7 Traits of Exceptional Leaders

Successful leadership is half knowing where you are going and half knowing if you're making any progress in that direction.

learn more about Safiyah Satterwhite

By Safiyah Satterwhite


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Launching and leading a successful small business requires much more than a great idea. Effective and highly successful businesses have highly effective and successful leaders at the helm. And, let's face it, not every entrepreneur is a natural leaders.

The good news is that just like any other entrepreneurial skill, leadership must be cultivated and trained for. Those who train, lead better, live better and experience greater returns in their business.

What areas do you need to focus on to become an effective entrepreneur? See my top seven surefire leadership must have's below:

1. Set the example.

Great small business leaders set personal examples of the behavior that they want their staff to emulate. They model effective ways to handle situations and exemplify the kind of business that they want to build. They are consistent about their style of leadership and of handling problems that may arise. Most importantly, great leaders follow through on their commitments and promises.

Related: 6 Key Tips for Leading by Example

2. Craft a compelling vision.

One of the best ways to get buy-in from a team and ensure that the team is really working towards the success of your business is to craft a vision that employees believe in and buy into. As we are reminded in the Bible, "without vision the people perish."

This rings painstakingly true in the small business landscape. It is the leader's responsibility to make the vision for the business clear, consistent, inspirational and aligned with the core values of the business. With clarity, employees not only feel comforted in investing themselves fully but a compelling vision also helps to "weed out'' workers who are not on board.

3. Think critically.

You aren't perfect. Nobody is. In fact, it's impossible to run a business without making mistakes, so think critically about the decisions that you are making in your business. Consider alternative approaches, map them out, relate to the under dog and strategize.

One of my favorite quotes is from researcher Michael Fullan: "When personal purpose is diminished we see in its place group think and a continual stream of fragmented surface, ephemeral innovations. We see in a phrase, the uncritical acceptance of innovation, the more things change the more they remain the same. When personal purpose is present in numbers it provides the power for deeper change".

Don't lose your purpose and keep your team thinking critically. That will allow you to continue to innovate and attract people who add to and enhance your thinking.

Related: How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills and Make Better Business Decisions

4. Execute well and delegate.

It only makes sense to surround yourself with smart and talented people but it is pointless if you don't let them do their jobs. I can totally relate that your business is your baby, but if you are not willing to give up any control, your business will never grow to its full potential. Spend your time leading, strategizing, planning and analyzing the results, then allow your team the space to execute the plans in their sweet spot. You hired them. Give them the space to work for you.

5. Provide positive reinforcement.

Our brains are naturally wired to crave feedback. Strong accountability structures are important in all companies. Good businesses provide just enough support and challenges to allow employees to grow. Align accountability systems to your strategic plan and set clear expectations for what you want and need out of your employees and yourself.

The mistake leaders make with these systems is to use them only when they are in trouble instead of motivating employees when things are going well. If , as a child, the only time your mother said something to you was to reprimand you, your probably would not want to be around her too much today. Even if you have just one employee, be sure to give them affirmation when they are performing in alignment to your expectations. That makes it easier to have the conversation when you are not getting what you need from them.

6. Monitor and adjust.

Someone has to be in charge of monitoring your success and steering the ship. Own this process and keep your team informed of when the plan needs to change. In a small business, this change does not always have to be an extensive strategic planning revision session, but it should link somewhere to a larger plan. Don't be afraid of speaking out, pumping the brakes and changing a path, based on the data, your instincts and your vision.

7. Be present and show gratitude.

I remember when, as a leader, I rarely took the time to celebrate the organization's accomplishments. Because every moment was filled with business, I never took the time to really be present. Love your business, love your work, be mindful of your accomplishments and live in the moment. It only comes once.

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Express Gratitude Every Day

Safiyah Satterwhite

Performance Coach for Wellness & Social Entrepreneurs

Safiyah Satterwhite is a heart-driven success strategist and coach for female entrepreneurs, trained by Columbia University Business School and Teachers College. Throughout her career she has built a multi-million dollar organization and mentored hundreds of aspiring school and business founders. Satterwhite is founder of “Fearless & Free,” an online community designed to advance mission-driven entrepreneurial efforts.

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