How to be a Great Leader and Inspire Your Small Business Team

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how to be a great leader

Like it or not, as a small business owner, one of your primary roles (if you’ve got employees, that is), is that of leader. If you haven’t had a lot of experience in the past in leading people, you might need a few pointers for polishing your skills.

Not to worry. Even if you’re not a born leader, it’s something you can improve with a bit of effort and education. (Also, don’t be afraid to sign up for a leadership course if need be.)

The Qualities of a Great Leader

While everyone’s got their own opinion about what makes for killer leadership skills, most can’t argue that the following are qualities can help you manage others with grace:

  • Solid listening & communication skills.
  • Striving to help employees succeed.
  • Empowering employees to make decisions.
  • Striving for self-improvement.
  • Learning from mistakes.

How many of these qualities do you possess? If you need a brush-up, here are tips for expanding your abilities on each point:

  • Listening & Communication: Let your employees speak without you interrupting them. Pause before responding, and really consider what they’ve said.
  • Help Employees Succeed: If an employee comes to you with a problem, don’t just listen – act. Show them that you keep your word by making change to help them overcome the obstacle.
  • Empower Employees: Show your staff that you trust them to make decisions without your constant approval. They’ll blossom if you let them.
  • Self-Improvement: Realize that good leaders never assume they’ve reached the top, and keep striving to better their skills.
  • Learn from Mistakes: Just like anyone, you’re fallible. So rather than try to deny your errors, take them as valuable lessons.

Why You Should Strive to Be a Great Leader

Do you really need to improve your leadership skills? If you care about keeping your staff happy, you should care. As Eric Jackson quotes the old saying in this Forbes article, “People Quit Their Bosses, Not Their Jobs“. Do you really want to be the reason you keep losing good talent?

Your staff looks to you for guidance on how to conduct themselves, as well as how your company is run. A good leader inspires staff and doesn’t make them cower under their desks.

Owning Your Leadership Style

If you’ve been to business school or any kind of leadership training, you might be familiar with Lewin’s Three Leadership Styles. These date back to 1939, and while others have been identified since then, these styles of leadership still ring true today:

  • Autocratic: You make decisions on your own without the input of your team, and your word is law. You’re not open to suggestions from your staff, which may make them fearful of you, and may cause employees to be difficult to motivate or keep on board.
  • Democratic: You involve staff members in key decisions, though you still have the final word. Employees feel more vested in the company when they are encouraged by you to provide input.
  • Laissez-faire: This style of leadership isn’t always effective. You put the responsibility of decision-making in the hands of your employees, which may cause your team to feel confused and without strong guidance, since that’s not a laissez-faire leader’s strong suit.

Each of these leadership types (as well as others) has its benefits and drawbacks. The key is understanding which comes naturally to you, as well as which your staff responds best to.

For example, if you identify with the autocratic style, but your staff seems afraid to come to you with ideas or issues, try on the democratic hat for a week or two and see if results change. It’s better to align yourself with your staff’s needs than stick to what’s easiest for you.

The better the leader you are, the happier your employees will be. And a small business with happy employees makes for a successful company.

Excited Team Photo via Shutterstock

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Melinda Emerson Melinda Emerson, known to many as "SmallBizLady," is a Veteran Entrepreneur, Small Business Coach and Social Media Strategist who hosts #Smallbizchat for emerging entrepreneurs on Twitter. She is also the author of, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months.

8 Reactions
  1. I would add that a great leader is willing to do anything they ask of their employees, from cleaning the bathroom to handling an angry customer. That give the leader a moral high ground and earns respect.

  2. I am more democratic but the final decision is mine. That’s because it is hard if you put the decision on your employees. There should be one person who will make the decision.

  3. Some excellent tips here on the essentials of leadership. And your last two sentences definitely sing to us at The Happy Manager!

    I think one thing missing from the list though is the ability for leaders to think differently, which is why we took the time to write about that very point in our new book, Uncommon Leadership. Great leaders try to make sense of their situation, and make the sense they find common sense in their organisations. This may not be easy to do, especially for leaders in small businesses. But it’s something that many successful leaders have in common, including those who have applied that knowledge to make small businesses large!

  4. Right on! A great leader usually means happy employees. Happy employees are more willing to work hard for the business. Hard work produces a more productive business. Here’s another great article that offers ways a leader/boss can increase employee productivity:

  5. I am definitely a democratic leader and teach my leaders to be the same everyone has something to bring to the table