Sam* is a typical small business owner. He works hard and has built up a stable business over the last several years. He’s entrepreneurial and creative in his ideas. He is enthusiastic about taking his small business beyond the local area. He even has identified potential new markets both regionally and nationally that his new product would be perfect for. But…there is a lurking issue that could stagnate his business. He’s a pre-leader.
What are the signs of being a pre-leader?
# 1. The plan is in your head.
Confusion and a lack of clear communication frustrates people. If no one knows what or where the business is going, it is likely you will meet with resistance. Sam knows what has to be done and the general deadlines but he hasn’t written his strategic plan down or explained his plans with his staff.
# 2. Doing everything yourself.
Sure, sometimes it is easier to do it yourself. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are spending your time on the right stuff. Think of it this way, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.
In Sam’s case, he is used to be the one to do the administrative tasks, design and build the product, serve customers and conduct the sales and marketing. He is wasting the talent of his staff by not delegating some of the work to them.
# 3. You haven’t eliminated your bad habits or old negative thinking patterns.
This happens to a lot of business owners when they’re on the cusp of a growth phase. It falls under the Marshall Goldsmith’s “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. It’s funny how a habit like procrastination or our old insecurities pop up when we’re rising to the top.
And yet, these old behaviours and thinking habits can alienate you from your staff, yourself and make it so much harder than it has to be. When Sam gets overwhelmed with the demands on his time and energy, he has a tendency to procrastinate. He knows it. He just hasn’t figured out how to get out of his own way yet.
It’s both a lack of focus and over-focus
Sam is at risk of doing things reactively. He knows what needs to be done to foster this growth stage of his company. That’s where he is entirely focused. He’s meeting new contacts that will facilitate getting the product to the right people.
He is even exploring how to use social media and setting up press releases to get noticed by more traditional media. The lack of focus comes in when he acts with a the mindset of “with a hope and a prayer” that things will work out because of the years of preparation.
Pre-leadership is limiting lots of small businesses
There are so many experts on leadership and they point to the same thing. Increasing your self-understanding and learning to take the sky view of your business is essential to effective leadership. Whether you buy into John Kotter’s approach or the Center for Creative Leadership, there are leadership development is worth learning and practicing.
Sam isn’t wrong or even way off base. He simply has only half of the picture. As your business grows, it becomes more clear that you are really taking on the role of managing director (or CEO, if you prefer).
What are some other signs of a pre-leader? How can you increase your comfort level with taking on the more sophisticated role of leader in your small business?
*Name and details have been changed.