Neglect leadership at the expense of growth

As the owner or manager of a small business, you’re intimately involved in most of its day-to-day operations, most likely acting as a hybrid manager/leader/supervisor. Therefore you create processes, you hire new employees, you manage the sales effort, you ensure accuracy – you have your hands in everything.

But if you have aspirations for the business beyond where it’s at now, you’ll need to reassess your role. Being everything to everyone can’t go on forever; at some point, it simply becomes counterproductive and unsustainable.

When the need for change becomes apparent, most owners and managers recognise it. Unfortunately, only a fraction actually takes action to address it. The majority tries to work within their limited means by spreading themselves too thinly (still trying to be everything to everyone) or they focus themselves on certain responsibilities at the expense of neglecting others. And more often than not, it’s the management (as opposed to leadership) responsibilities that are given priority. Why? Because management demands to be done today, usually in a landscape in which the urgent drives out the important. Leadership? That’s an issue that can wait for tomorrow… but for many small businesses in this situation, tomorrow rarely ever comes.

After an owner or manager has hunkered down in the business long enough, so singularly focused on churning out their products and services, they eventually realise the business is really going nowhere. And it’s from this unenviable position that they have that age-old epiphany, “I need to be working on the business, not in it!” Both a cliché and a reality.

When no one is truly leading the business (thinking about innovating, adapting to change, looking for growth), it’s in a state called active inertia… and it’s a dangerous spot for any business to be in. Like a car stuck in mud just spinning its wheels, managers who work with their heads down, not putting sufficient thought towards whether they’re actually being effective, are a danger to themselves and the business. And when faced with adversity – when most people are forced to start thinking – they simply take refuge in their bad (but familiar) habits. Just like that car in the mud, they dig themselves in deeper.

The key is leadership. You see, when you’re simply just managing all you’re doing is maintaining the status quo, despite the ‘lipstick’ you may try to put on the story. But as a leader, the status quo is never good enough; instead, you provide direction by driving change, growth and innovation.

As your business grows, if you find that you can’t effectively fulfill both the demands of management and the imperatives of leadership, it’s time to hire someone who can. Even if the addition of a new senior employee may cause some monetary pain, done well it will pay off in the future as they help guide the business to new levels of sales and customer growth.

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