When eager entrepreneurs open their own businesses, many don’t think about or fully understand the shift in mindset that’s required: They must quickly transition from subordinates into leaders, even if they’ve never managed or led a single employee. Employees, customers, and competitors will almost immediately begin evaluating their ability to lead the business to success.
To gain some insight into how to ease the transition into leadership, the Intuit Small Business Blog connected with Kevin Eikenberry (pictured), chief potential officer of the Kevin Eikenberry Group, a leadership and learning consulting company, and developer of the Bud to Boss Workshops, which teach new managers how to make the transition from employee to leader.
ISBB: Many new small-business owners have little — or maybe no — leadership or management experience. What basic steps can you recommend to people who need to transition into a leadership role?
Eikenberry: People need to realize that when they add team members, they have to think about more than the work itself. To lead successfully requires gaining new skills and new perspectives, too.
Recognize that you can’t do all the work yourself, and give those people you hire a chance to succeed. If you hire them to do tasks you excel at, give them a chance to learn those skills. Remember: They won’t be as skilled as you on Day 1. If you hired them to do tasks that you aren’t skilled at, let them do their work without your constant intervention.
Let me repeat: You hired them for a reason. Remind yourself of that reason and let them succeed.
Some small-business owners struggle with the concept that they’re leaders, especially when they have very few employees. How does someone who doesn’t believe he or she is a “true leader” shake that mindset and build confidence in his or her role?
I can offer three bits of advice: First, know that there is no such thing as a “born leader.” The skills that help you lead are skills that you can learn. Second, actively learn those skills. They aren’t innate; learn what they are and then start applying them with your team, regardless the size. Third, practice what you are learning. Confidence in any skill comes with practice.
Small-business owners often run short on time and resources. What is the one leadership action busy entrepreneurs should make a priority each day to motivate and engage their employees?
I’ll give you two: Provide a clear vision and direction every day, not just the daily task. Keep the big picture clear. Ask questions to acknowledge, validate, and learn more about the business from the perspective of your team members.
How can small-business owners make their employees care as much about the company as they do?
Help them see the big reason or big purpose of the business. When people see meaning in their work, they will think more like an owner.
What are three leadership sins every small-business owner should avoid at all cost?
[The first] would have to be micromanaging. No one wants to be micromanaged. You aren’t the only person responsible for the work. Prepare people to succeed by providing training and clear expectations. Then get out of their way.
Next would be ignoring or neglecting your leadership role. You may not have started your business to lead, but now you must do so. You can’t put it off, and you can’t abdicate.
Finally, stop talking so much. Your team members have brains. Ask them what they think, and give them time to answer. Shut up and listen to what they have to say; you will likely learn something.
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