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How to Manage Your Business Your Way and Succeed

Motivated employees.

"Delegate, don’t abdicate.”

“Provide clear guidance, but don’t micro-manage.”

“Be proactive, don’t react.”

These are just some of the myriad Google results for “small business leadership,” part of a seemingly endless list of articles touting advice on how to be the perfect leader. LinkedIn is also home to countless tips on how to delegate, how to build a constructive team culture, and how to get ahead of the daily grind. Sometimes this advice can be spot-on, and other times it can seem conflicted, especially if you prefer a different leadership and management style. How can you manage your business your way and succeed?

Scientific research shows a business owner's leadership style can impact performance throughout an organization. Consequently, succeeding as a small business leader starts with a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your leadership style. By bringing awareness to your preferred approach, you can better tailor your style to meet your team’s day-to-day needs and your company’s big-picture goals.

Broadly speaking, there are three main leadership styles: do, tell and watch.

Do - “Do leaders” model their preferred actions and lead by example. They don’t spend a lot of time up front explaining how a problem needs to be solved. Instead, they jump right in and expect their team to do the same, learning as they go.

  • Pros: This style of leadership can work well when the team is already motivated, skilled and aligned toward a clear goal. Team members feel empowered to take initiative and enjoy broad autonomy.
  • Cons: “Do leaders” can become frustrated if the team can’t keep pace or frequently asks for clarification. Team members may feel like they’re constantly guessing at the best approach and don’t receive enough guidance, making it difficult to hit performance goals.

Tell - “Tell leaders” provide detailed instructions up front with clear best practice examples. They may not get down in the trenches with the team, but they do expect frequent status updates.

  • Pros: Employees have a clear roadmap for success: they know exactly what they need to do and how to do it to hit performance goals.
  • Cons: “Tell leaders” who are hyper-engaged have a tendency to micro-manage and get lost in the details, alienating employees who crave autonomy. Conversely, “tell leaders” who are disengaged can abdicate responsibility once they’ve issued their team’s marching orders, failing to provide employees with sufficient feedback.

Watch - “Watch leaders” assess every situation carefully before moving forward. They prioritize input and collaboration, preferring to move forward only when consensus is achieved.

  • Pros: A “watch leader” who is skilled at consensus building can foster strong team bonds and buy-in to the company’s mission, which is important for small businesses.
  • Cons: Employees can become frustrated and lose confidence in leadership if their manager is “all talk and no action” or unable to make tough decisions.

With pros and cons for every approach, there is no single “correct” leadership style. In fact, many small business leaders find their style is a combination of these different approaches that they tailor to situational needs. Sometimes they need to get down in the trenches with the team to meet a tight deadline or tough client. Other times, it’s better to take a step back, offering strategy and directional guidance and then letting employees fill in the blanks with the process that works best for them. What matters most is that you can bring awareness to your management style, corresponding behaviors, and default tendencies. As your company grows, your management approach may need to evolve as well. By understanding your core leadership style, you'll be prepared to meet these evolving needs.


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