I believe that the most effective measure of leadership is the performance of the team in the small business owner’s absence. If you as a business owner can leave for a period of time, and the company continues forward in an accelerated trajectory, then your leadership is effective. Yet, how do you create competent leaders within your organization? You must train employees to become leaders. And these people are vital when you’re trying to build a transferable and sustainable business that’s valuable to future buyers.
Building great leaders starts at the very beginning – hiring the right people. In his book Good to Great, author Tim Collins says, “Get the right people on the bus, and then put them in the right seats.” As a small business owner, you have to hire the right people. Yet, so many times, especially with the current low unemployment rate in the United States, it’s hard to find good people. It really is, and good people are able to demand a little bit more income than poor performers. However, if you hire right, you don’t have to fire fast. So in order to build leaders, you have to hire the people who want to be leaders and want to participate in your business’s vision. That’s number one.
Next, you have to set a high standard for leaders. If you automatically give an employee a leadership title, then you must set the standards for that individual above that of rank and file employees that are being led. Maybe you require a certain amount of production or acumen. Perhaps you require an extra amount of time on the job. Whatever your standard is, set it high.
Another thing you can do to build employee leaders is to have a crystal clear vision for them within the company’s vision. The vision for individual leaders, the vision for the business, and the vision for yourself all have to align. You can’t have different visions. Instead, impart your vision to your employee leaders. Then, help them reach that vision. Teach them and guide them.
To build leaders within your company, you must also include key employees in your strategic planning meetings. Whether they’ve been there one day or 30 years, you have to invite them to your strategic meetings so they can catch your vision and participate in creating your company objectives. Let them hear your company’s SWOT analysis and listen to the strategies they come up with to make your business better. If they take personal responsibility for improving your business, they’ll be able to lead it well.
Next, you can cross train, train, and teach. Your up-and-coming leaders need to know more than their own positions. They need to understand what it’s like to be part of the rank and file. They need to be able to answer phones or do paperwork or enter data in a CRM software system in case other team members are unavailable or out for the day. They need to be able to fill in as needed and when needed to ensure the business operates smoothly at all times.
As you are teaching and training your team members to become leaders, you say things again and again and again. You repeat the company’s goals over and over. Say the mission again and again. Give instructions multiple times so you know the trainees learn the intended tasks. Since repetition is the mother of all learning, be repetitive when you’re training leaders. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself constantly.
If you’re serious about training employees to become leaders, you also need to ask for and implement others’ opinions, insights, and suggestions. You can’t just ask team members for those things and then do something else. You have to take their suggestions and make them happen, too. By respecting other’s thoughts and ideas, you show respect for them, and you utilize their intellectual capital. You compliment them, support them, and encourage them to make more decisions. That way, your team members feel confident stepping into leadership roles within your company.
Holding employees accountable for production, time, and actions is important if you’re training them to become leaders. However, having them hold you accountable for the same things is equally important. Many times, people view the business owner as the individuals sitting in the high office with the big window, feet up on the desk, sitting there like they’ve got it made. Employees don’t always realize the stress we business owners are under. Thus, you can ask others in your organization to hold you accountable if you are holding them accountable.
When training employees to become leaders, you also need to stretch them beyond their own capabilities. Hold them responsible for particularly tough assignments so they learn what they can do. Now, help them, but do it with them. By working together and holding each other responsible, you can learn from each other and gain confidence in yourselves and in each other. That’s what leaders do.
Finally, to train employees to become leaders in your small business, you must give credit to your team and bear responsibility for the team. Not one person in this world has gotten where he or she is alone. I’m sorry. It just hasn’t happened. All of us have had help. Showing humility and gratitude not only helps build your character, it builds your team members’ confidence. Giving credit to your team keeps motivation and inspiration high.
Likewise, taking responsibility for anything negative relieves your team members of unnecessary burdens. Just as every person contributes to the team’s success, every person on the team contributes to problems. Therefore, it’s your responsibility as the business owner to take responsibility for the whole. Ultimately, the leader bears the responsibility for successes and failures. So, share your team’s successes, but protect others from the failures.
So how do you know all this works? How do you know you’ve created competent leaders? Well, you have to look for evidence of competency. If there is a clearly defined and understood vision and direction, then leadership is being taught and caught. If there is multi-directional communication taking place, then leadership is working. Instead of just flowing from the top, from the executive office, all the way down to the rank and files, if every person within the organization is bringing solutions to the frontline problems up the chain, then you have multi-level, multi-directional competencies that show you leadership training is working.
If your front line knows how to connect with and influence all team members, then you have competency in your leadership training. If solutions are coming from the front line as well as from the rank and files, then your leadership training is working. Your front line workers are becoming leaders. If there’s trust from front line, top line, sideways, all across the organization, then leadership is working. You’re making stride into the areas of leadership. Additionally, if you can document things moving positively forward, whether it’s a lower product return rate or an improved efficiency rate, then you can prove that competency amongst your leadership training is there.
So friends, you can build leaders within your organization. You can. Remember, the most effective measure of leadership is the performance of the team in your absence.