being a good listener makes it easier for employees to talk to you and raise the issues you need to know about.

4. Responsibility: When most people hear the word “responsible” in a work setting, they think about blaming others for problems. Your goal is to make sure everyone understands that being responsible means taking initiative to do what’s necessary to get the job done.

5. Possibilities: When employees see and understand where the business is going, they feel more connected and are more likely to be productive contributors. Your job is to share hopes and expectations with others.

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About the Author

Daniel Kehrer, headshotDaniel Kehrer, Founder & Managing Director of BizBest Media Corp., is a nationally-known, award-winning expert on small and local business, start-ups, content marketing, entrepreneurship and social media, with an MBA from UCLA/Anderson. Read more of Daniel's tips at www.BizBest.com, follow him at www.twitter.com/140Main and connect on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danielkehrer.
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