Make Time to Reflect on Leadership Qualities for Small Business Results

Just over 5 years ago, Dr. Sunnie Giles shared her thoughts on leadership competencies via her HBR article, The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World. Since most businesses are moving from defense to offense, I thought her article’s content was worth revisiting as we reopen our offices, return to water coolers and re-engage our customers and clients in person.

As a SMB owner, pay close attention to her 5 themes and scorecard your company. Consider doing a 360, and then have your leadership team do as well. 

Coming out of the dark side of Covid-19 and being remote for 15 months, it’s time to assess how aligned is your team today as we look around the corner and be the best we can be.

The qualities of an effective leader

What makes an effective leader? The study led by Ms. Giles grouped the responses of 196 global leaders into categories with these 5 characteristics rising to the top. 

  • Ethics and safety
  • Self organizing
  • Efficient learning
  • Nurtures growth
  • Connection and belonging

“Taken together, these attributes are all about creating a safe and trusting environment.”


What are the qualities you and your leadership team possess that will foster a trusting environment where all employees feel safe?  

As Giles highlights, your personal ethics are your north star, and it’s important to revisit these regularly. My members and I find these topics rise up in our discussions at least once a year. 

We explore questions like, 

  • How should I hold my employees more accountable?
  • How can I improve effective and time sensitive inter-department communication?

Your role as a leader is to ensure there is no feeling of fear. The team can lose their productivity and focus if they are worried about letting people down, or worse.

Giles calls it “Clearing the air”, others may see it as part of their “open door” culture. It’s important to outwardly and explicitly communicate to all team members how your culture addresses problems and learns from mistakes. Then facilitate and invite the openness that will create a sense of security. 

CEOs and the challenge of relinquishing power

It’s probably the most common personal challenge I have seen among business owners in my 15 years as a Vistage Chair and CEO coach. Delegating. Letting go. Sharing the responsibilities. Trusting the leadership team. All of it is part of the internal power struggle.

Good news is there is a scientific explanation for why leaders fear letting go of control. It is linked to the fight or flight response we all have built into our brains. Giles suggests there are ways to retrain this response to be more relaxed to help leaders empower others, and embrace delegating responsibilities. 

“To overcome the fear of relinquishing power, start by increasing awareness of physical tension that arises when you feel your position is being challenged.”


Leaders get stymied in their ability to grow, and then they wonder why their leadership team isn’t doing more. It tends to link back to some level of not being able to let go of control.

In our meetings, we explore these feelings and the specific situations where they arise, and it normally can be resolved through openness and communicating with your leadership team. As Giles suggests, putting the biggest fear out in the open – of you not having control – empowers your leadership team to know exactly how to act to earn your trust and demonstrate their competencies. 

It’s very difficult to grow year-over-year if you are focused on “in” the business vs. “on” the business. Is most of your time in the weeds or looking around the corner out there 6, 12 or 18 months?

Creating connections, nurturing growth

In my experience, the ability to connect with people is what makes a great sales person, and can lead to what makes a great leader as well. Think about it — How do people make you feel valued?

It’s about remembering birthdays or family members’ names, and asking about a person’s special interest, demonstrates genuine interest in the human, not just their work. When we as humans feel valued, we are going to open up and respond with equal interest.  

“From a neuroscience perspective, creating connection is a leader’s second most important job.”


It is not surprising then, that these are the characteristics reflected in the chart above. Combining the ability to connect with a nurturing approach of taking an interest in each employee’s personal growth will naturally develop loyalty and a sense of belonging.

In our monthly meetings we sometimes take a deeper dive in the value of weekly and, or monthly 1-to-1s with our key direct reports. We focus on asking, “Are we consistent with what’s important, what’s not? Are we aligning their work product with company goals?”

Fostering a culture of learning and openness

My take away from this section is very simple. Are you truly committed to growth, support taking risks, and support sharing ideas? Our psyche makes this difficult, but plenty of leaders have proven it is possible. AND, more importantly, that it is worth it. 

“Researchers have found that reduced blood flow to our brains under threat reduces peripheral vision, ostensibly so we can deal with the immediate danger.”


If the team is operating under stress, they may miss the next big idea. 

Encourage testing says Giles. Build in small steps for mistakes through A/B testing, supporting experimentation and controlling the impact at the same time. 

Hopefully you have had time to do some personal reflection in the past 15 months. Perhaps you have even identified a personal growth area for yourself. These findings from 5 years ago are still relevant today. It’s an opportunity to get back to the core of what you can do as a leader, and what your leadership team can achieve together. 

I wish you well and continued successes. And, if you find yourself in need of an outside perspective, please reach out.

Published by edstillman

I grew up in Carlsbad, north San Diego County, lost my dad as a teenager, went into the USAF for four years and hired on with 3M in 1969. Received my AA from Santa Barbara City College, BA and Masters from Redlands University and after 33 plus years, I retired from 3M in 2002. As I look back on my life, I have been creating myself and developing my skill sets to be a business coach and a Vistage Chair. I am president of SEOT, a "personal improvement" consulting firm spending most of my time working with Central Texas executives running small to medium size for-profit companies who are focusing on improving their profitability greater than their competition. My area of interest is assisting senior executives in creating a better balance between business commitments and personal relationships. I also facilatate three leadership labs each consisting of a dozen owners, presidents and CEOs. We meet monthly both in a group setting as well as in a 1-to-1 coaching session. Our focus is to sharpen each others' skills in becoming better leaders, making better decisions and taking ourselves and companies to that next level. Who are we? My members are experienced top executives who recognize that they don’t have all the answers and who actively seek the company of successful peers—both to give and receive insights and ideas. My members mine the 200 plus years of chief executive experience that comes together in our monthly meetings and members are eager to offer their own experience and insights in the process. As a group, we spend our time exploring topics members can't discuss anywhere else. My members have many other places where they can engage in idle, "cocktail party" chatter. Our mission is to provide the setting for discussing the "undiscussable." Where or who can you go to for confidential, honest feedback to assist you in minimizing your personal "Worry List"?