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Leadership

12 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Sharpen Their Leadership Skills

You'll do fine if you look at leadership as a responsibility and not as an ego trip.
12 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Sharpen Their Leadership Skills
Image credit: Tom Werner | Getty Images
VIP Contributor
Entrepreneur and Connector
8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There’s a common misconception that every startup founder is a natural-born leader.

While some successful entrepreneurs are, many founders simply take leadership skills for granted or never completely developed them. As a consequence, they’re unable to influence others, which makes it almost impossible to get their business off the ground.

While every entrepreneur has his or her own leadership style, these are proven ways that they can enhance their leadership.

1. Master self-awareness.

“Successful entrepreneurs know how to master who they and harness their inner power, instincts and intuition,” writes psychologist and author Sherrie Campbell in a previous Entrepreneur article“Knowing themselves with clarity leads them to the right deals and business ventures. If they do not have acute self-awareness, they will come up against the counterforce of out-of-control emotions, leading to their downfall.”

Self-awareness, according to the authors of “How To Become a Better Leader,” is often cited as the most important capability leaders need to develop. This is because it’s “crucial for evolving and finding coping strategies for weaknesses.”

So, how can you become more self-aware? Campbell suggests that you do the following:

Become inwardly directed: This simply means knowing who you are and how you make decisions. This will guide in you achieving your goals.

Learn the ropes: Entrepreneurs need to master emotions like excitement, “follow the lead of others, learn the rules and observe how things fit together,” writes Campbell. This builds their confidence and helps them better understand the work that they’re team is doing.

Keep emotions under control: Successful entrepreneurs and leaders don’t allow their emotions to control them. They know that this leads to irrational decision-making.

Take risks: Good leaders rely on their self-knowledge to make faster and efficient decisions and assessments.

Be patient: This prevents impulsive decisions that could do serious harm to the organization.

Cultivate wisdom: Successful leaders learn from their mistakes in order to make them more persistent.

Exhibit curiosity: When you’re curious, that sparks creativity and stimulates personal growth.

Related: How to Stop Lying to Ourselves: A Call for Self-Awareness

2. Develop a strategic vision.

Entrepreneurs are known for their passion and innovative business ideas, but that can only take their company so far. They also need to develop a strategic vision to unleash them and their organization.

A strategic vision is simply where you want your business to be in the future. It’s about adopting a broader view of the organization, having a unique mission and constantly creating value to propel the business forward. Most importantly, it’s being able to connect short-term goals to the bigger picture for yourself, your employees, investors and customers so that they’ll buy into your vision.

Related: How to Engage Employees Through Your Company Vision Statement

3. Learn something new daily.

While both successful entrepreneurs and leaders have a thirst for knowledge there’s one key difference -- entrepreneurs often let their egos get in the way of learning. This can lead in the occasional “know-it-all” mentality. Leaders, on the other hand, are more receptive to learning new information and skills to make them stronger and more effective.

If a leader feels that their public speaking skills are lacking then they would find ways to strengthen that skill, such as taking a public speaking course. The entrepreneur, however, doesn’t have that humility to expand their skills, expertise, industry or niche.

4. Empower others.

Good leaders always speak to others with respect. They help their team align their personal goals with those of the organization. They encourage ownership. This requires trusting your team enough to let them choose how they prefer to work while holding themselves accountable.

Entrepreneurs often have difficulty letting go of some control. However, giving employees more autonomy at work energizes and empowers them. As a result, their motivation and productivity increase.

5. Keep your power cravings at bay.

Being ambitious and driven are crucial traits for entrepreneurs. It’s what motivates them during good and rough patches. But, when you start lusting after power and putting yourself ahead of everyone else, that becomes a problem.

Successful leaders don’t seek power. They want to get things done, solve problems, build amazing products/services and beat their competitors. However, they are also motivated to support others, share success and help people reach their goals as well.

Related: How to Engage Employees Through Your Company Vision Statement

6. Work to spot and retain top talent.

While you might have had the initial business idea, the success of your business is determined by those who surround you. Successful leaders learn this fact. That’s why they’re more then willing to hire talented individuals who fit their company’s culture -- and usually smarter then themselves.

Additionally, leaders invest in the development of their employees through training and coaching in order to retain them.

Related: 11 Secrets From Top Entrepreneurs on Hiring the Best Talent

7. Have grit...to a point.

Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of courage and endurance. It’s what keeps them pushing forward when all everything seems hopeless. However, there is a dark side to having this much determination -- it encourages you to stay on a sinking ship that you should have abandoned a long time age.

Competent leaders know when it’s time to apply grit and when it’s time to move-on to something else.

8. Dress to influence.

This is simple psychology. Do you think your staff, partners, investors or customers will take you serious if you show-up to your business wearing a worn-in t-shirt and sweatpants? Leaders know how to dress to influence.

“That means making sure your appearance is consistent with your personal and professional brand,” explained Mark Sanborn, president of Sanborn & Associates Inc. in a previous article. “Begin by asking yourself how a leader with your aspirations should appear to others.”

“And don't limit appearance to just yourself. Apply it to your company,” added Sanborn. For example, Butler Amusements, a carnival company, has “prided itself on having the cleanest trucks in the business and has built a brand around the slogan: ‘The Cleanest Show in the West.’”

Related: 5 Ways to Train Yourself to Be a Great Leader

9. Never compromise your character.

Several years ago I was acquainted with someone who was a bit on the shady side. He didn’t do anything illegal but he did do some questionable black hat SEO tactics to expedite his marketing. I wanted no part of that and quickly severed the relationship. While I was in no way involved with his business, I just didn’t want to be associated with someone who might tarnish the reputation that I had worked so hard to earn.

The best leaders are known for their character. They’re honest and never make promises they won’t keep. They are respected for their morals and values.

10. Oversee without interfering.

It’s absolutely essential to know what each department of your business is up-to and how they’re performing. It’s also important to make sure that you are not micromanaging.

Because a founder’s business is close to their heart, it is their baby after all, it’s understandable why they may be tempted to be involved with every minor detail. However, you must keep in mind that employees were hired because they had a specific expertise that you don’t obtain. As such, it’s best to give them freedom to make their own informed decisions while you observe on the sidelines.

11. Ask your team how you’re doing.

Entrepreneurs must go directly to potential customers to find out whether or not they would purchase their product or service. Or, what could be done to improve the product or service. At the same time, some entrepreneurs are unwilling to listen to what their team is telling them.

Leaders, unlike entrepreneurs, realize the importance of soliciting feedback from employees. While it’s not easy to admit their faults, leaders know that this constructive criticism is necessary for them to improve the business and their leadership skills.

Related: Want Brutally Honest Feedback From Employees? Here's How These 6 Entrepreneurs Get It.

12. Seek advice.

Finally, becoming a strong entrepreneurial leader is not hesitating in seeking advice from other successful people. You could work with a business coach, find a mentor, or read articles or books. By following the advice, inspiration, mistakes, and success stories from those who have been and done is one of most effective ways in sharpening your own leadership skills.

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