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How to grow into a leader for your small business

When you started your business it probably wasn’t because you wanted to be a manager. Unless you’re one of the lucky few to whom effective leadership comes naturally, it’s a skill that you’ll need to work on as you grow.

What is leadership? 

Simply, good leadership is the ability to motivate and direct people to try and achieve a common goal. In your business, this means being able to motivate employees and make sure everyone is trying to reach the business’s goals. It’s an active, consistent skill to master, rather than something you can learn once and then passively benefit from.

Why is good leadership important?

From your business perspective it’s easy for it to circle and stagnate without direction and vision. When it comes to your employees, consider that the number one reason that people leave their jobs in the UK is because of a ‘bad’ boss. If you have great staff you need to work hard on your leadership skills to make sure you retain them, and to keep them motivated. 

Even the hardest worker needs direction, to make sure their hard work is achieving the business goals. At the end of the day it’s your business, which you have a vision for. It’s your job as captain of the ship to successfully convey that vision to your employees, so they can help do the work to get you there.

Qualities of a great leader

You don’t need to excel at each of these qualities before you can be a great leader, but you’ll need at least some of them. There have been successful businesspeople who are known to have poor leadership skills, but their strength of vision, delegation and resilience saw them through to success. 

So, it’s not vital, but you have to be one in a million to achieve your business goals without working on these leadership qualities:
  • Good communicator/influencer
  • Inspiring
  • Humble
  • Accountable
  • Calm under pressure
  • Resilient
  • Level-headed and fair
  • Able to delegate
  • Empathetic
  • Strong listener
  • Confident
  • Visionary

So, what are the practical ways you can become a great and effective leader, ready to take your small business to new heights? Read on to find out!

Have a plan

Although being good in a crisis can be a sign of a good leader, being able to avoid them is even better. Good planning ensures you can be proactive rather than reactive, and steer your business away from crisis’s before they develop.

Sit down and identify potential problems that could occur in your business. Imagine worst case scenarios that would lead to a crisis. Now work out what plan you can have to stop them occurring. 

For example, that supplier who is always on-time, able to provide whatever you need at short notice. What if they went bust and could no longer supply you? Overnight your business is in crisis – so what would help you? Having a back up supplier ready to go? Stockpiling your most popular products yourself? Thinking and acting now can save you a fortune, protect your business reputation and your sanity!

Although it is important have a plan in place, you don’t always have to stick to it – good leaders analyse the situation and adapt their response to any new circumstance. 

Inspire every day

Leadership is often defined by action. You could be great at giving a rousing, motivating speech to your team but if you don’t then act in the ways you preach about, you won’t be a good leader. 

Think about how you come across to others – do your daily activities set an example of the way you want your team to work? You should live your leadership values, all the time, if you want people to be inspired by you.

This also covers being passionate about what you do. Nothing inspires people more than someone who has a true passion. Think about ways you can pass on this feeling to your employees: regular praise for great work and great ideas, working hard to finish projects etc.

Humility, admit when you’re wrong

For many people this is one of the hardest steps to become a great leader. Being in charge isn’t about always being right, it’s about having a level of humility to accept when you’re wrong or someone else’s idea is better. 

It actually takes a lot of strength and confidence to do this and is not usually perceived as weakness. Your employees will pick up on your humility and respect you more for it. Your employees are some of your best assets, so it’s important that they know you’ll hear their ideas and thoughts for the business, and act on them if they’re good, even if they contradict your ideas.

Be a team player

Similar to having humility, it’s important to involve your team in the business as much as reasonably possible. 

When there’s decisions to be made, ask for their opinions and ideas. Get involved in work that needs doing, even if it’s below your pay grade – just roll your sleeves up and dig in. Your staff will respect you for it! Help your team through any conflicts they have, and generally get involved in the team spirit.

Develop your skills

Like anything else in life, leadership is a skill that can be learnt. Just because you have the position of power doesn’t automatically make you into a leader. Head to classes or seminars to improve your leadership skills and develop your expertise in what you do. You’ll discover your strengths and weaknesses, gain a better understanding of how to motivate your employees, and how to pass on your vision in a useful way. 

Share Your Vision

It’s great that you have a vision for your business, but if you can’t share that in a meaningful way with your employees how are they going to help you achieve it? You need them working with you to hit your goals, so don’t forget to paint the big picture frequently which will give your staff the feeling of being important and part of a dream.

It will also cement you as the person steering the ship, you’re the one with the direction and the momentum.

Be in charge

Make decisions and take action. Be the leader in easy decisions and hard ones. If you want others to follow and believe in you, you need to show that you can deal with situations. 

When you see something in your business that could be better, take decisive action to deal with it straight away as this will set a great example to your employees not to let things slide. They’ll see your energy and momentum and want to keep up.

Being in charge doesn’t necessarily mean taking responsibility for everything. Whilst it is your job to lead people, so anyone not performing can be attributed to you, it’s important that you hold people accountable. 

When you set a task or project for an employee, make sure they know that it is their responsibility to make sure it is completed well. You’re there to assist if they need help, which they should know, but it is their responsibility to ask for help or advice when needed.

Don’t micromanage

A really common complaint of employees, particularly in small businesses is bosses who micromanage. 

When you started your business, chances are you did most of the work yourself. The business is your baby, so you care about every piece of work that comes out of it. However, when you hire someone to take over a role you need to give them space to do the best work they can – even if it’s using different methods than you would!

Work hard on learning to let go, so that they talent you have hired can excel and grow to become fantastic workers giving you great results.

Give praise

A simple point, but particularly in British culture it’s often overlooked. When someone does great work, or pushes themselves to meet a tight deadline, or goes above and beyond, it’s really important that you recognise it. 

It doesn’t have to be a monetary reward – in fact it’s often more useful to give words of recognition and appreciation. The number one reason people quit their jobs in the UK is due to lack of appreciation, so make sure you retain the best people by giving credit where it’s due.

Don’t feel that you can’t give negative feedback though – constructive criticism is also important. This should be done on a one to one basis though, rather than in front of any colleagues.

Communication skills

Sharing your vision, plans, projects and job roles well is fundamental to success. Being able to clearly and effectively convey what you want to be done is such a key skill in leadership. How can your employees hope to help you achieve your business goals without knowing where they’re going?

It’s also important to try and minimise emotional speech – focussing instead on speaking objectively and accurately. 


Great leadership is actually one of the most important parts of making a business successful through its first few years. It’s not discussed as much as it should be, perhaps because it is not a tangible skill, but being able to manage and lead a team well no matter how small, can literally make or break your business. 

And remember it that great leadership can be learned be anyone with the right amount of effort. Yes, some people are born natural leaders, but it is a skill that can be mastered with hard work and the right advice. Keep working on it, you’ll get there!

Why not attend the free Leadership & Employment Masterclasses at the biggest business event in the North? They’re run by experts, giving you practical advice to become a great leader for your small business. It’s on 17th & 18th March, held at Manchester Central, and the whole event is free to attend. Simply get your free ticket online now!

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