Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. — Dwight Eisenhower
There isn’t an entrepreneur or small-business owner among us who couldn’t learn from Eisenhower’s words. Indeed, one of the well-known thought characteristics of an entrepreneur is, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” It is just that type of thinking that gets small-business owners in trouble.
Along with not delegating work, what are some of the most common management and leadership mistakes an entrepreneur of a growing concern makes? And once these mistakes are made, can an owner recover? We asked several leadership experts for their opinions, and while most of them consult on behalf of large corporations, many of the leadership hazards they discussed are the same regardless of organization size. Here are some examples of the kind of thinking that can get entrepreneurs in trouble:
‘It’s all about me’
In many cases, entrepreneurs “are so passionate about their company that they lose perspective and blend who they are with their business,” says Gary Schuman, president of CDL Consulting, a leadership change management consulting firm in New York City and Baltimore. Because the owner’s ego is in the way, it becomes challenging for the entrepreneur and his or her management team to do what is necessary to grow the company. Every once in a while, he or she “needs to really assess what is working and what isn’t working,” says Schuman. He suggests getting some informal feedback from others who run companies, as well as sitting down with employees and asking them what gets in the way of doing their job. Or better yet, hire a coach on a short-term basis to help become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a leader, suggests Amy Abel, director of leadership development for a Fortune 500 firm.
‘No one does it better than I do’
This gets back to the inability to delegate. It’s understandable, given that entrepreneurs usually “start from nothing, begin as the focus of control on all key decision-making processes,” says Abel. But it is essential, she says, that a small-business leader become “more of an influencer instead of a control person.” To that end, owners need to begin to trust others and “spend time developing the people around them so that they can step into roles that are stretches for them,” says Christine Wahl, director of the Georgetown University Leadership Coaching Certificate Program.
‘My vision is to stay in business’
Too often, small-business leaders are so involved with doing the day-to-day task work that they can’t find the time to create a strategic vision about where they need to take the business, says Wahl. It becomes a question of focus: output versus outcome. “They don’t take the time to slow down and reflect, but rather get hooked on the adrenaline of running the business,” says Wahl. This goes back to the importance of developing talent and delegating so that the small-business leader can do just that: lead.
‘My idea is the best idea’
Small businesses grow up around the strong personality of the entrepreneur, which often means “a hierarchal work environment that teaches employees to be reactive rather than proactive,” says Schuman. In these workplaces, employees don’t really say what they think. “You get their head but not their heart — and you want their heart,” he says. To avoid this type of culture, small-business owners need to establish a high level of trust, with two-way communication and very clear roles and responsibilities. Employees need to feel they can make suggestions and decisions and have some measure of control. “Perhaps a drop box that proactively solicits ideas of how to improve the organization so that it doesn’t all concentrate on the owner,” says Abel.
‘I don’t need to learn how to lead’
One of the hardest lessons to learn is that being an effective leader doesn’t often come naturally. Many people need help learning how to lead. “A certain level of reinvention is needed, because what you have always been great at may no longer be needed” as the company grows, says Wahl. That is why getting an outside opinion — from peer-to-peer mentoring, networks of other business owners, or a coach — can help entrepreneurs develop the necessary skills to lead and manage effectively with the goal of reaching the next level of growth.
Toddi is an award-winning journalist, writer and editor and currently is a contributing writer covering career management issues for The Wall Street Journal.
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