This article was last updated on March 14, 2022
For me, being an entrepreneur is synonymous with being a leader. To be a success in business, you have to be able to lead not only your employees, but become a key figure in your industry. Mastering the qualities of a leader is a sharp learning curve, whether you’re running a small business or are the CEO of a large corporation. Over the last 10+ years building a global company as the co-founder and CEO of finder.com, I’ve discovered that these qualities aren’t always instinctive. It takes time, self-awareness and hard work to develop them. Poor leadership can have a negative impact on your employees and, through them, your entire business model. But it’s never too late; identifying and understanding your weaknesses is the first step towards improvement.
Here are seven signs you need to work on your leadership skills, along with some advice on how to do so:
With a quick news-cycle and the way technology is evolving nowadays, a good leader has to be able to pivot and jump on whatever trends come their way. Staying static in the face of the ever-changing market will just lead to poor business decisions and little growth.One of my favorite commercials comes from the 2013 Superbowl where there was a power outage during the third quarter of the game. Oreo jumped on this by tweeting out a photo with the caption, “You can still dunk in the dark”. Adaptable? For sure. Smart leadership? Absolutely.
Being adaptable also means being able to pivot when obstacles come your way. Your leadership style should be fluid and fearless to not only make mistakes, but admit them as well. My company, finder, was started in Australia so when we expanded into the U.S. we were bound to make mistakes.
At the beginning, we outsourced a lot of work to people all around the world. But when payment time came around, we lost quite a bit of money to wire transfers and poor exchange rates. We didn’t adapt properly to a new market and alternative methods of paying people. After some research into what money transfer providers were the best fit for finder (and that banks charge above the global average), I was able to make a better, more informed decision.
You’re indifferent to those around you
Empathy is the ability to think outside of yourself and be able to put yourself in someone’s shoes. You might think that, as a leader, you need to create a distance between yourself and others, but that’s wrong. You shouldn’t be afraid to create connections with those around you and share a camaraderie with those around you. You don’t want to be grouped with other selfish people.
It also creates a sense of self-awareness that allows you to see and evaluate your own mistakes. Try to not only relate to others, but analyze a situation from another perspective. As soon as you take the time to recognize what another might be feeling, they’ll feel much more appreciative and invested in the business.
At the end of the day, those you’re leading are important to the continual growth and productivity of your business. Doing something as simple as showing compassion is a huge step towards becoming a great leader.
In Ancient Rome, during the celebration for a victorious general called a Triumph, a slave would stand at the general’s ear and constantly whisper: “Remember, you are only a man”. Humility is a great virtue to have and relates closely to being empathetic. Being successful means hearing people sing your accolades all day, but it’s vital to remain down to earth in the face of this. Because when it comes down to it? You’re not perfect. There’s always room for improvement.
Being overly arrogant can lead to you becoming complacent. As soon as you stop looking for more ways to improve and be innovative, your competition can overtake you. Not only that, but your company’s growth and revenue could flatline.
And I don’t mean that arrogance is a completely bad thing. It’s good to exert confidence and be proud of your achievements – just not to the point that it becomes all-consuming and obnoxious. So own up to your mistakes and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself every once in awhile. Doing that goes a long way to making others more comfortable with you, which can result in others wanting to follow where you lead.
You’re not straight up
Confrontation isn’t something you should seek out, but neither should you actively avoid it. That leads to its own set of problems. It can be difficult to confront someone, particularly if they’re a trying person, but it’ll get easier the more you do it. If there’s an issue, there’s nothing worse than ignoring it and hoping it goes away. It won’t (unfortunately). Chances are, it’ll just get worse the longer you leave it, and then you’ll have an even bigger problem on your hands.
This can all be solved by being straight up. Indeed, this is one of finder’s company values. I highly recommend having this as part of the culture – the ability to be straight up with someone without the fear of them getting offended. Having that value already in place paves the way for more open, honest conversation. Acknowledge someone’s strengths, weaknesses, and concerns, and workflow will improve a hundred-fold.
You don’t prioritize communication
Communicating effectively is a skill that takes a while to build up and it doesn’t come naturally, either. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate what’s in your head with everyone else and until a mind-reading device is invented, you’ll have to improve on communicating competently.
Poor communication can shut down any kind of progress. Everything should be clearly stated and without grey-areas: your expectations, tasks that require the most attention, and plans of attack. A good communicator can open a two-way dialogue with employees that’ll only strengthen the business. It can be as easy as just remembering to say, “is this clear?” before you wrap up instructions.
Work-life balance is non-existent
Today’s business world is a fast-paced one, with new trends popping up all the time that you want to jump on. But it’s important to still retain a distinction between work and your personal life. By this, I mean actually having a life, without letting your workaholic tendencies swallow it whole.
Employees will often follow the actions of their leader and you don’t want to set a precedent of working all hours of the night. Some may think having long work hours shows great productivity, but I think the opposite. Productivity is not directly reflective of the hours you spend at a desk. Indeed, I’ve found that maintaining a healthy work-life balance helps my productivity more than anything else. You should be encouraging your employees to explore their interests out of work, not making them afraid to.
If you want to know the quickest way to kill creativity and innovation, just introduce micromanagement. Imagine having someone hovering over your shoulder 24/7, scrutinizing your work – is that a good feeling? It can lead to destroying your relationship with your employees which means (surprise, surprise) less productivity.
It can be tempting to want everything done exactly your way, but it’ll end up breeding resentment. Plus, remember when we discussed that it’s good to acknowledge your mistakes? You can’t be right all the time and it can be good to give an employee autonomy and see what happens.