How to be a leader for your small business
Pop quiz: Are you more of a leader or a manager in your business?
When you’re a solopreneur, you’re the CEO, the janitor, and everyone in between. It’s hard to think of yourself as being a leader because the only person you’re leading is yourself. Yet simply managing the day-to-day of your business isn’t going to set you up for growth and success. You need to look at your business through a different lens if you want to achieve the vision that made you go into business in the first place.
How should you juggle all these hats?
I was recently rereading one of my favorite books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and came to the part where the author talks about the difference between leadership and management. He says:
“Management is bottom-line focused: how can I accomplish certain things? Leadership deals with the top line: what are the things I want to accomplish?”
Usually, when we think of managers and leaders, we think of large companies, but as I read this for the umpteenth time, it finally dawned on me that the exact same thing is happening inside of my business where I need to be both the manager AND the leader. And actually, some of my biggest struggles in business have been a result of not realizing the difference nor giving myself the tools to take on each role at the appropriate time.
Manager vs. Leader: What’s the Difference?
In the words of Peter Drucker, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
Leaders instill their vision in others and motivate them to take ownership of their part. People believe in the leader and what they’re trying to accomplish, and they willingly work toward those same goals.
A great manager, on the other hand, is tasked with making it happen. They don’t come up with the vision, but they use the vision to guide them on execution. Great managers can manage schedules and budgets, oversee productivity, and even resolve conflict. These are very important aspects of any business, and I dare you to find a business that isn’t thriving with good managers in place.
But as entrepreneurs, we must be both leaders AND managers in our business, and that can get confusing. Since these roles require two different skill sets, finding your weakness in one of these roles may be the key to your business’ future success.
The Dangers of Choosing Sides
In my case, I spent years stuck in the “manager” role trying to build an agency that I ultimately didn’t even want! I knew I wanted a business that gave me freedom in my life, but without thinking like a leader, and only like a manager, I defaulted to building a big business that looked like everybody else’s.
This led to a lot of hustle and hard work that, in retrospect, wasn’t getting me closer to my goal of freedom. I was working harder and harder to land bigger clients to increase my revenue to hire more people. If the goal was freedom, I was going in the opposite direction as I became more and more enslaved to my employee’s payroll, my overhead, and my need to bring in an ever-increasing revenue.
It was only when I took a step back and approached the business from a leadership perspective that I realized that my ultimate goal, freedom, could be achieved without all the hassle and annoyance of building a team and getting huge clients with lots of people involved in each project to manage.
Only when I put on my leadership hat did I realize that I didn’t want a huge agency at all—I just wanted a business that gave me freedom! And because I had been thinking like a manager, I assumed that meant building a large business.
With my leadership hat on, I took a step back and built a vision for myself and my business, and it looked very different from the agency I was building. Then, only after that vision was created, I put my manager hat back on to make it happen.
If I had stayed in leadership-thinking and left my managerial duties to rot, I wouldn’t have actually made it happen! When you are your own business, if you spend all your time in leadership-thinking mode, you’ll spend way too much time thinking and dreaming without the follow-through (a common pitfall for creative, visionary thinkers). When you are your business, you delegate the execution to the manager side of the business, which is also you.
My business took a 180 in the right direction when I realized I needed to consciously wear both hats at different times: I needed to schedule time to step back and figure out the big picture of what I wanted and how to get there strategically, and then focus at other times on making it happen.
How to Strike the Manager-Leader Balance
Perhaps this is why most people aren’t cut out to be entrepreneurs: to be successful, you must be able to move back and forth between these two very different roles. We need to execute well to make sure our business runs smoothly, but at the same time, we must constantly be asking ourselves if we are executing based on a bigger vision and whether it even makes sense.
It’s an exhausting tennis match that never seems to end, and more often than not, people end up heavily favoring one side and either get stuck mindlessly executing a plan that lacks the clarity of vision (like I did), or stuck with way too many ideas with a difficult time following through (which is what a lot of my creative clients experience).
Because I am naturally a doer, I ended up wasting a ton of time executing, checking boxes off my to-do list daily, without the results I wanted. I would go to networking events and have coffee dates with dozens of people each week and feel accomplished, even though, in retrospect, it was a complete waste of time because I was pitching the wrong services to the wrong people because I lacked a vision.
When I started thinking like a leader, it allowed me to realize that I could have the freedom I dreamed of MUCH sooner, and without the headache, by building a different kind of business. So that’s what I did: I changed course and built a small but mighty and profitable branding company with just me and my partner doing very high-end and highly profitable work for very small businesses, thus achieving my ultimate goal with much less effort. One of the most important steps in that effort was to figure out what I needed to charge in order to actually be profitable, the “Price to Freedom” as I like to call it. Finding out my price to freedom changed everything, and that knowledge has been the guiding factor in all my business decisions since.
Put on your leadership hat to build the vision and map out the 50,000-foot view of how to get there, and then put on your manager hat to execute as efficiently as possible without getting lost in daydreams along the way (and outsource the janitorial work as soon as possible!).
This has helped me to become a better “doer” in my business to get things done the way they should be and maximize my time. It’s also allowed me to set an example for my clients to follow while they master the leader-manager song-and-dance.