Why the best leaders do less

How do you describe yourself? Are you an entrepreneur, a technical expert, someone who is good at a specific task or a manager? Or are you a leader?

Whether you describe yourself as a leader or not, the chances are that your business needs you to show leadership at every stage of its development. So how do you successfully lead your business?

Here’s why great leaders do less, and the 6 key steps you need to take to transform yourself into a brilliant business leader;

What is leadership?

Leadership is future-focussed, so good leaders provide an inspiring vision and a sense of direction.

Leaders are architects not builders, as they focus on the bigger picture, while managers are based more in the past and the present. They are about efficiency, execution and detail, so clearly, successful businesses have both leadership and management.

What is your definition of what makes a good leader?

Many people believe that leaders need to know everything, fix everything and control everything and as a result they get stuck in doing rather than leading.

This, however, is very much a 20th Century super-hero image of what makes a good leader It often means that they work long hours and are afraid to ask for help for fear of being seen as weak and incapable.

If you are a technical expert, someone who is good at what you do, the chances are that doing rather than leading is what you are comfortable with. It is what got you to where you are today. But as the saying goes what got you here won’t necessarily get you where you need to be now.

In the 21st Century we need to recognise that businesses are made up of people, and if they are to thrive then the people in them need to be thriving. So the job of a leader is to create the conditions in which they and their people thrive, making their performance sustainable and therefore creating sustainable success for the business.

So leadership is less about what and more about why and how. Many people in leadership positions tend to be task rather than people focussed and as a result will say that they just don’t have the time to lead.

RELATED: How to be a leader rather than a manager

How much time should you be spending on leadership?

The answer to this question is dependent on the stage of development of your business. A business goes through three key stages of development;

  1. Infancy,
  2. Adolescence and
  3. Maturity.

Your leadership journey will coincide with these stages.

1. Infancy

The business is very dependent on you at this stage. You may well be working long hours, almost obsessed with giving it a good start.

A lot of your time at this stage could well be spent on doing but don’t forget the leadership aspect of your role. It is also important to remember that you are the leader of your own life and there is more to life than your business.

At this stage it is helpful to create a definition of success for yourself that ensures that you are happy, stay healthy and are successful in all areas of your life not just your business life.

2. Adolescence

As your business grows and you have employees it has different needs of you. The proportion of your time spent on doing is likely to need to decrease as the business grows.

Many business owners and founders find it difficult to let go of some of the control and to pass on some of the doing to others enabling everyone to learn and grow. Building trust is key at this stage.

3. Maturity

Your team is likely to become established at this stage, as are the systems and processes that keep the business running smoothly. Your role here is to identify how you can add most value to the business and stay focussed on those areas.

At each stage you need to ask what sort of leadership the business now needs from you for it to continue to thrive.

How do you shift from doing everything yourself to being a great leader?

Having supported many leaders on this journey over the last 13 years and spent the previous 20 years as a leader of a small business myself, I have identified the six keys to making this shift:

1. Stop Doing Start LeadingIdentity

Right from the outset, just as you create a vision for your business, you need to create a vision and purpose for your leadership.

Chances are you don’t see yourself as a leader yet, you see yourself as something else. So it is worth asking yourself the following questions:

  • Who am I as a leader?
  • What do I stand for?
  • What is the difference I want to make?

This will help you to identify your own authentic leadership brand. You can then ensure that you manage that brand and appropriately position it through your behaviour and communication.

When you are authentic people will trust that you will make the right decisions for the business and the future rather than only focus on what is in your own best interest.

2. Balance

This is about finding a definition of success that enables you to have what I call Triple H Leadership – being happy, staying healthy and being a sustainable high performer in all areas of your life. This means that you are sustainable and thriving in your own life and are able to create the conditions for others to thrive as your business grows.

What makes it sustainable is effectively managing your own time and energy. Making sure you have time and energy to spend with friends and family, to look after your health and to lead your business.

When you create the time to lead you are able to stand back from being involved in doing and identify what the business needs to continue to be successful in the future.

3. Empowerment

Stepping up as a leader first requires you to trust yourself and secondly to trust others to deliver instead of doing it all yourself.

As you build trust in the capability of the person you are empowering and as they become more confident in the task they are being empowered to do, your involvement will become less. This frees you up to grow as a leader and add more value to the business.

As Sir Alex Ferguson said in his book Leadership:

“I never had any formal schooling to be a leader… In my younger years I automatically assumed that if I did something myself it was the quickest and best way to get anything done. I didn’t understand how working through people allowed you to do more and amplified your reach…

… I gradually came to understand the difference between management and leadership and that my job (as a leader) was to set very high standards, to help everyone believe they could do things they didn’t think they were capable of, to chart a course that hadn’t been pursued before and make everyone understand that the impossible was possible.”

RELATED: How to delegate when you’ve always done everything yourself

4. Development

Having a growth mind-set is key to sustainable leadership. If you and your people don’t continue to grow as the business grows there will come a stage where the business has out grown your capabilities.

Making time to be coached and to coach your people so that they develop and grow creating the space for you to grow is vital. This means that you all stay relevant and motivated and can make an even bigger contribution to the business as it grows. Ask yourself:

  • How often you take the time to praise your people when they do well?
  • How often do you help them to find their own solutions to their problems rather than telling them what you would do?

5. Engagement

As a leader you need to take people on the journey with you in such a way that they feel they have played their part and that the outcome is one of mutual success. Ask yourself:

  • Who influences the success of your business/your success?
  • Who is affected by the success of your business/your success?
  • What would success look like for them?
  • How can we collaborate to ensure that we both achieve success?

In this way you will create enduring relationships that bring long term success.

6. Change

Change is a constant in the 21st Century so learning to lead change in yourself and others is a key leadership skill for you to develop.

People imitate leaders, so managing yourself through the change and being the change you want to see is a vital first step.

Change is emotional. It is often seen as a threat so people go into fight, flight or freeze and many employees will resist change. Your job as a leader is to connect with them at an emotional level and help them to identify their own reasons as to why the change is necessary. Storytelling is a really effective way to engage people with change and to help them identify their part in the change story.

So as your business grows, ask yourself if you are stuck doing too much or are you creating the time to be a great leader who ensures sustainable success for all concerned?

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Sue Coyne, author of Stop Doing, Start Leading – How to Shift from Doing the Work Yourself to Becoming a Great Leader, available from Amazon, priced £15.99.

More on leading and growing your business

ByteStart is packed with help and tips on all aspects of starting and growing your own business. Some of our most popular guides include;

Leading your business

Going for growth

Motivating your staff

Funding your business

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