If you’re looking to achieve excellence for your business consider this: your success will rise and fall on your leadership.
Despite progress in the physical sciences, it feels like the world is playing catch up to understand the laws that govern human affairs. It can be hard to determine the facts when dealing with human behavior. But there are some rules at play that seem to be recurring. And the secrets they reveal are useful – particularly for entrepreneurs.
If you are a Founder or CEO of a small or medium-sized business, you have no doubt had your leadership put to the test. But with the intensity of day to day execution, you likely have had little time to reflect on the importance of leadership. After all, it’s at the core of everything you do.
Business is a complex endeavour with many aspects – make no mistake about it. But fundamentally, it is about the organisation, motivation, and leadership of humans – both yourself and others. It’s about bringing humans together under a vision to effect change in the world.
Taming the horse
Leadership encompasses the following abilities and traits:
- Conflict resolution – What is the best way to de-escalate situations and handle a difference of opinions? How do you deal with many strong personalities in the boardroom?
- Persuasion – How do you persuade key partners to do business with you? How do you influence the media?
- Motivation – How do you ensure that your team energized? How do you convey the meaning in their work?
All very important, but the aspect that’s rarely mentioned is the leadership of self. And that has to come first.
Because you are the example that others are looking to. You are the model, the signal, the banner. You are the standard to follow. If your own house isn’t in order, you won’t be in the best position to help others.
Leadership of self is about the relationship you have with your brain – all else stems from this. It’s about the communication and harmony between all aspects of the brain – both your conscious mind and your subconscious mind.
Think of it like this. Your subconscious mind, where your autonomous behaviours and emotions reside, is similar to a wild horse. If left untamed, it can be a destructive force. To yourself, your family and your business prospects. If tamed, however, it can be a powerful ally.
The importance of mental harmony is best illustrated when dealing with conflict. Think about a situation, business or otherwise, when there was a tense situation. If you feel that you don’t handle these situations well, it may be that you don’t have a good control of your emotions – your mind runs wild.
Aside from conflict, there are periods where the emotional strain of running a business can slowly eat at you. Although as business leaders we put on a steel face and act unshaken, we’re all affected by negative emotions. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt can creep up. This is even true in good periods – we wonder if it will all come crashing down. If you don’t address these thoughts and let them consume you, it’s easy to lose efficiency as your judgment can be clouded by negativity. Worse, you can burn out. Although the success of your business is not solely down to you, you should get a good grasp of your internal self in order to better lead others.
Leading your people
The word ‘company’ was originally used to describe the people you are with. Since the advent of global commerce, the word took on a legal meaning to suggest a business entity. But the historic meaning of the word is important as it speaks to the core of what business is about.
Starting a ‘company’ in its truest sense means assembling a group of people who will be your companions in an endeavour. The products and services you offer is just an extension of the group and vision. When reflecting on business leadership, it’s typically this group that gets the most attention. Naturally so – they are your employees, your team, or depending on your perspective, your people. This is the group that is looking to you to stir them in the right direction. You are leading them on the venture.
Despite the industry you operate in, your ability to lead them holds more weight than you think. In many cases, people come to work because they need to put food on the table – not because it’s their dream job. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t want to find meaning in their work. After all, the only thing we spend more time doing than working is sleeping.
Studies have shown that people that find their work meaningful are more happy, engaged, productive and creative. All positive things that you certainly want more of. But they won’t find meaning in their work by chance. It’s important that you do the following:
- Articulate the importance of their work – Even entry-level jobs have significance. There is a reason why the job exists in the first place – you need them. Make sure they know that they are necessary to the company mission. What problems are they helping to solve?
- Make them feel impactful – Quantify and highlight the work they are doing. Demonstrate how what they are doing is directly changing the business.
- Have a narrative – Make them feel part of a larger journey. It’s no longer work, together you are working on changing the world.
As a leader, the clarity and communication of your vision are essential. Part of great leadership rests on you genuinely having a sense of purpose for the company.
You have to live it.
You have to be an effective storyteller to convey why your company exists to your team. It’s not just work. It’s a mission, an expedition, a venture into the unknown. When your team is energized by your leadership, problems like attrition and low engagement reduce, leading to greater business outcomes.
Building your tribe
You now likely have an idea about how leadership can affect outcomes. But business leadership goes even further. If you were leading a small team of scientists in an isolated lab, you wouldn’t have to deal with the wider world. But if you are operating a business for profit, there are external people who you have to bring under your influence.
The author Seth Godin often writes about how we’re able to connect with like-minded people and build movements – be that for social change or profit. He calls these extended groups of people your ‘tribe’. This group goes beyond your core team and includes:
- The Media
This comprises of all the people that are working with you towards a common goal. This extended group is all critical to the success of your business. What you may not have considered is that there is an aspect of leadership that will influence how well you can leverage this tribe. This aspect is described as charismatic leadership. Charisma is hard to define – but you know it when you see it. The most notable examples in business being Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Richard Branson.
There are of many reasons for their success such as timing, luck, high intelligence, and problem-solving. But undeniably, their success in business had a lot to do with their ability to unite the world around the strength of their convictions.
Take your partners for instance – be that suppliers, distributors or strategic. When business deals are negotiated, there are often two key elements at play. The first being the logic of the decision. Is entering a partnership something that will help their business outcomes? What does the bottom line suggest? What are the facts, data, and numbers? The second being the confidence they have in you. Do they trust you and believe in your company values? A lot of that is determined by how you lead, which in turn affects how your sales and marketing teams tell the story of your brand.
Your customers buy if they feel that you are solving an important problem for them. It may not be an entirely logical decision, but it’s their perspective that counts. Your customers are looking to you to guide them – to show them what the future holds. It is you and your company that has to show them the direction to the promised land. You have to show them how they can improve their business outcomes or achieve an aspiration that you have set.
When it comes to business leadership, storytelling is something that often comes up. It’s a crucial skill for your team and customers. But it’s not just them you have to influence, it’s also the public and customers that you are yet to acquire. And how they hear about you is through the media who will tell your story on your behalf. The relationship that you have with the media depends on your ability to tell compelling stories. This is what drives attention – the currency of media agencies.
The aspects of leadership we’ve spoken about so far are:
- Mastery of self
- Assembling your people
- Building your tribe
Like the venture companies that set out to explore the New World, financial and knowledge constraints can derail your efforts. You know where your company needs to be and how to get there. But you can’t reach it yet. The investors are the final group that needs to be influenced by charismatic and visionary leadership.
Your ability to persuade and influence the capital holders can be the difference between a good company and a great one.
Although investors look at many factors such as traction, quality of the team and market opportunity, the needle can be moved by the conviction of your leadership. It rests on your ability to make the case about why you and the people you have brought together are the ones that can bring about change in the world. You don’t have to be Elon Musk to effectively lead, but it does take focused effort and reflection.
Leadership coaching, venture building and innovation are a few things we help entrepreneurs with at Argo Ventures
We have worked with many entrepreneurs and helped transform them into some of the best leaders in their field. As a result, their business outcomes have improved and they’re all closer to realising their vision for their companies.
If you’re the Founder or CEO of a small or medium sized business, reach out to us and tell us about your experience as a leader – especially if anything we have spoken about resonates with you. We’re in the trenches just like you, so we are keen to hear your stories.