Owning a small business is never easy. There are challenges around every corner, not all of them financial in nature. Managing employees, balancing the books and keeping up with new business trends can be overwhelming for any business owner.
Thankfully, there are many other business owners out there who have gone down the same path. Many of them have faced hardships on their way to success. As they’ve climbed the ladder to success, they’ve learned a great deal.
Learning from other people’s fortunes and even failures can help motivate us in our own entrepreneurial path, guiding us when things seem too difficult to get past. Here are five leadership secrets every small business owner should know.
1. “If you don’t innovate, you evaporate.” – Kim Komando
No successful business can remain stagnant. Times change and your tactics need to change, too. The worst thing you can do is get so married to your practices, products and output that you never stop to make things better.
My team and I are always looking for ways to improve what we do and pivot if we find a new way to do something better.
Action item: A few times a year, I take a good hard look at what my team and I are producing. If there’s something that isn’t adding to the bottom line, we cut it.
That can be hard, especially if it’s a project you feel passionate about — but there’s no sense wasting time and money on something that doesn’t add to the value of your business or bring in money.
2. “Leadership has a core fundamental for me, and that is dialogue.” – John Spiridigliozzi (American Express)
Communication is key for any team to succeed, but it goes both ways. If you aren’t listening to your employees, they likely aren’t listening to you.
It goes back to that famous adage: “Teamwork makes the dream work.” As a leader, you want your team to support your enormous workload. We’re not just talking about tasks — we’re also talking about the mental load. It’s hard to come up with amazing ideas all on your own.
In fact, some of the best innovative ideas come from conversations you have with your teammates. Everyone has their own unique perspectives. A coworker might be able to spot opportunities you were completely blind to.
So step back now and then and let your teammates take center stage. Listen to your employees thoughtfully and be willing to assess what they’ve said and respond to their feedback appropriately.
Action item: Build bonds with your employees. You don’t have to force teamwork activities, though parties are always fun. Check in with your teammates and ask about their lives. Over time, you can build up friendships and learn interesting new things. For instance, someone might say they’re heading to a tech conference over the weekend. They could learn something that could help the company, and you’d only find that out by asking about it.
3. “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; but in the expert’s mind, there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki, author of Zen Mind (Forbes)
When we’ve been in business a while, we tend to see only problems instead of solutions. New business owners see only possibilities instead of getting weighed down by problems.
Remember that idea of perspective we were talking about earlier? It doesn’t always have to come from other people. Exercise your brain by challenging yourself to see your business the way a brand new entrepreneur would.
In other words, try to see more than just what’s in front of you. Try to open your mind to find new and innovative ideas that you may have passed over before. Of course, that’s easier said than done, so try this.
Action item: To make sure you don’t get stuck in your bubble, pick up a magazine like The Harvard Business Review and read some of the articles. See what other business leaders are doing on LinkedIn. You may even want to follow up-and-coming entrepreneurs on social media. What would this influencer think of your business strategies? What would they do if they were in your shoes? You might find a new source of inspiration!
4. “People work better when they know what the goal is and why.” – Elon Musk
You can’t expect your employees to keep fighting if you have already given up. Your staff will respond to your vision, whether it’s a positive or negative one.
Give your employees a reason to hope for possibilities by keeping them motivated. You can do this through team meetings or incentives, like covering college courses that could help them better perform job duties.
Plus, it’s good to take a step back and revisit your long-term goals now and then. Are your current steps taking you towards your ultimate objective? What about your teammates? Consider your concerns privately and lead by example.
Action item: Every once in a while, check in with your team and reiterate your company’s long-term goals. Otherwise, people might get too tied up in the weeds. Remind your employees to focus on the big picture, so they don’t lose sight of it.
5. “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” – Steve Jobs
Some of the most famous billionaires and business owners in today’s world gathered a long list of failures and even bankruptcies before they financially succeeded. This wisdom from Steve Jobs has held true for centuries. In fact, hundreds of years ago, one of the greatest inventors of his time said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
That was from Thomas Edison, a master of finding the wrong ways to do things. This was actually a blessing, in his eyes. Edison didn’t see failures as a source of shame, and you shouldn’t either.
Challenge your mind to see failures as stepping stones to success. Every mistake you make brings you a little closer to the perfect solution. So keep trying — one day, you’ll find what works for you.
Action item: If you truly believe you have an innovative idea or a sustainable business model, stay the course. Sometimes, the path to success isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean you should give up.
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