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.”

Giles, HBR.org

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.”

Giles, HBR.org

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.”

Giles, HBR.org

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.”

Giles, HBR.org

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.

Austin Business Owners Need to Take a Deeper Dive

Learn how to move your leadership team to 2.0

Jim Collins, 20 years ago in 2001 wrote “Good to Great” with his focus on getting the right people on the bus in the right seats. In his new book, BE 2.0, he takes a deeper dive into turning your business into an Enduring Great Company. As we all know, it starts with you the CEO, Business Owner or Senior Executive.

Here’s my #1 Question for May (since I am reading Jim Collins BE 2.0) that my Vistage members and coaching clients are into taking a deeper dive.

“What percentage of your “key seats” in your company are filled with the right people for those seats?”

Question for member leaders in May 2021

Collins says if less than 90% then that should be your #1 priority in 2021.

Here’s the rest of the story…

What makes a “key seat” on a leadership team?

  1. The person in that seat has the power to make significant people decisions
  2. Failure in that seat could expose the entire company to significant risk
  3. Success in the seat would have a significant impact on the company success

Hear a little more from Jim in his introduction of the book.

Which of the following two categories of mistakes have you more frequently made?

Category 1. In retrospect, you waited too long before you acted to move the person out of the key seat.

Category 2. In retrospect, you acted to quickly and you should have been more patient.

Making leadership changes requires reflection & discussion

How do you know when you’ve crossed the demarcation line, when it’s time to make the shift from “develop to “replace” for a key seat?

  1. Are you beginning to lose other people by keeping this person in the seat?
  2. Do you have a values problem, a will problem or a skills problem?
  3. What’s the person’s relationship to the window and the mirror?
  4. Does the person seek work as a job or a responsibility?
  5. Has your confidence in the person gone uip or down in the past year?
  6. Do you have a bus problem or a seat problem?

Moving from your 1.0 to 2.0 is your 2021 focus … imagine that there’s a 3.0 and a 4.0 for some of you. What if you could…

  1. Learn how to hire great people and meld them into a cohesive team
  2. Learn than culture does not merely support strategy, culture is strategy
  3. Learn how to hire for values and temperament not just smarts and experience
  4. Learn how and when to delegate and when not to
  5. Learn how to hold your unit leaders accountable for keeping culture vibrant
  6. Learn how to make wise decisions that reduce short-term profits for the sake of long-term greatness
  7. Learn how to stay calm and mitigate your impulse to take control from your people when things go wrong
  8. Learned how to confront organizational threats by moving outside the company to cultivate mentors

Vistage Peer Advisory Groups have this purpose in mind.

We bring accountability, ownership, honestly, caring, growth, challenge and work/life balance into your lives.

Find yourself a coach and have your coach make you the best you can be.

Econ Recon: Strategy for Austin CEOs & Business Owners


The Sugar High Economy:   “Mix extremely loose monetary policy, a federal government cutting checks like it’s going out of style, and extensive roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines, and what do you get?

Answer: Some really strong economic data.  The problem is that this rapid growth, like a “sugar high,” is not going to last.”  So begins a one page recap of the major drivers of the economy by economist Dr. Brian Wesbury with a warning that the economy has much further to go to reach a full recovery.´ Check out his thoughts on “The Sugar High Economy.”

New!! Economic Recovery Tracker:    It’s been that said the “liars will figure but figures don’t lie.”  The 24 news cycle creates a lot of negative noise regarding the economy which clouds the meaning of what little data they actually provide. Dr. Brian Wesbury has begun offering a one page recap featuring several metrics that provide data about the post Covid economy.  Check out his Recovery Tracker.

“Plan with Confidence”  Brian Beaulieu of ITR Economics reminds us “The consumer drives the economy.” The consumer is strong currently and  Mr. Beaulieu believes the data shows there’s “dry powder” in the form of savings that will continue to drive it going forward. 

Check out his recent blog post Surging Sales.  which Mr. Beaulieu feels should allow you to “Plan with Confidence.”

And if you need to talk about your business outlook, let’s connect over coffee.