Leading from the front – Why we don’t do it and how we can start afresh

Many of us start our businesses because we don’t like being told what to do by the boss. Instead, we decide to do it for ourselves. Then we get staff and suddenly we forget. We start telling our staff what to do.

We’ve become the boss, immediately ignoring everything we learned previously.

And everything our boss said about us when we were young and foolish; we now say about our people (whether they’re young and foolish or not). The problem is, as soon as you develop the habit of telling your people what to do, you’ve become enslaved by the business, and you are not leading effectively!

You’ve stopped them from thinking for themselves. You’ve stifled their initiative and trapped yourself into doing all the thinking for them. No freedom, time or headspace is left for you! No thinking about or working ON the business – you are too busy working in it.

So how do we regain a sense of perspective, change our mindset and start to lead from the front?  It takes a bit of effort – but it’s worth it.

First – Define why you are in business:

  • What is your goal for the business? – Should it grow big? How profitable? Will it be well known? What profile should it have? Which customers should it serve? What makes it special? When will these goals be a reality? This is your “mission statement” to use a bit of jargon.
  • Define the values around those goals – what are the culture and ethics of the business? How will you treat (and be seen by) customers, staff, suppliers, competitors, the public and the environment?
    • What are your personal goals? What do you want for your future? How long till you exit the business? And how will you do that? Is your exit organised and planned? How much money will you need? And how do your personal goals tie in with the business goals you‘ve just defined?

DO ALL THIS IN WRITING! It may be a chore, but it works much better. If you prefer – use mind mapping or creative planning techniques. This can be done on the computer or freehand, but get it down on paper!

Secondly – do a reality check on your current business

Compare it to the mission and values you’ve just defined. You may need external help to do this from an advisor or trusted confidante. Because you may be too close to see it clearly.

A full staff and customer survey, conducted by a third party, can help a great deal in this stage.

Then work out what needs to change

Open the discussion to your staff.  Call a team conference with all your people. Let them know the results of the staff and customer surveys. Restate the goals and mission and let them know your ideas for what needs to change. Most importantly, let them know what commitment to change you’ve made.

You’ll find your team wants more feedback from you, so start a simple performance appraisal programme.  They’ll want more communication. You can start a simple newsletter. You may use the same template for your customers and suppliers.

They’ll want to be part of the decision making. Start a management group and give them real input into key decisions.

Practice open book management with key staff. We recommend you share the Profit and Loss and debtors and creditors each month (your balance sheet is your private business). You’ll find a huge response and a lot of suggestions.  It will boost the drive to increase sales and reduce costs as a result.

Play fair – don’t rush out and buy that new car for yourself as soon as the business starts making a serious improvement. Give a bonus (whether cash or non-cash) to your key staff to share the good fortune. Your new car can come later.

Open up a discussion about succession, personal growth and authority with key staff. Do they want to be part of the business in future? Clarify their goals and aspirations. Layout a roadmap for their future. A good starting point is often a virtual shareholding arrangement.

What success looks like

Suddenly, you are leading from the front. Your people know:

      • where the business is going
      • what values and tools you’ll use to get there
      • what the future holds for them
      • and what your long term plans and timeline might be.

Now they’ve got something to follow, and goals to achieve because you are leading from the front.

You don’t have to tell them what to do any more or chase them to do it. You are on the way to achieving freedom.  It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen!

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