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Struggling with leadership?

12 January 2021
Mark Friend
Ambitious Startups, Payroll, People, Building a Business

“I can’t find the right people – they end up creating more work not less!”

“No one does the work the way I want it done.”

“My employees don’t care about the firm, it’s all about them.”

“I can’t get them to go the extra mile.”

“I prefer to work on my own.”

“They know what needs to be done but they won’t step up. I can’t inspire my team.”

These are some of the many excuses I’ve heard over the years.

Having lead teams myself for over 30 years I fully understand the frustrations felt by many engaged in building a business and a team. I have tried so many strategies over the years and have gradually changed my leadership style. It is still a work in progress and whilst I hope I am now getting more things right than wrong there is always something I can improve on. The truth is that being a good leader is something you have to continually work at.

Good leadership principles are there for everyone to take and have been for a long time but even so few leaders implement them.

So what is leadership?

One saying that is often misunderstood is “You lead by example”. Like many others I have in the past failed to understand that simply working harder than everyone else doesn’t make you a great leader. It seldom inspires the team to work harder. In fact the opposite might be true. After all it’s your business so why shouldn’t your team expect you to work hard!

Another misconception is that the position of owner itself demands respect. Does it really? Many middle managers fall into this trap and fail to gain the respect of their teams. The assumption that the position demands respect is flawed because whilst you can force people to do the work you want this does not breed loyalty and loyalty is a key element to leadership.

Leadership styles differ considerably. You might consider there are three leadership styles or even as many as seven, but one thing for certain is that leadership styles do vary and each one has its own unique advantages and disadvantages and therefore may be appropriate in different circumstances.

However in the long run certain styles fail and all require constant work to ensure continued success.

Take for example the autocratic leader. The “do as I say” leader who invariably believes that he or she is the smartest person in the room and who therefore will make all the decisions with little if any input from their team.

This style was common in the past and one I adopted in my early years of building my business. This style is less common now but I still see it in a number of cases. It can be successful in the short term as there is clear direction, but unfortunately most team members won’t buy-in or will simply tolerate the position because they are well remunerated and then as soon as a better opportunity comes along they will be off!

This style can still work for short periods of time, for example if you have a very inexperienced team who need direction, but ultimately this style is not recommended for the long term.

A second style which many business owners adopt is the laissez-faire leadership style. This is at the opposite end of the autocratic style and is again a popular tactic in the early years of business.

Let’s say business is going well but you find there is never enough time in the day to do everything you need to. You hate book-keeping so you engage a book-keeper. Relief! No more books to keep. You leave them to it. Business continues to grow but then a few months later you realise that suppliers aren’t being paid, customers aren’t being chased and the book-keeper hasn’t provided you with any management accounts or chased you for those petty cash receipts. The books and the business are in a mess and the VAT man hasn’t been paid! Your book-keeper suddenly walks out. This example could equally apply to any position where you simply delegate authority away. Without any sense of direction the employee does the things they want to do and ignores the actions necessary for the company to move in the right direction.

Again this style can work on occasions, for example if you are lucky enough to employ someone who is highly skilled and very self-motivated, but ultimately for this style to be successful the leader must provide direction and monitor performance.

How do you define leadership?

If you ask a hundred people what leadership is in business you will probably end up with a hundred different answers!

But there are common threads in most people’s answers:

  1. A vision.
  2. Working with a team to deliver results.
  3. Building the team.

Here are my top five tips to strong leadership:

  • Create a vision which your team can buy in to.
  • Engage with your team.
  • Build trust, create conflict, get commitment, make your team accountable and results driven.
  • Pick the right team members and ensure they are in the right seats.
  • Create a conveyor belt of talent.

Leadership is probably the most important attribute a business owner can develop and is key to the growth of a business. This article highlights some of the problems we encounter with poor leadership. In our next blog we explore the five tips we use to promote leadership within our business and those of our clients. If you would like to find out more about how we can help you please contact Mark Friend.

The content in this blog is correct as at 12/01/2021.

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