As a small business owner, one of your many jobs is to lead your company to greatness. Yet, not all business owners are leaders, and not all leaders are small business owners. Sometimes, you have to work on your own leadership skills to become the effective leader your company needs you to be. Other times, you need to raise up good leaders within your business to take your company to the next level. Either way, you need to be able to identify the leadership must-dos.
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I’ve read many articles and books on leadership, and it seems like once I’ve read one, I’ve read them all. However, I came across an interview Fast Company did with Jeff Immelt, former CEO of GE and 3-time recipient of Barron’s “World’s Best CEO”, that was different than everything else I’ve read about leadership. In that interview, Immelt identified 10 things he thinks leaders do well. Because I agree with him, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Instead, I’m going to share his insights with you. I’m going to outline the top 10 things small business leaders do according to Jeff Immelt. However, I’ll add my own personal take within each point.
So first, Jeff Immelt believes leaders take personal responsibility for a business’s growth. These leaders don’t have to be owners or managers. They can be entry-level workers or rank and file employees. In his interview with Fast Company, Jeff said, “Enron and 9/11 marked the end of an era of individual freedom and the beginning of personal responsibility. You lead today by building teams and placing others first. It’s not about you.”
Many times, business owners want to become everything to their businesses. They want the business to revolve around them. Although business owners must take personal responsibility for certain decisions and for the financial well-being of the company, they have to place their company’s growth before their own desires. If they’re trying to build value within their companies, then they must build a team that can take care of the business with or without the owners’ involvement. They must place others first to make their business transferable and self-sustainable.
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Additionally, leaders within the business must not wait for the owner or the managers to give them directions and orders. To lead, team members must assume personal responsibility for the company’s well-being and put that before their own desires, just like the owner.
Next, Immelt says that leaders simplify constantly. To him, “Every leader needs to clearly explain the top three things the organization is working on. If you can’t, then you’re not leading well.” How relevant is that to our value growth series?
When your leadership team is strategically planning your business’s value growth, I recommend that you set three business objectives. Setting only three objectives breaks your plans into manageable pieces that everyone in your company can understand and remember. If all team members recognize and remember the company’s goals, then they are more likely to work toward attaining them. Thus, simplicity is key, and it sets good leaders apart from ineffective leaders.
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Leaders must also understand the breadth, depth, and context of decisions they make within and for their businesses. Specifically, Immelt says, “The most important thing I’ve learned since becoming a CEO is context. It’s how your company fits into the world and how you respond to it.” Essentially, everything’s about context.
As a business owner, you make decisions every day. Some seem trivial, while others seem gargantuan. Yet, to be a good leader, you must attempt to understand the complexity of the circumstances that surround each decision. If you have to terminate an employee, you have to do so within the right context. You have to know that it’s for the betterment of the organization, not an emotional reaction to a fixable problem.
If you’re going to be a leader within your organization, then you need to set priorities and focus on them. Prioritize your time around your priorities. Immelt says, “There is no real magic to being a good leader, but at the end of every week, you have to spend your time around the things that are really important: setting priorities, measuring outcomes, and rewarding them.” You see, being a good leader is not magical. It’s about setting clear, simple priorities that can be measured. In other words, it’s about setting measurable business objectives. Then, when you and your team members reach those objectives, it’s about rewarding the efforts given to attain the goal.
So what is the priority of your organization now? If you say, “It’s to make money,” then what are you doing to accomplish that? How have you prioritized that goal? Are you spending time on it? Then, how do you measure your priority? Well, you can look at your Profit and Loss Statements to see if you’re making money or losing it. That’s easy. How, then, do you get buy-in from your team? If you’re not rewarding them for helping you make money, they’ll become resentful. So, set priorities. Focus on them. Then, reward those who have helped you succeed.
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Additionally, leaders within your small business should be able to teach others what they know. According to Immelt, “A leader’s primary role is to teach. People who work with you don’t have to agree with you, but they have to feel you’re willing to share what you’ve learned.” Man, that’s it, isn’t it? So many times, I see business leaders and owners who don’t teach. They go off and get an unbelievable education, and instead of teaching, instead of sharing, they dictate.
So what are you doing right now to increase your knowledge? If you’re reading this article or listening to the podcast that complements it, then you’re learning. But what are you doing with the information you’re learning? Are you teaching your team, your spouse, or your children? Are you using your knowledge to improve your business or yourself? The more you learn and challenge yourself, the more you should teach others around you.
Next, great leaders stay true to their own style. They don’t change to manipulate others or to “fit in” with others. They are who they are. Leaders don’t apologize for being who they are, but they do apologize for things they do wrong. Jeff Immelt says, “Leadership is an intense journey into yourself. You can use your own style to get anything done. It’s just about being self-aware. Every morning, I look in the mirror, and I say, ‘I could have done three things better yesterday.'” That’s right, isn’t it? Leadership is about being self-aware. It’s about taking the time to think about who you are and what you do. It’s about looking over your day and deciding whether or not you handled situations well or appropriately. Then, it’s about striving to be better tomorrow.
Not everyone is going to like you or your style, but that’s fine. Not everyone likes me or my style either. I’m just a good ole’ country boy who can’t spell, who wears jeans and camouflage, who tends a farm, and who loves helping other business owners. That’s who I am. I’m quirky. Yet, none of us is perfect. We all have our quirks. Think about it. If we were all the same, then this world would be boring. You wouldn’t have characters like me who love to play the saxophone, who love to play the piano, and who want to be sponsored by Papa Johns.
Besides using their own sense of style to manage business and people, leaders manage by setting boundaries with freedom in the middle. In other words, they don’t micro-manage. Immelt says, “The boundaries are commitment, passion, trust, and teamwork. Within those guidelines, there’s plenty of room for freedom, but no one can cross those four boundaries.”
Leaders expect commitment, passion, trust, and teamwork from themselves and from those they manage. Yet, they give others room to accomplish company objectives on their own and in their own way. That’s where the freedom comes into play. If all team members bring their commitment and passion, you don’t have to motivate people. If you trust them and they trust you, you don’t have to worry about insubordination. You may hear a little bit of complaining, but you don’t have to worry about it because everyone’s on the same team working together.
The eighth point Immelt makes is that great leaders stay disciplined and detailed. He said, “Good leaders are never afraid to intervene personally on things that are important. Michael Dell can tell you how many computers were shipped from Singapore yesterday.” In other words, you have to stay focused and disciplined enough to remember the minute details of your business. According to Immelt, Michael Dell, Founder and CEO of Dell Technologies, knows the things that matter, and that’s the driving force of his business.
So, what is your primary focus? Are you tracking the Key Performance Indicators, KPIs, in your business? Whether it’s new contracts, new potential clients, new products created, or quicker turnaround time, are you tracking it? Whatever it is, are you staying disciplined and dedicated to that one thing without getting sidetracked by all the other fires that come up?
Effective leaders also learn when to keep their mouths shut. Specifically, Jeff Immelt says, “Leave a few things unsaid. I may know the answer, but I often let the team find its own way. Sometimes, being an active listener is much more effective than ending a meeting with me enumerating 17 actions.”
I’ve often applied that wisdom to my own company’s strategic planning meetings. Most times, I know what the outcome of the meetings must be. I know the data, but it doesn’t do any good for me to sit down and dictate what needs to be done. Sometimes, it’s better for me to stay silent. If I let my team members find their own way, then they’re committing themselves to their own ideas. They’re more likely to accomplish the tasks they’ve come up with than they are to blindly follow tasks I give them.
Finally, effective leaders genuinely like people. Jeff says, “Today, it’s employment at will. Nobody is here who doesn’t want to be here, so it’s critical to understand people, to always be fair, and to want the best for them. And when it doesn’t work, they need to know it’s not personal.” I totally agree.
In today’s economy with the low unemployment rates, people are looking for jobs that will enhance their careers and make them happy, so there’s often high employee turnover. Therefore, it’s critical to be fair to lead your team members well. You must like them enough to want what’s best for them and do what’s best for them, not just what’s best for you.
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So those are the 10 things Jeff Immelt says effective small business leaders do. Leadership isn’t just about having a vision or possessing a charismatic personality. It’s about taking actions that will improve your business. It’s about inspiring others to take similar actions. Take responsibility. Simplify. Seek to understand. Learn and teach. Set boundaries. Stay disciplined, and stay quiet when necessary. If you aren’t doing those things, why aren’t you? What can you do differently?
Yes, you want to raise up some of your team members to become leaders within your business, but you want to be the example they follow. If you lead effectively, you can increase the intrinsic value of your business because your team members will jump on your bandwagon. They will seek to improve your business rather than being resentful of your ownership of the business. If you take care of others, they will take care of you and your company.
Be sure to join me in our next article, where we analyze the personal qualities of small business leaders.