You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

3 Simple Steps to Succeed as a Small Business Leader For a small business to scale up, they need people - and people need strong leaders. Following these three simple steps will enable any small business owner to improve in the area of leadership.

By John Kyle

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One of the biggest challenges that small business owners face is also the one biggest thing that will ensure their success: leadership.

Regardless of industry, the majority of small business owners I work with have similar backstories: They are good at what they do, they hated their job/boss, and they feel that they can do better on their own. Often, they're right. Yet, when that same small business owner wants to scale and reach new levels of success (because we all know that there is a limit to reaching those levels as a one-man, or one-woman show), they need to onboard more people to do more work. That means they need to lead those people to get the results they want. Unfortunately, this is where many business owners fail.

So, if you're a small business owner who is looking to improve your leadership skills in order to reach new heights, then here are three simple ways to accomplish just that!

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

1. Become a student again

I've been leading for a long time and have found an approach or two that I really liked. However, the people I lead are constantly changing, which means that I often have to change my leadership approach. This can be annoying, but if you can do this, you'll see your relationships with staff members improve dramatically. You'll see that your employees will interact with you and with one another on a higher level. And most importantly, you'll see your bottom line grow over time, because YOU are having a direct and positive impact on your team members with your improved leadership skills.

In the Martial Arts industry, there is a term that we used to keep our focus in the right direction. It's called "the white belt mentality." Think about someone who is a white belt — they are excited to learn something new. They are willing to try and try and try until they get it right. They are willing to look unskilled and possibly goofy in front of others while they are learning. They also realize that they have a lot to learn and never act like they know it all. You'll need this white belt mentality if you want to truly succeed.

So, become a student again and acquire that "white belt mentality." Learn as much as you can on the subject of leadership, even if you feel you've got a good hold on it and have your own personal style. Here are a few simple steps to help you get going in the right direction:

  • Find and take online courses.

  • Read at least one book per month.

  • Find and download an audiobook app onto your phone.

  • Listen to as many audiobooks as you can while commuting to and from work.

  • Ask for feedback on your current leadership style from your team.

  • Ask your team how they want to be coached/led.

Related: 10 Books Every Leader Should Read to Be Successful

2. Practice, practice, practice

Want to know what a black belt REALLY is? They are white belts that simply kept practicing for a long period of time. And becoming masterful at leadership is just as simple. Not easy, of course — I'll never say that! Think about it for a minute: Isn't this how we all build skill in something new? We try, we fail, we try, we fail, we try, we finally succeed.

But the question becomes how and when/where do you practice? Well, here are some suggestions on certain areas that will help you focus your energy and efforts to gain the biggest leadership outcomes:

  • Monthly team meetings

  • Daily huddles

  • Scheduled one-on-one meetings

  • Impromptu one-on-one meetings

  • Random checks-ins with staff members when your calendar is clear

  • Providing inspirational talks in the beginning and at the end of all of the above

  • Giving your best when any member of the team is watching you (a.k.a., setting the example)

Here are some simple action items to help develop your leadership skills:

  • A pat on the back for a job well done

  • Public recognition for a job well done

  • A company/department-wide email saying "good job" or "thank you," etc.

  • Praising the entire team for goals accomplished

  • Using the leadership method, Praise/Correct/Praise (P.C.P.)

    • "Nice effort, Susan. Now, let's try it this way. There you go, great work."

Related: 6 Steps to Becoming a Better Leader

3. Repeat with proper expectations

In Japan, they have something called Kaizen, which translates to "incremental improvement." In America, I've heard the term "C.A.N.I." from author Tony Robbins, meaning "constant and never-ending improvement." And that's what this third step is about: making small, incremental improvements to help you become better. Expecting huge gains in leadership skills is a great way to become frustrated and just consider dropping the whole thing. So, it's best to create proper expectations and look for smaller gains. Just like a white belt would get only slightly better at a round kick or side kick during any given training session, so too will your leadership skills.

But what happens to that same white belt when they have thrown 10,000 side kicks? It's the same thing that will happen to you when you practice the motivational talks and leadership skills with your staff after a solid year or more: You'll finally get the positive results you're looking for!

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Listen to a leadership (or similar) audiobook in the car every time you drive.

  • Take an item each day or week from those books and work on just that.

  • Find/create an accountability group to hold you to this course of action.

  • Find leadership groups to join, and get active.

  • Join the chamber, and ask for a leadership role somewhere.

  • Find a leader who inspires you and emulate them.

  • Join a Toastmasters group.

  • Record/video yourself giving talks, and find what needs to improve.

  • Create anonymous feedback forms for staff, and include a few questions on coaching/leadership.

  • Find someone to mentor so they can become a strong leader, too.

  • Most importantly: Maintain that white belt mentality!

Pro tip: When it comes to learning and improving in leadership, there is only one word to guide you: "better." Don't look to be amazing or the best leader ever. Just look to be better than last week. You'll feel less stress, and your staff will benefit from your improved skill set! So, just get "better" — like a white belt would.

John Kyle

Business Banker

John Kyle is a business banker who connects business owners with information, resources and solutions that allow them to achieve their business goals. Kyle is also a champion kickboxer, owned three successful Dojos and earned a 7th Degree Black Belt. He resides in Colorado Springs.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Resumes & Interviewing

Build a Better Resume with This $35 Subscription

AI Resume Builder promises to help you apply to jobs twice as fast.

Side Hustle

He Took His Side Hustle Full-Time After Being Laid Off From Meta in 2023 — Now He Earns About $200,000 a Year: 'Sweet, Sweet Irony'

When Scott Goodfriend moved from Los Angeles to New York City, he became "obsessed" with the city's culinary offerings — and saw a business opportunity.


I Got Over 225,000 Views in Just 3 Months With Short-Form Video — Here's Why It's the New Era of Marketing

Thanks to our new short-form video content strategy, we've amassed over 225,000 video views in just three months. Learn how to increase brand awareness through short-form video content.

Business News

Samsung Makes 6 Day Workweeks Mandatory for Executives as the Company Enters 'Emergency Mode'

Samsung said its performance "fell short of expectations" last year. Now executives are required to work weekends.


6 Habits That Help Successful People Maximize Their Time

There aren't enough hours in the day, but these tips will make them feel slightly more productive.


You Won't Have a Strong Leadership Presence Until You Master These 5 Attributes

If you are a poor leader internally, you will be a poor leader externally.