Take a look at the most successful businesses around the world and leadership tops the list of the reasons why they are successful. And this applies to businesses of all sizes, including solopreneurs who are going at it alone.
Whether you are responsible just for yourself or others, knowing what makes a great leader will serve you and the people that work for you well into the future.
Paula Jenkins, founder and CEO of LFS Consulting, identifies the traits of good leadership and how you can achieve them.
Who is the Best Kind of Leader?
Jenkins says, “The best kind of leaders raise their hand and say, I need help. Let me just say that one more time. The best kind of leaders are the ones who raise their hands and say they need help.”
And for some of us, it takes us a little bit longer to do that. And I think that’s really hard. But the moment you do and you start recognizing, wow, the help that comes is really helping me, that’s the game changer in your business. And it’s hard.
How Does This Apply to Small Businesses?
Shawn Hessinger: A lot of small business owners, and particularly solopreneurs may not think of themselves as leaders because they know their thing, they know their niche or whatever they’re getting into. So, I’m wondering, why is leadership important in small business? Like, why is it important for you to think about this initially?
Paula Jenkins: Yeah, it’s a great question so often because we don’t think about it. We don’t understand the correlation between our success and how to sustain our business. And that’s where the leadership part comes in, is how you lead your business, how you lead the finances of your business, how you lead your social media. I think a lot of times we think of that leadership piece as a person. It’s a team, it’s a group, it’s an organization.
The leadership piece is also just how you run the business, how you show up, how you lead your brand, and how you lead your product or your service. So that leadership piece is critical because you do want to make sure that you show up in a way that’s going to sustain your business and grow your business.
Shawn Hessinger: What would you say is a good definition of leadership?
Paula Jenkins: Leadership is about influencing that’s what it’s about and whether that is guiding people or thoughts, whatever you want to call their actions, their behaviors. Leadership is truly about the influence that you have on someone, somebody, some team. That’s really what it comes down to.
We could have lots of other words that we can add in, but at the end of the day, you are influencing somebody, period. And so, for me, leadership is influencing or guiding other people when it comes to their actions when it comes to their behaviors. That to me is leadership.
What Does a Leader Look Like?
Shawn Hessinger: When you think about leaders, maybe a lot of people have a vision in their head of what a leader is supposed to be like. When we talk about leadership there are different types and styles of leadership, aren’t there?
Paula Jenkins: Yes, there are. I call myself a servant leader. That to me is who I am and how I show up. And it’s really important for me to show up as a servant leader when I am leading. It is not about me, it is about others. It’s about meeting people where they are. It is about really making sure that the work gets done. But it’s never about me, never has been about me.
Then you also have other leaders where it may be very transactional, but it is about getting it done. And in some cases, you may need that.
Figuring Out the Kind of Leader You Are
Shawn Hessinger: I don’t know if it’s discovering the kind I am or if it’s deciding what I want to be. How do I go about doing that? I mean, how do I go about figuring out what kind of leader I am?
Paula Jenkins: It will take time. I think it is the environment you are put in. I think it is the situation that you’re put in, the people that you are leaving and leading, the people that are surrounding you and what is needed.
A lot of times what we don’t understand is depending upon the situation, the environment, and people’s personalities, you have to show up in a different way. And that doesn’t mean again, I’m always talking about it’s not about good, bad or indifferent. It is what is needed at the time.
What are the Qualities of a Leader?
Shawn Hessinger: You also see when you look up what are the elements of leadership, and people look at those lists and they say, gee, I don’t have those personality types, or I’m worried, I don’t have those personality types. But do we really know? What are some of the things that might indicate that you’re a good leader?
Paula Jenkins: Well, here’s what I will tell you. For me, everything begins and ends with communication. So when I immediately think about leadership it is honestly we have to start with how we communicate. Now some of us are really great communicators, some of us have work to do and some of us are not as good. I recognize that. But communication is key.
How we communicate with our teams, with our people, and with our investors, all that is important. That one to me is the most important element. But there are others. Yes, it’s how you care, it’s empathy. We have to be able to be empathetic. I’m also really big on emotional intelligence and understanding, our self-awareness and self-regulation, our motivation, all those types of things. But I will always say it absolutely starts with how we communicate.
Jenkins says, “I am really big on feedback and I think it’s really important to ask for it. I don’t shy away from it. I’ve said for years, probably decades, if you don’t tell me what I’m doing well I may not continue doing it, if you don’t tell me what I’m not doing so well, I might continue to do it.”
So part of it is also understanding what’s working in the environment that you’re leaning, what’s working for the people that you’re leading. That is an important piece of leadership. And so how we find out who we are, we can ask. That’s not a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing.
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