Top 5 Leadership Traits Unique to Small Business Leaders

January 23, 2019 | Roger and Susie Engelau

Leading a small to medium size business is different than leading in a big company. When you’re in the upper ranks of a large corporation, you have resources, responsibility can be diffused, and you’re working to influence through multiple layers which means getting things done can take longer.

When you’re the top of a small to mid-size company, there is no diffusion of responsibility. It all rests with you. You probably gave birth to the company. You built it, knew it when it was finding its place in the marketplace, brought good people in to help, and you can probably do most of the jobs. You’ve experienced it from both the doer’s and the leader’s viewpoints.

As a small business leader, It’s leadership in a more intimate setting. Many decisions can be made by you, communicated, and the organization responds immediately. You can turn the ship quickly when needed.

Leadership traits unique to small business leaders

You’re focused on both strategy and operations. You’re probably more tolerant of seeming chaos. You have more risk tolerance than your counterparts in large companies. Your entrepreneurial spirit means you know what it’s like to live hand-to-mouth. You’re closer to the market and feel its changes more quickly.

On the downside, you feel the market’s disturbances more keenly. You don’t have onsite resources. When your laptop freezes, no one’s popping over from the IT department to fix it in 15 minutes. You don’t have a marketing whiz you can turn to for advice or an amazing customer service professional who can soothe an upset customer—you’re probably handling that. You’re probably outsourcing more of these expertises so it takes longer to get service.

These differences in environments leads to differences in the leadership required. We identified the leadership traits unique to small business leaders because with your limited resources, you need to know where to focus your time.

Leadership is leadership, yet the length of many leadership programs is impractical for small to mid-size business owners. And often, the content, methods, and case studies are geared more for the large corporate middle, senior, or executive leader. It makes sense to know which ones are most important for you and your more intimate leadership setting.

Here are top 5 leadership traits unique to small business leaders.

Influence the future

John Maxwell said, “Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less. Your role is to execute change in the organization. This means that a decent amount of your time is involved at a grassroots level, letting people know what the change means to them, what adjustments they need to make personally and professionally, and what the future looks like if they make the change successful. Whether the change is a new procedure, schedule, structure, initiative, product, etc., you want to have these kinds of conversations so that people can fully embrace and execute the change.

Be the keeper of the vision/your WHY

Once you create a vision that fits with the culture, you should work with everyone in the company to help them understand it. You want to help them understand what their role is in achieving the vision, how they fit within the culture, and how they’re going to go about playing the game between now and the time when the vision is achieved. Included is the need to catch people doing it well and praising them and giving them feedback when they’re not doing it well.

Become a constraint remover and a roadblock destroyer

Keep things always moving forward. As the leader you’ve got control of the resources, you understand the bigger picture, and you have the power to make adjustments in the status quo. When you see your people get bogged down, you want to be the one to recognize that and help them find a way to resolve it or move forward. I recently facilitated a leadership team meeting for a business owner where each department head went around the table and told what they needed in order to make their growth goals a reality. The operations department head didn’t have enough resources to fulfill the businesses growth goal and they were able to walk out of the meeting with those resources identified.

Be the Evangelist

Get out into the marketplace with customers, suppliers, competitors, industry groups, community groups, and government agencies and ask great questions & absorb, absorb, absorb! The idea is that you’re interacting with these stakeholders, trying to get a sense of where the market’s going, macro and micro trends, so you know how to take advantage or avoid any negatives associated with those trends. One business owner recently found out that one of the products was not being accepted in the hospital side of the business so he had a heart to heart with the suppler to make the necessary adjustments. It also helped the supplier go about become more competitive.

Master Clear and Actionable Communication

Clear and actionable involves understanding concepts deeply so you can communicate them, listening, finding the right words, and speaking with genuineness and transparency. In a small to mid-size business you can talk directly with a critical mass of your employees so if your message is both crystal clear and always ends with an actionable next step, you’ve got a powerful combination where everyone is moving the organization forward most all the time.

Communication allows you to be a strong leader, to understand constraints, to communicate the culture so that people are comfortable, that engages constituents in the marketplace e. i.e. the primary tool of the L is communication. All the things above involve communications…

In the small to mid-size business, YOU are the primary person who must be in touch with sometimes the most minute details. It’s much more a contact sport than it is at the corporate level. We know these top 5 leadership traits unique to small business leaders is the key to your leadership success.