Much of the research and subsequent writing that has been done on effective business leadership has focused on large, multi-national companies and executives—those with billions of dollars in annual revenue and multiple levels of management. Most notable among the researchers and writers would be Jim Collins and the work in his groundbreaking book Good to Great.
Our consulting work—and the focus of this article—is with small businesses, in which it’s rare to have more than two or three levels of management. As a result, the presence of the founder or CEO looms large and plays an oversized role in building the company’s culture and in the daily decisions being made.
While there are an infinite number of behavioral characteristics that can lead to the success or failure of a business, this article will focus on a handful of those that we’ve repeatedly seen in working with our clients and that we feel have played a key role in their business success. Not only are these particular characteristics important, but they’re also the behaviors that we’ve seen most often. They are:
- Ego management/Coachability
- Disciplined Execution
- Navigating vs. Steering
- Being present (hands-on leadership)
This is not meant to imply that to achieve business success a leader must possess all the characteristics on the list. I’m not certain that any of the business leaders we’ve studied did. But each possessed enough of them at the right times and in the right combinations to drive sustained profitable growth in their company.
Don’t misunderstand; I am also not suggesting for a moment that the owners we studied are angels or that they’re flawless. They’re not. Many have quirks and behaviors that can drive the people in their organizations crazy from time to time! They’re entrepreneurs and being obsessive, controlling, cantankerous, or having an outsized ego every now and again is practically part of their job description. Yet they manage these behaviors enough to attract and keep a talented team of people who have helped them grow a business that can sustain profitable growth without having an unhealthy dependence on them making all the decisions.
There is nothing particularly unique about our clients or their challenges, nor has their success been attributable only to our involvement. While we may have played a role by providing guidance, encouragement, and business analysis, it was their hard work and long-term commitment that has resulted in their achievements.