As a small business owner, leadership is a critical skill to have and develop. If you’re in charge of a team, employees will look to you for direction and important decisions. The way you lead will also impact your relationships with partners, vendors, and clients.
Effective leaders are confident and know how to get the best out of their teams. When someone in a leadership role lacks confidence, that uncertainty can cause unnecessary stress, especially when making business decisions.
According to Leila Bulling Towne, an experienced executive and leadership coach, “The thing that gets in the way of most business owners being effective leaders is self-doubt.”
Many small business owners don't delegate enough.
– Leila Towne
Leading with confidence
Before starting her own executive coaching business in 2007, Leila worked as a learning and development director, informally coaching people inside her organization in addition to building leadership programs. Since then, Leila has independently been coaching executives to evaluate their team dynamics, identify development opportunities, and help them become stronger leaders and decision-makers.
“It’s natural to assume that most decisions you make as an executive are good decisions because of your status, but that’s not always the case,” Leila says. “When problems arise, it’s okay to evaluate your own authority and decisions, as well as your team’s authority and work.”
Unfortunately, it can be difficult for many leaders to receive authentic feedback in the moment. While some people managers may not be receptive to feedback, it’s more likely that employees simply aren’t comfortable providing it.
“My goal is to help executives feel more comfortable in the conflict. It’s important to have those tough conversations, so you can understand where you excel and where you can shift behaviors to be better at your job.”
Leila typically begins her six-month process by having the client do a self-assessment, followed by 360-degree interviews with peers, managers, and direct reports to get the full picture of the client’s leadership style. She then anonymizes this feedback and shares it with her client.
Through this exercise, they’re able to compare how executives see themselves to how others see them, which can be enlightening for some. Armed with this knowledge, Leila’s client can approach meetings and day-to-day scenarios more aware of their behavior, and discuss big decisions with Leila during regular check-ins.
Together, they’re able to establish an action plan based on the client’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities to be more thoughtful about their leadership strategy. By identifying specific focus areas, Leila is able to help her clients progress and lead their teams more confidently and effectively.
The most common mistake small business owners make
Leila points out one trend she’s noticed among small business owners on their journey to more effective leadership.
“Many small business owners don’t delegate enough for a variety of reasons,” Leila says.
According to Leila, some think I can do it better myself, while others might be worried their employees will do the work better than them. And some leaders are afraid that their ideas will be different from their employees’ ideas.
“What many small business owners don’t realize is that they need to have the emotional intelligence to know it’s okay if someone questions your ideas. It’s okay if someone else does good work. These are necessary to grow your business.”
While delegating tasks can be scary, especially when it comes to managing your finances, strong leaders hire the right people and trust their teams to get the job done—so they can focus on keeping the business running smoothly.
Dos and don’ts of small business leadership
In addition to her tip about delegation, Leila shared these 10 helpful dos and don’ts for small business owners.
Do: Be honest
Employees want their leaders to be honest. Speak the truth and understand how to balance transparency with discretion.
Do: Build relationships
Get to know your team on a personal level. These relationships will help the business, not hurt it.
Don’t: Point fingers
Always look at yourself first when something goes wrong. What could you have done differently? Good leaders know how to accept responsibility for failures.
Be clear about what you’re looking for from your team. Specific direction saves time on back and forth and helps build trust in your decision-making.
Hear your employees out. Encourage them to openly share feedback about you, the rest of the team, and what is and isn’t working. That way, you can adapt processes when needed.
Don’t: See top performers as threats
Employees with strong skills and experience are assets to you and your organization. Plus, you should always welcome different perspectives because that’s how you get the best output.
Do: Be human
Show your emotions. Ask how your team is doing. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and admit to them when you do. Also, encourage your team to have fun.
Do: Run productive meetings
Lead by example and facilitate efficient meetings. Create an agenda and stick to it, and make sure you don’t do all the talking. Invite others to run meetings and weigh in on decisions.
Don’t: Take feedback personally
Your team’s feedback will help you grow as a leader and person. Nobody is perfect, and the way you respond to feedback tells people a lot about who you are.
Do: Embrace learning
You don’t have all the answers, but effective leaders know how to keep looking for them.
Leila Bulling Towne is executive coach based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has been featured in TheEconomist.com, Women’s Health, BBC.com, WSJ, and Marketplace Radio, among others. In 2018, The Information named her one of the top coaches behind startup founders. Leila developed the AwesomeLeader.com online training and coaching programs, which companies of all sizes use to uplevel managers, leaders, and their teams.