In case you’re wondering, leaders make mistakes too. Leaders can veer off-course just like anyone, sometimes creating havoc in their wake. They’re human just like you and I, but the difference is, they chose to put themselves front and center. Whether leading a large company or institution, a middle manager leading a work team, an entrepreneur leading a small business, or a volunteer taking a lead role in a church or school, being a leader requires an individual to put themselves out there for all to see, judge and critique. When things are going good their stock rises and those following feel secure. But when that leader stumbles and brings into question their ability to lead, the grumbling begins and that feeling of security starts to crumble.
As a leader of a small business it's easy to become distracted, and when you are it can have these consequences...
To illustrate my point allow me to use an analogy straight out of our current events: texting while driving. We all know the dangers and consequences of drinking and driving, but now we have the dangers of the distracted driver. If you own a cell phone, and if you own a car (chances are 99.99% that anyone reading this has both), then chances are you’ve encountered this phenomena. You look down for just a second to check your mobile device and, oops, you’ve crossed the line into another lane. No big deal you think. No harm no foul, so you continue the practice of using your phone while driving, only the next time you have an “oops” moment you ran into the rear-end of another car. Was that enough to change your behavior?
Just like the driver who becomes distracted while using their cell phone while driving, leaders can become distracted too. Examples of this are way to easy: our elected leaders who choose to focus on issues important to their re-election but not to the general public, coaches who choose to look the other way when known infractions are occurring, corporate executives getting huge payouts after leading their companies to the brink of failure. A distracted leader can quickly lead those for whom he’s responsible quickly off course, and there’s bound to be collateral damage.
This can be especially true of a small business leader. There are just so many potential distractions, and in many cases the leader is the owner, and the person from whom all things relate to the business emanates. The team members look to that person for direction, they look to that person for approval and feedback. They want to know that their position in the business is valuable toward making the business successful. And when it comes to security, they want to know they’ll have a paycheck next week and for as long as they remain an employee in good standing.
But when a small business leader becomes distracted and loses focus or begins focusing on different things, these same employees who look to their leader for direction often get something much different in return. I’ve actually seen this happen in a small business.
The business has had turnover in the past, especially at the general manager position, but over the last year the new manager has brought stability to the position and to the team. The business is operating much more efficiently than when I began working with this client, and the numbers are showing a growing trend. Having set the business back on course with increased efficiency and growth, one would think the business leader could provide direction to the manager who would then continue to keep the team focused on delivering great service. Instead this leader, who put up with mediocrity for too long, is now choosing to micro-manage a team who is more efficient than ever. His comments and pickiness towards his team are making them question his leadership style. He is distracted by the smallest of things that are blown into oversized issues that result in reducing efficiency, not improving it. And now the grumbling begins, and the feeling of security is brought into question. The potential collateral damage is the loss of good, fully trained, otherwise loyal employees who choose to look elsewhere for employment. The possible net result is the business now has to reload in key positions, putting to a halt the progress of improved efficiency and growth achieved over the last year. Are these consequences enough to change this leader’s behavior?
Leadership is tough, and distractions are a fact of life. Being a strong leader means having a vision for where you expect to take your followers and being able to clearly articulate it to them. It means having a passion for your cause and taking responsibility for seeing your vision through. It means enrolling others in your vision and inspiring them to do their best to see the vision through. It means giving people the space to do their job and complete their tasks knowing you’ve set the boundaries and have enrolled the right people. A strong leader knows they cannot do it all themselves and bestows the credit for success on the team members who make it all happen. Distractions will appear, but a strong leader knows how to filter those out in order to keep the good of the business on course.