Five Ways To Evolve As An Entrepreneurial Leader

An outstanding leader ensures that each individual on their team can bring their best every day, especially in cross cultural markets, such as the UAE.

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By Jeffrey A. Kappen, PhD


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Becoming a leader is one thing; becoming an "outstanding" leader, however, is a completely different story. As an entrepreneur, at some point your great idea and strategic vision will not be enough if your team is not inspired and willing to follow you. This is a common "pitfall" over time, especially for those entrepreneurs who take leadership skills for granted.

Outstanding leadership is dependent on one's ability to build a team's goals and performance that reflect an accurate understanding of the organization's internal and external environments. And, of course, an outstanding leader always needs to be ready for change coming from any direction.

Here are five tips to help you get there:

1. Know thyself (and your value proposition)
Are you aware of your strengths and weaknesses from both your own and others' perspectives? Compassion, curiosity, and integrity are all common traits of outstanding leadership. Assessing yourself on these personal dimensions and then acting to address weaknesses is a key part of the leadership journey.

2. Relationships: discover what matters
An outstanding leader ensures that each individual on their team can bring their best every day. When a leader finds out what matters to those on the team, it is easier to design engaging work assignments that connect them -personally- to the work of the organization. This requires a developed cultural and emotional acumen, and is particularly important in cross cultural markets, such as the UAE.

3. Maintain team clarity
Defining and maintaining role clarity is a core skill that unites a successful team. Understanding and being clear about your core strengths and role, and consequently those of each of your team members, provides clarity in both who is doing what and how things should be done. This eliminates the risk of conflicts and overlapping roles, thereby increasing productivity on all levels. This can be challenging for entrepreneurs who have to transition from "doing it all' to delegation to others.

4. Think holistically and strategically
Successful leadership means being able to guide a team's normal functions with an eye on the big picture. It also involves cultivating the ability to communicate a vision for balancing the urgency of the moment with future challenges and opportunities.

5. Be open and ready for change
The world is a dynamic and unsettled place. In the age of big data, leaders need to make decisions, implement and test new practices, and adjust as results come in. We cannot allow perfect to be the enemy of the good! Agility is a skill necessary at all levels of the organization.

In practice, an effective leadership planning process for you and your team can help you implement the tips above. Creating a "leadership plan" which you can revisit and adjust at regular, pre-determined, intervals is extremely important. There is no "one size-fits-all" model, but in my experience a successful plan should include several elements:

To begin, based on past performance and future responsibilities what are the important personal areas of growth and development? This can include both professional and personal objectives, goals, and aspirations for yourself, your business, and your team members.

With that in place, you can move towards defining objectives and goals, as these relate to you and other future leaders of the firm:

  • The objectives: What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Achieving the objectives: How do you plan to accomplish each objective?
  • The team: Who and what involvement of others is needed to support the accomplishment of each objective? How can you best leverage your existing teams? What changes do you need to make in terms of acquiring new talent?
  • The tactics: Do you have quantitative evidence and detail of what is required to complete each objective? If not, what do you need to do to acquire it?
  • The timetable: What's the timeline for each objective to be accomplished? Are the milestones clearly defined and communicated?

Furthermore, getting clarity on your leadership competencies is extremely important. Include yourself in the process through which every team member is reviewed regularly. First, this will help give you an in-depth understanding of how you are perceived as a leader, clarify areas of excellence and –most importantly– highlight opportunities for growth. Second, as your team growth accompanies the expansion of your firm, you will organically grow the leadership ranks needed in the future through this process.

Visual Aid: Core Leadership Competencies. Source: Copyright © Drake University Executive Education Center

Last but not least, people follow inspiring leaders; on a daily basis, remember to think along the lines of "What can I do to ensure that my people, in each of their defined roles, successfully accomplish the responsibilities to which I hold them accountable?"

Related: How To Be An Ethical Leader

Jeffrey A. Kappen, PhD

Associate Professor of Management and International Business at Drake University

Jeffrey A. Kappen, PhD, is the Associate Professor of Management and International Business at Drake University, and a principal facilitator of the Drake University Executive Education “Leading Others” program, scheduled to run its first international cohort in Dubai and London in 2019.

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