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 Leadership under fire


 Owning and running a small business is challenging, even at the best of times. But with the economy under serious pressure, the small business owner's skills as a leader are being tested like never before.


With effective leadership, the entrepreneur can steer his company through rough seas without too much collateral damage, and the following attributes will bring out the best in any leader.

Don’t be afraid to lead

Panic will get you nowhere. You would not be an entrepreneur if you didn’t have a never-say-die attitude. Your family, your employees and their dependents are relying on you to see them through these tough times, so you can’t afford to crumble now.

Focus on doing smart business, looking for new opportunities and being honest with your employees about the status of the company. Trying to sugar-coat things is not constructive and being secretive will only feed into your workers’ insecurities. Make them feel like they have the power to turn things around.

Don’t compromise on who you are

Greed, unethical behaviour and drastic actions taken by business leaders without considering the consequences are probably exactly why the world is in the current economic mess that it’s in.

So don’t resort to underhanded tactics, make shady business deals or exploit your workers. Now is not the time to compromise on your own ethics and moral beliefs. When making decisions, ask yourself what is right for the business, your employees and for you as a leader?

Keep things in perspective

It may also help to take some time and space to reflect and get your focus back on track. Try to understand what the real threats to your business are. Assess the scale of their impact and whether or not there will be long-term implications.

Make sure your decisions are informed by gathering all the facts. Listen to the opinion of experts in the field, your mentor or other SME owners. Discuss your strategies with people you trust and even go as far as bringing your employees in to see what ideas they have to offer.

Be a motivated motivator

Keeping up your staff morale is important whether things are good or bad. Motivated employees make for better business all around. By adopting a positive attitude and finding all the silver linings, you can motivate your employees to change their outlook as well.

To create this kind of thinking and culture within your business:

  • Treat employees as partners in the business. Keep them informed about business performance and management decisions. Ask them for their input on decisions that affect them. And if you’re forced to ask your workers to take a pay cut, should you be considering paying yourself a bonus?
  • Build an atmosphere of trust and teamwork. A company run on defensiveness and fear is a miserable place to work. Employees will avoid making decisions in case they are wrong, so accept that mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning process. Encourage people to ask for help when problems arise and give credit where it’s due.
  • Keep communication open and honest. Schedule regular appraisals to review progress, problems and plans. Make sure goals are clear to all parties and listen to any ideas a worker may have to keep the business going.
  • Your employees have lives and families too. Take an interest in their lives. Listen actively, and be consistent and fair in your approach. A “people before profit” attitude will get you further in the long run.
  • Address negativity: Negativity (especially yours) is extremely contagious and can create a consistently gloomy atmosphere. Ignoring it won’t make it go away, so take action to turn the mood around, improve employee moral and, by default, their productivity.

These steps should be par for the course in any business, but if some are new to you, I challenge you try it and see whether things at work improve.

Look after yourself

Being a leader is a difficult job, even at the best of times. When times are so tough, you are going to need high levels of stamina and personal strength to be effective. Looking after your physical and emotional health is the foundation for your leadership success.

Don’t let your tank run dry. There are a lot of people counting on you, but the person putting the most pressure on you, is probably you. Keep this in mind without letting it overwhelm you. Remember, you wouldn’t be an entrepreneur if you weren’t made of the toughest metal.

These guidelines should be the way any good leader operates, but it becomes even more relevant when things are not going according to plan.

Article written by Gerrie van Biljon – Executive Director Business Partners Limited.





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