What does it take to be an effective business leader? Is it instinct, DNA or hard work? Realistically it’s probably a mixture of all three.
To be an effective business leader it takes more than being book smart. They inspire, they motivate, they are decisive, and tend to combine these traits with an immense passion for the business and for the people. For a small business, leadership decisions are crucial and making the wrong hiring choice or not fully understanding your role affects growth, competition within the marketplace, and respect for the brand. I’ve accumulated a lot of experience working for early stage, rapid-growth companies. Typically, I find there are five elements that start-up entrepreneurs and business leaders should use as their guide.
Find the right blend
To be an exceptional leader you need to have the right blend of qualities. Sure, a high IQ and academic credentials are important, but they need to exist alongside traits like humility and compassion. The best leaders are able to admit what they don’t know, understand their weaknesses and then actively seek out creative solutions or talent to fill that knowledge or ability gap. A great example of this is during the formation of your management team. Surround yourself with talented people who bring different qualities to the boardroom table.
As the old adage goes, ‘if you’re the cleverest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room’. It’s important to have individuals who are inquisitive and aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. Creativity is also another trait to look out for. Investing in hiring the right creative talent offers an alternative perspective to the business and could be the difference between winning and losing customers.
Look beyond the executive team
Understanding your business from all angles and across all departments is critical. As a leader you need to be able to place yourself in other departments’ shoes. A thorough understanding of finance, IT, supply chain and creative department functions, will win you points and enable you to be the resource that they need.
Coming from a background in business development, I have an appreciation and respect for all facets of the organisation and how they contribute to growth. Being a versatile executive helps you build the best possible team because it helps you recognise what ‘good’ looks like across the entire organisation and hire accordingly. This is particularly true when expanding your reach in other markets. Hiring the right mix of people, with good local contacts and relevant experience in that market to lead expansion is crucial to its success and can be the differentiator between sustained growth or failure.
Understand the value of a work-life balance
When starting and leading a business, many feel that they have to put in unrealistic long hours. For a while it can be sustainable and par for the course during professional life. However, long term it’s not a recommended path. You’ll lose effectiveness, reduce creativity and ultimately burn out.
Leading a successful organisation and inspiring a motivated workforce is a long game and putting in mass amounts of hours per week is the short game. A balance needs to be struck between constantly challenging yourself and exceeding work goals but not losing sight of work-life balance and personal goals. For example, making recommendations that no emails be sent during weekends or that conference calls outside of normal business hours only occur a few times. It’s important that for yourself and your employees that there is designated time where they can disconnect from the workplace.
Take advantage of technology
Leveraging technology to make improvements in business efficiency is often left to the responsibility of the IT department or manager. As a business leader, it’s important to stay current and try out some of the latest technologies. Employees who see leadership embracing technology will be more open to adoption. Try out planning and productivity apps. Use video for effective meetings. Embrace time saving tools and become an advocate for increasing efficiency and innovation within the business.
Make time for creativity. Every day, step away from the inbox and operational tasks and think about what could be done differently or better, to solve a problem or improve a customer experience.
Further to that, a leader should inspire and encourage every employee to share their creative ideas. Have a process for developing, testing and implementing those ideas or innovations. It’s also important to hire creative people. Hiring from diverse backgrounds and those who might not necessarily fit into the ‘corporate’ mould, may bring an entirely new product idea, business model or process that could have been overlooked.
At the end of the day there’s a lot more that goes into being a successful business leader than simply putting in the hours. If there is no understanding of the subtler nuances and personal touches that are part and parcel of leadership, then your success and ultimately, failures will reflect that.
Fabio Torlini is EMEA managing director at WP Engine.