According to the U.S. Small Business Association, nearly 540,000 new small businesses start each month. While half of these new ventures will celebrate a five-year anniversary, 70 percent of them will fail within 10 years.
While much has been made about a difficult economy over the last eight years, the fact is most businesses fail not because of a poor business climate or complicated external market forces. They fail because of poor internal leadership.
That might seem harsh, but it’s also the reality of business. With over half a million new ventures starting up each month, it stands to reason that not all of them are going to have good leaders, much less great ones.
Related: 10 Behaviors of Real Leaders
When entrepreneurs or CEOs turn to me for advice on concrete steps they can take to improve their leadership skills, I share with them these four leadership pillars:
1. Take care of your employees.
Your employees are your company’s most important asset, and the first step in taking care of them is to pay a fair wage and provide health insurance. This gives your employees security and peace of mind. They will be able to focus on the company and be less stressed about life at home.
But it doesn’t stop with a paycheck. You must constantly demonstrate your concern for everyone pursuing the company’s goals. This can be as simple as asking associates how they or their families are doing or as elaborate as holding monthly events geared at boosting team morale. Happy, secure and productive employees are a key component to every success story.
2. Share the plan.
As an executive for most of my professional life, I understand that sometimes you can’t give the whole story to your team because a premature announcement may scuttle a deal before it takes off. But secrecy should be the outlier. Keep your team informed of everything as often as possible. Giving a big-picture view can help inspire your employees as well as enable them to make slight adjustments on their own to make sure the course remains steady and the goals within reach.
3. Sweat the small stuff.
Throughout our lives we’re told “don’t sweat the small stuff,” and instead pay attention to the big things, the big picture. Only worry about big challenges. The problem is, big challenges rarely present themselves out-of-the-blue. Instead, the big things start off as small stuff that went un-sweated and were therefore allowed to fester. Small stuff feeds on inactivity and neglect. I’ve found that by sweating the small stuff, paying attention to the details, we are better equipped to solve problems before they become catastrophes.
4. Keep in touch.
Never overestimate how much you know about what’s going on with your business or your team. Chances are there’s a lot more going on than you see. Some of it you need to know, some of it maybe you don’t, but by keeping your ear to the ground, proactively checking in with your staff and by remaining accessible so staff can check in with you, you will have at least an understanding of what you need to know inside your company.
These may seem simple, but they’re not. They require work. Even at the highest level, a good CEO is often a very good project manager. Because of this, it can be difficult to remember to take the time to step out of what might be your comfort zone and interact with your staff on topics that may have nothing to do with pending projects. But don’t settle for that.
A good leader doesn’t lead from behind a desk or an email account. A good leader leads from the front, interacting with staff, holding them accountable, making sure they know they’re valued and by paying attention to detail.
It’s a lot of work, but nobody said leadership was easy or without sacrifice. It will mean missed dinners with the family, losing out on occasional weekends and more than a little stress. But if you follow these tips, it might also mean moving your business from the huge pile of failure statistics to the much smaller pile of success statistics.