From Business Owner to Business Leader

Have you made the transition yet? With a few tips from this leadership expert, you can learn to become a great business leader.

Long before you became an entrepreneur, I bet you remember saying to yourself, "One day, I'll own my own business!" People around the world have been saying those same words, some as early as 10 years old and others well into their 80s, with both excitement in their voice and a sparkle in their eye.

But when you thought of owning your own business, my guess is, your thoughts probably centered on the type of business you'd be starting. You dreamed of launching your own restaurant or construction company or taking over the family insurance company. You thought about how to make money and how to survive while ramping up. And how to run the business better and faster than your competition. Your first thoughts were probably not focused on the people that would be working for you or what type of leader you'd be.

At this point, you've most likely proven yourself to be a successful business owner...but have you proven yourself to be an effective leader?

Here's how you can find out. Take a few minutes and answer these questions for yourself:

  • Are you happy coming to work everyday and do you enjoy the people you hired to work with you?
  • Have you created a positive environment for yourself and your employees?
  • Do your employees feel comfortable coming to you with questions or problems? How do you know this for sure?
  • Have you developed the best focus for the business, yourself and your employees?
  • Do you really have the right people working in your business?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you've become an effective leader. But what if you answered no or you weren't sure? Don't feel bad--you're simply a business owner who needs to grow as a leader.

It's very easy to get caught up being the business owner and forget about the importance of being an effective leader in your business. Because those daily details can bog you down to the point where you forget that your employees need your time and attention--and need the guidance that only you, as the business's owner, can give them.

Think you could use a little help to become a better leader of people? Here are a few helpful hints to get you started:

  • The business's leader and employees know the strategic focus of the company and how to articulate it clearly and simply to anyone.
  • As the leader, you need to help your employees see how their position relates to your company's strategic focus and tell them how important they are--not just their position.
  • If you catch your employees doing something right, praise them for it. Recognition goes a long way toward building a loyal workforce.
  • Communicate with everyone in your company in a variety of ways on a regular basis, not just every now and then. For example, start holding weekly staff meetings, initiate individual conversations with your employees, start an internal newsletter or launch a monthly contest. There are dozens of ways to keep the lines of communication open.
  • Create a sense of pride in your employees by asking them for their opinions--when appropriate--when it comes to making changes in the company. Even if you don't always use their ideas, they'll really appreciate just being asked.
  • If you give bonuses for strong performance, try giving something more personal than cash. Know what your employees like to do in their time off with hobbies and interest. Then, instead of giving a $1,000 bonus (which your employees will probably use to pay bills and which is quickly forgotten), send your hiking hobbyist on a mountain trip for two in a beautiful cabin next to spectacular hiking trails. Or offer your shopaholic assistant a gift certificate to their favorite store. They'll remember these gestures much longer than a standard bonus and think of you fondly when they do.
  • Here's the last and perhaps most important tip: When it comes to your emotions, remember to respond to your employees rather than react to them. For instance, if an employee comes to you and says the numbers are off by $50,000 and you react by saying, "What? Are you crazy! How could that be??" that employee is most likely not going to want to share information with you next time around. But if you respond by saying, "Help me to understand how you arrived at that number," you'll exhibit genuine concern and let your employees know that you're there to help.

Remember, becoming a great leader is a learning process that never ends. Great leaders enjoy the challenges and the lessons learned--even when they're painful.

The type of leader you wish to become is entirely up to you. But if you want to learn to become a great leader, consider these additional tips:

  • Be aware of where you are today as a leader. Do you need to take action to improve your leadership skills?
  • Be open to critical self-assessment when it comes to your leadership skills.
  • Be willing to grow personally and professionally by learning new skills. Hire a business coach, find a mentor, read leadership books or sign up for a leadership class.

Patty Vogan is's "Leadership" columnist and owner of Victory Coaching, an executive coaching company for business and personal success, and a chairman for the largest CEO organization in the world, TEC International. She has over 15 years of experience in leadership management, team building, marketing and entrepreneurship, and is the author of two books. Her latest book,Waking Up in Tonga, will be available in December 2006.

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