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15 Entrepreneurs Offer Their Best Leadership Tips

To be an entrepreneurs and business owner, you have to understand leadership and be excellent at it. There are numerous qualities that make up successful leaders including being strong, visionary, reliable, audacity, empowering, positive, motivating, decisive and confident. While recruiting, hiring and finding talented people is important, it is just as important to manage and lead employees. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you build your leadership profile.

#1 – Hire Carefully

Photo Credit: Bob Johnson

Photo Credit: Bob Johnson

Hiring decisions are a CEO’s most important decisions. Too often, CEOs are in too much of a hurry to fill critical roles. Hiring mistakes are very difficult to reverse. One should look to hire the very best people – people who are more talented than they are. A critical element of any hiring process is culture. One should not sacrifice culture for competence. Once hired, a CEO should provide support and get out of the way and let his or her people perform. If a CEO feels the need to constantly provide direction, a hiring mistake was likely made.

Thanks to Bob Johnson,  The American College of Financial Services

#2 – Continuous Improvement

Photo Credit: Marcus Miller

Photo Credit: Marcus Miller

My number one tip after spending several years building a team in the fast paced world of digital marketing is to create a culture that is built around the goal of continuous improvement. This is tough and requires a degree of emotional maturity and an atmosphere of trust. You have to ask difficult questions – not to assign blame but to identify what went well, what did not go so well and the optimisations that can be made on the back of this. The goal here is always to identify waste or areas that can be improved. It can take time to implement but with enough effort team members will raise issues that are holding them back. Then together the team can work to identify a solution. We have one of these meetings every week and try to identify a single strategic area of improvement in each of our core processes. Sometimes these work out. Other times they don’t but getting everyone to work together to drive improvement removes road blocks and wasted time and effort in the business. When you identify something that improves output or makes someones life easier then you quickly get buy in from the team members. In a nutshell – encourage your staff to seek continuous improvement. Utilise agile project management frameworks like Scrum or Kanban to help put this in place.

Thanks to Marcus Miller, Bowler Hat 

#3 – Be Curious

Photo Credit: Kirsten Siggins & Kathy Taberner

Photo Credit: Kirsten Siggins & Kathy Taberner

BE CURIOUS! Most people believe they are curious in life, however, where we have learned people are not curious is in conversations. When we are not curious in conversations we tell, judge, blame, shame and get stuck in a ‘I am right/ you are wrong’ mindset – all without even knowing it and all of it leads to conflict. Curiosity in conversations allows you to keep the focus on the speaker, rather than self, to learn and understand new perspectives, thoughts, ideas, and experiences. When we are curious in conversations, we suspend judgment and become open to possibilities and opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be there, essential for successful leadership in the 21st century. Curiosity in conversations allows people to feel seen, heard and understood – it builds trust, messages respect and is the foundation for building those authentic relationships that we all crave. The good news is, we all have the ability to be curious in conversations simply by following 3 steps – what we refer to as the Curiosity Skills: 1. Be present to ABSORB what the speaker is saying, active listening; 2. Choose to listen without judgment, suspending judgment and keeping the focus on the speaker, not self; 3. Ask curious open questions (who, what, where, when, and how) to learn and understand. Curiosity improves the quality of your conversations, which improves the quality of your leadership. Curiosity also supports you in conflict so you can have those challenging conversations with ease and grace – and let’s be honest, what leader doesn’t want that!

Thanks to Kirsten Siggins & Kathy Taberner, Institute Of Curiosity

#4 – Give Up Control

Photo Credit : Jim Minnick

Photo Credit : Jim Minnick

The toughest thing for leaders to do is to give up control, but that’s in many cases the best way to lead and to get people to follow you. The best people don’t want to work for micromanagers. We push decision making down as far as we can so people working here feel they have the ability to impact what they’re working on and move things forward without having every decision vetted and approved by someone above them. That allows us to be very nimble in responding to business needs and developing new solutions, and allows me as a leader to focus on thinking about, addressing and communicating big-picture things that impact the entire company. And another tip is that that communication is key. When everyone knows where the company is going, they will make decisions that are smart and on strategy. So those things go together – communicating the vision and direction and giving people authority to make decisions that will align with that vision and direction.

Thanks to Jim Minnick, eVestment

#5 – Building a Culture

Photo Credit: William Hall

Photo Credit: William Hall

Building a culture of professional growth and leadership is free, but might take a little extra effort. In most cases, building this culture starts with employees understanding what is expected of them and where they are going within an organization. Unfortunately, a poll conducted by San Francisco consulting firm Achievers demonstrated that 98% of staff find annual performance reviews unnecessary. This is probably because there is no ‘what this means’ attached to the review. As a result, lackadaisical cultural attitude equals employee distaste for the review process. But if the review is kept simple and attached to real goals and personal growth objectives, employees have a great chance of thinking of leadership as a real potential within the organization. If a company is supportive of employee growth, employee engagement will certainly rise.

Thanks to William Hall, Simulation Studios

#6 – Enjoy the Moment

Photo Credit: Jess Waldeck

Photo Credit: Jess Waldeck

Starting a business is stressful! With limited staff, you are expected to wear many hats and work long hours – with little or no pay. Sometimes your responsibilities can be a high-level strategic investor discussion; other times it is deciding what color chairs work in the office. There is typically few people to delegate to, and since it is your baby, you want your hand in everything. I get it! I am there too. It is difficult to see the forest through the trees, but it won’t always be like this. And as hard as it is to imagine, you will miss the free flowing, quick decisioning environment. As a leader in this environment, it is sometimes best to step away and enjoy the moment. This rapid pace and the high energy is unique to our world. And it is even more important to help your employees embrace this. They aren’t compensated the same way you are, and by helping them understand not only the opportunity ahead, but to enjoy the moment now, you will create a happier and more productive work environment. It is fun, challenging, energetic, exciting – and if successful, profitable!

Thanks to Jess Waldeck, Maven Xchange

#7 – Clear on Winning

Photo Credit: Holly Green

Photo Credit: Holly Green

Make sure you and your team are clear on winning. Define it with specificity. Make sure you minimize interpretation of any words you use (i.e. don’t say “We are going to be easy to work with.” State exactly what that means such as “we will respond to all customer inquiries within X time. We will have a mobile application where customers can place orders when they want to. We will have 24/7 customer service and authority at every level (up to $X) to make it right if there is a mistake…”) Set up all of your processes and systems to support achieving it. Talk about it in EVERY meeting. (After all, if you’re not talking about winning, what are you talking about?). Adult humans are instinctually driven to win. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks “I want to go to work and just suck today.” Define it, continuously communicate it and measure to it visibly to keep everyone in the same race.

Thanks to Holly Green, The Human Factor, Inc.

#8 – Be an Educator

Photo Credit: Steve Benson

Photo Credit: Steve Benson

There is so much to learn when you are the owner of a small business, and you can’t afford to hire people who already know how to do things. The most important thing you can be as a business leader is an educator. Educate your customers and employees about everything, and enable your team to educate each other. Know when something is good enough to get the job done. Know what needs to be Great. Good is the enemy of Great, but a lot of things don’t have to be Great, they have to be fast, cheap, or done – so know what to 80/20. And as a business owner, always remember that your new order of importance is 1. Your employees. 2. Your customers. 3. Everything else.

Thanks to Steve Benson, Badger Maps

#9 – Celebrate Success

Celebrate your team’s success. Running a company can often feel like a roller coaster ride. As a business owner, you face challenges every day. There is always more work to be done, which can cause you to overlook how much progress you have made. It’s important to take time to celebrate small victories for the company and recognize the individual accomplishments of employees. This helps unify your team around a common goal and provides everyone with motivation to do a good job. Great leaders appreciate success and understand that celebrating small wins helps boost team morale.

Thanks to Emmanuelle Johaadien, ForeignExchange.com

#10 – Back Your Team First

Photo Credit: Bill McCharen

Photo Credit: Bill McCharen

If you’re managing your business against the old adage the client is always right, then you are in the wrong! You should back your team before you back your clients. The idea is that a team who feels supported by leadership is going to provide a better service to their clients, hopefully negating a lot of the issues that might come up to make the client unsatisfied to begin with. To understand this conversely, a client who always comes first and whose needs are placed above your team can backfire in the long run. Your team can get burned out, suffer from low morale or feel disillusioned with the company’s main mission and the client ends up with lower customer service. You should always listen to all sides carefully, but make sure that your decisions are being driven by what’s best for the team and company rather than your bottom line.

Thanks to Bill McCharen, MyITpros

#11 – Show Empathy

Image Credit : Lisa Chu

Image Credit : Lisa Chu

My best leadership tip is to always be honest with your employees and show empathy. Not only will honestly build trust and respect, but it will influence your employees to be honest. Leading by example is the essence of being a great leader. Being emphatic will help you better see from your employees point of view. Giving you the capability to address their concerns in a more productive and positive manner. To be a good leader you need to have the ability to bring the passion and the best out of everyone that works under you. Being honest and emphatic will give you the tools to access the leadership language to help you achieve success.

Thanks to Lisa Chu, Black n Bianco Kids Apparel

#12 – No One-Size-Fits-All

Photo Credit: Tim O’Neill

Photo Credit: Tim O’Neill

In the past 25 years of business, I’ve found that the best leadership tips are the ones that focus on each person with whom I am working: every person is different, and the better that I get to know each person and what motivates him or her, the better the leader that I will be able to be. For me, it is not a one-size fits all leadership style, but instead is an individually empathetic approach to knowing my co-workers and making them each feel appreciated and motivated. When they are enthused and energetic about what we are doing, I know that I have been successful at leading our team.

Thanks to Tim O’Neill, O’Neill Brothers Group

#13 – Keep Groups Happy

Photo Credit: Simon Slade

Photo Credit: Simon Slade

Good leaders keep their groups happy and listen well. Keeping employees happy is all about making them feel valued and making work fun. Show you value your employees by including them on key business decisions and listening to their input. You don’t have to implement every suggestion, but you should listen to them. Constructive criticism is one thing, but don’t ever publicly condemn an idea, which would kill the creative environment. And, of course, have fun! Talk to your employees about more than just work and provide a place they actually want to go. At Doubledot Media, we have BBQ Fridays and various group outings.

Thanks to Simon Slade, SaleHoo

#14 – Take an Interest

3814ef7Take an interest in each of your employees especially while your company is small and try to maintain that same level of interest as you grow. Small businesses need to work as a team and this mindset starts with the CEO taking the time to check in and get to know each of his/her employees. This starts with the hiring process. As CEO, I am involved in each and every hiring decision, and I speak with each applicant before he/she is hired. This allows me to know from the start who my future employees are and what they are specifically interested in.

Thanks to Sam Lundin, Vimbly

 #15 – Employee Care

Photo Credit: Adam Stoker

Photo Credit: Adam Stoker

I firmly believe that if you take care of your employees they’ll take care of your clients. I by myself cannot make sure that every client is perfectly cared for. But if I ensure that my employees are happy and want to work hard, then that enthusiasm for work and for the company will transfer over to how they treat the clients and the quality of work they do. What you put into the heart of the business becomes the direct result of what you will receive out of the business. If you take care of your employees and lead by example, your business will grow.

Thanks to Adam Stoker, Sorenson Advertising

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