To lead is a verb. It implies action. The leader acts, the follower reacts. The leader is the one who steps out in front and says "Follow me; I know a better way." If he's convincing or trusted, those who relate to the message will follow.
There are those who say leadership can be learned -- and I definitely agree with that. There are, however, natural strengths and talents within each of us which are not the result of learning.
If given the opportunity to make our choices without outside influence, we'll select certain activities on which to spend our time and dedicate our undivided, disciplined attention for long periods just for the pleasure of the experience. These are the points from which we can learn to lead. This is where we really are the experts and where we do have something to offer.
Leading from our strengths and passions is the soundest foundation upon which to build a business. It's extremely valuable to be able to call upon these personal qualities for a level of credibility that can't be achieved from anything that we've learned externally.
Abilities and passions are usually closely linked and very personal. Take a look at your business vision. Can you identify these elements? If not, it may be time to review your strengths, talents and passions and pull key elements into your vision.
As an entrepreneur, you already have the innate qualities of a leader. You're an idea person, willing to be different and stand out from the pack. Make sure you're working in an area you feel passionate about. Would you do this work even if you didn't get paid for it? Do you feel so strongly about your vision that you're willing to withstand rejection, criticism, isolation and even failure? That's passion -- and a good indicator you're prepared to lead. Intimes of crisis, the leader will find a way.
As for the leadership skills that can be learned, they're the refinement of the personal raw material you bring to the table. Following are some of the key leadership skills to learn.
To reach sustained profitability you're going to have to "lead" your business to that place. That means being proactive in every decision you make. Rather than just responding to situations as they come up, you have a frame of reference against which to make decisions. That frame of reference is your strategic and business plan which was created based on your personal vision for your business. Learning to translate your vision into strategy is the first step.
Learn to articulate your vision and passion in a way that attracts the support you need to reach your goals. This includes attracting both internal (staff) and external (advisors, affiliates and suppliers) team members. And by learning to listen and care about your team members as people, you open the door for personal satisfaction as well as bottom line satisfaction.
It's hard for many entrepreneurs to delegate. Learn to delegate by setting up job descriptions from the very beginning for the business you want to grow into. At first, you'll wear all the hats, but as the business grows, you'll relinquish hats one by one. It's critical that you communicate your vision and plans to anyone who comes on board and make sure they understand your expectations. I know there's no one else in the world that can do the job exactly like you, but given clear guidelines and your encouragement, they'll get the job done.
Through careful selection and a plan you can cultivate your values and work habits in your employees. Remember, you're a role model and they'll likely follow what you do before they'll follow what you say. Look for the strengths and passions in each of them and encourage them to use these for mutual benefit.
Although it's the last item on this list, it's probably the most important. If you're not in control of your income and expenses, your business is running you, not you running it. There are two keys to money management -- information and decision-making. Learning how to gather, collate and understand your business numbers is a first step in building a fit business. When you have current accurate information and understand what the numbers mean, you can use that information to make both short-term and long-term decisions. You're in control. Any problem that develops can be nipped early before it becomes a crisis.
Leadership is a process -- not an outcome. It can be scary; it can be fun. It encompasses learning from both success and failure, but it always implies being accountable. It also means being willing to stand alone, if and when necessary -- in those times when only the vision remains.