5 Leadership Strategies to Improve Team Performance and Grow Your Small Business

The best ways to react when your team members seem uninspired and unmotivated.

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5 Leadership Strategies to Improve Team Performance and Grow Your Small Business
Image credit: 10'000 Hours | Getty Images
VIP Contributor
CEO & Founder of Silver Lining
9 min read
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Every small business owner aspires to grow, but that process involves challenges that are not easily fixed just by talking about goals, budgets and weekly tasks. Sometimes, a subculture of dissatisfaction creeps in, and employees start to feel uninspired and unmotivated. Conflicts start to arise, and your team feels divided and uncommunicative, especially during times when you are struggling with cash flow, capacity and the realities of growing a small business.  

So you decide to put your leader hat on — because you know that your employees are the lifeblood of your company — and try to take action by re-engaging your troops. You hold meeting after meeting to promote teamwork, encourage cooperation and talk about what you are all trying to accomplish together. Still, in the end, you aren't getting the results and collaboration you know everyone is capable of achieving with the right communication. What next?

Related: 3 Types of Leadership Strategies That Distinguish Outstanding Entrepreneurs

It's time to make some improvements and change the status quo. Improving team performance will take dedication, determination, and leadership from both you and your team. Here are a few tips to continuously implement to achieve a more productive team performance and hit your overall company goals.

Define and communicate vision — speak from the heart

High performing small business leaders stay on message all the time. They reaffirm why their work matters, the positive impact they are making in their customer's lives and continuously relay the company's vision and how everyone's role is crucial in getting there. Employees will show a higher degree of commitment if they feel like their work is instrumental in achieving the company's vision and mission.

If everyone shows up at work just to work, it's easy for them to get lost in the daily operations and forget why they joined the company in the first place. When you lead with your vision and make the mission tangible, your employees will unite and work hard to achieve the common goal. Make them feel like they are working towards something big and exciting.

Related: 8 Smart Leadership Strategies Most CEOs Forget to Use

Make sure to keep your team in the loop and encourage cross-team communication so everyone understands how their work impacts the company's success as a whole. Be extremely clear about what the final destination looks like, even if you don't necessarily know what the road ahead looks like yet. By doing so, you will give your employees a purpose, a desire to get involved, figure things out and drive results. However, remember to speak from the heart. Your role as a leader is to make your team feel that passion and claim it as their own. Don't be afraid to be a broken record; keep everyone's attention on the bigger picture and lead with your vision.

Encourage balance — be human, not humanoid

The simple truth is that there will always be more things to check off the task list, more people to call, more meetings to hold and more issues to address. However, burning out your employees by setting unrealistic goals and deadlines and not giving them enough time to recharge their batteries is counterproductive and creates an environment of resentment. If their loved ones complain that they work too much and at work they hear that they need to get things done, work harder and achieve greater results, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy. Negativity will slowly creep in and affect your employees' focus and productivity. They will start feeling like they are failing everyone around them, including themselves.

Your office policies should be fair, encourage loyalty and reward employees for their contribution and hard work. By giving everyone time to be with their loved ones, assigning mandatory scheduled time for self-care or giving a few extra days off after a challenging project to rest and recharge, you are telling them that their wellbeing matters and that you care about them as fellow humans.

Related: The Strengths and Weaknesses of 4 Distinct Leadership Strategies

It's also important to give time to your employees to gel and get to know each other on a personal level. When we know someone on a deeper level, we are more inclined to support and go the extra mile for that person, collaborate and be part of a team. Scheduling team-building exercises, encouraging after-hours get-togethers and taking the time to ask about a person's personal life and challenges will build trust and loyalty. Make sure to create an environment where encouragement and positivity thrive and refrain from passing judgments. Remember that the people on your team are humans with their own set of problems, families and limitations. 

Delegate and empower — avoid micromanaging and drop the labels

As a small business owner, you usually have a limited number of employees, and you end up wearing many managerial hats. Have some of your employees ever said that they couldn't finish a task because they were waiting on your approval? Do you always feel the need to review and approve your employee's work? Do they hesitate to make moves because historically, you end up changing a lot of their work, making them doubt their abilities?

It's worth mentioning here that what you know or the way you do things might not always be the only way or even the best way to get to the desired result. By continually stepping in, you are fostering a culture of self-doubt and inaction. Instead, try to educate, be open to new ideas, motivate and inspire them to take ownership, step out and praise them for taking action on their own. Before long, your employees will be empowered, and instead of taking a backseat always awaiting direction and approvals, they will start driving the business forward alongside you. Consider specific areas of your business where you should completely step out and let others step in. Give your employees the power and self-confidence to act on their own.

Related: 5 Strategies for Franchise Leadership Development

Apart from delegating more responsibilities, consider dropping the labels to foster a more positive atmosphere of mutual support, gratitude and motivation. People like to be treated as equals and have their ideas heard and respected. Employees want to work for individuals they trust and respect. Respect is earned by what you do — not what you think you're going to do. Make sure that you are not continually reinforcing your title and position as a way to get your way with employees.

Commit to continued education — provide and invest in constant training

In many cases, employees regard their leaders as role models and expect to learn from them through insights, shared knowledge and expertise. If you don't take the time to transfer your accumulated knowledge and support your employee's learning journey, they might end up feeling like they are not important enough to merit the extra effort or attention. It is crucial that you make time to train your employees properly, encourage and support self-development, and acknowledge the extra effort they are making to grow. In the end, it is all in the name of becoming a better support system for you and their colleagues.

Don't be shy to acknowledge that you don't have all the answers and encourage cross-learning at all levels and among all departments. Everybody has something to contribute, and when everyone is open to learning from each other regardless of their standing in the company, a greater sense of purpose and collaboration will develop team-wide. Always encourage your employees to take extra classes, develop additional skills and bring their learnings back into the company.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Most importantly, make sure that everyone understands that their development is a crucial part of the company's overall success and that as a leader, you are there to support them in their knowledge journey and vice versa. They can sense in your daily interactions if your commitment to their growth and development is as important to you as your own. As a leader, continually invest time in your own professional growth, and in doing so, your employees will notice and follow suit.

Encourage recognition — what gets rewarded gets repeated

Who doesn't like to get noticed and appreciated for their efforts and hard work? Studies have shown that even though only 60 percent of adults in the workplace agreed that personal recognition was vital to them, over 96 percent of respondents felt that personal recognition inspired and motivated them to get more involved and do more work.

As leaders, we should never underestimate the power of giving praise when praise is warranted, especially when one of your employees deliver exceptional results, outstanding work or even steps into leadership to encourage and listen to others. You have to take a moment to acknowledge them and their commitment to excellence. By doing so, you will empower the individual to continue in this direction and reinforce their commitment to the vision, mission and company goals.

Even better, when you, as a leader, start recognizing others' work, a culture of gratitude for others' work will begin to shine through. Not only will they start encouraging each other internally, but this will also be reflected in the service they provide to your customers. This sense of community will motivate everyone to perform at their highest level and come together as a team.

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