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Five Ways to Better Leadership

Tips from the author of 'Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success'.

The list of goals entrepreneurs have is usually long and perpetually growing. We might have plans to start a marketing project, invest in a new hire, or redesign our website. With so much happening at once, sharpening our leadership skills often falls to the bottom of the list. Yet it's imperative to begin thinking about how you can take yourself and your company to the next level.

Scott Eblin, a leadership coach and author of Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success, writes about the behaviors leaders need to abandon and ones they should adopt. I spoke to him about his best leadership tips for entrepreneurs. Edited interview excerpts follow.

Q: What are the most common habits entrepreneurs should break?
Eblin: The lowest-rated behavior in our research on leaders is the skill of pacing oneself by building in regular breaks from work. That can be a particular challenge for small-business owners who are trying to do it all. The entrepreneurial mind-set is often that of the 'go to' person. You've gotten where you are because you get stuff done. You're the closer. It's all too easy to get sucked into that mind-set and lose your perspective.

Q. What behaviors can business owners adopt to get to the next level?
A. An important question that all leaders need to ask themselves on a regular basis is 'What is it that only I can do?' That question is not about being indispensible. Rather, it's about thoughtfully considering the highest and best uses of your time and attention. Where is the value really added? Assess the things that only you can do, and find help for the rest.

Q. What's the best way for entrepreneurs to learn new skills?
A. I'm a big fan of peer coaching. I encourage all of my clients to find one or more peers with whom they can connect on a regular basis. You can learn from each other's experiences and provide some space for each other to get up on the balcony and think out loud.

Q. What’s a good strategy for making changes?
A. Don't try to change too many things at once. Focus on the vital few and work on making those habits you can build on. Aristotle said, ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.’ Who am I to argue with Aristotle? I think that's great advice.”

Q. What's the one thing everyone needs to do to be a better leader?
A. Ask for feedback from your team, peers and clients. Then, look for the one or two most important things that would make the biggest difference in your overall effectiveness. Identify one or two action steps that are in the sweet spot between ‘easy to do’ and ‘likely to make a difference.’ From that point on, follow the advice on the back of the shampoo bottle. Rinse and repeat. 

Kristi Hedges is the founder of McLean, Va.-based The Hedges Company, a leadership development firm that gives entrepreneurs and top executives tools for motivating and inspiring others. Hedges is also the author of an upcoming book on authentic executive presence. E-mail info@thehedgescompany to be notified when it's available.

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