What makes a good leader in a self-made business?
Being the creator of your own business can have many rewards, but it can also come with challenges, particularly when it comes to power. Being afraid of having too much power can be a hindrance, but craving it will also affect those who work for you (and, in turn, how productively your business operates).
That leads to the question, what are the qualities of a good leader?
They don’t self sacrifice
It sounds romantic at first, the whole “I would die for my business” approach. But in the long run, remember that as the big boss you lead by example.
If your employees see you sacrificing your personal life, your health and your overall sense of being, you are putting the priorities in the wrong place. Others will follow your lead, but eventually you’ll end up with a company that operates on a fast-paced, stressful environment with no real sense of unity or joy for work.
Self-sacrificing puts a lot of pressure on yourself and your colleagues, plus you’ll fall into a habit you won’t be able to get out of. “If your quality of life sucks now, then, after a decade, you’ll be in the habit of burnout, hypertension, depression or any other aliments your body become accustom to.”
There will be things you will have to learn to juggle, of course (particularly for new businesses): stability, comfort, income, sleep and work/personal life, but it’s a matter of finding the right balance between being productive and not burning yourself out, and never forgetting to take time out for the important things.
They back up their words with actions
You have to be prepared for circumstances in which you will have to make tough decisions, learn to manage complex situations with swiftness and confidence but, above all, in order for people to take you seriously and to respect you, you have to put your money where your mouth is.
Following the rules is important, unless there is a good reason to change them. You are the core of the organisation, and you define the pace and standards of your business. If you say you will do something, follow through. It’s about behavioural integrity, and about bettering yourself, too.
If you implement new rules, follow them just as closely as you expect everybody else to.
Push your employers to be the best they can be – in a way that is encouraging, not demanding. It ties up with the above point, where knowing your employees will help you see what areas you can help them with. Make sure they trust you have the best intentions, and that their improvements will be mutually beneficial to both them and you.
If they do a good job, acknowledge this and reward them with a promotion, or a bonus. In today’s world, innovation is the new leadership. You are therefore in a pretty exemplary position where, as the boss, you can encourage creativity and foster new ideas within your company.
Listen to new ideas and don’t shut things out just because they are suggested in ways you yourself would normally not do them. Risk experimentation, and whenever you feel you are blocking a potential idea, (as much as this will be tough) step back and give it a chance. In the end, if the idea doesn’t work remember that failure is one step closer to success.
They can take criticism
This comes down to being an effective communicator, and it goes both ways: you have to be clear in letting your employers know what it is that you want from them, but you also have to be able to listen to them and take their advice into consideration.
Make sure to put in place a system of reviews so that your employers can also have their say and, most importantly, so you can be brought aware of problems before they escalate.
They take accountability
If something goes wrong, you don’t throw anybody else under the bus. If there is no culprit, you take responsibility, and if there is, you speak to them in private and you never ever embarrass them in front of the colleagues no matter the situation.
Remember that just as you watch everybody else’s moves, so do others to you. People will remember how you act in specific circumstances, and might follow your example and place the blame on somebody else should the same situation happen to them (or even worse, hide the problem from you because they are afraid of how you will react).
People are observant, and you can use this to your advantage. Own to the situation and assure everybody that you have a plan to get through it. Right away, as soon as it’s clear there is a big problem that is affecting the entire organization and needs solving, the fastest route to earning trust is choosing to own the issue.
They are committed
Consistency is the enemy of confusion and conflicting messages, two powerful factors that are out to take your business down. Being consistent builds trust because it lets others know that you are reliable and that you keep your promises.
A second important aspect of being consistent is that it makes the environment predictable; an environment that is full of stress and randomness (and one where the boss is volatile) is not a nice place to work at. When people know how you’ll respond and what to expect from you it increases engagement and satisfaction, which leads to greater productivity.
In a nutshell, consistency will establish a pristine a track record for both yourself and your employees and, in turn, create an attractive personal brand for your company.
Model the behaviour you want to see from others.
Do what you say you’re going to do.
Act as if you are part of the team, not always the head of it.
Xiomara Meyer is a drama and creative writing graduate with an interest in psychology and the slightly bizarre. She is part of Hitting Heads Productions.