Cash flow, funding and sales projections are the things that entrepreneurs focus on to get their businesses up and running. Added to this list should be an often overlooked priority: people.
A leadership vacuum results when a commitment to employee engagement or enhancing leadership skills isn’t on one’s radar. In my 15 years as a business consultant, I have found that most problems are people problems and without a strong leader, these can put a business out of business. Here are three ways you can avoid a leadership vacuum.
1. Be decisive. When we are indecisive, we inadvertently put our employees in charge. When this happens, they could take your company in potentially lethal directions: products and processes that waste money, squandered customer loyalty and an erosion of any competitive advantage. A strong leader knows it’s important to make decisions in a thoughtful but timely way. This allows for employees to trust your leadership and have confidence in the future of the company. If you can’t make a timely decision; don’t dodge it, make it known you will address the issue at a later date.
If you can’t be physically present, make sure everyone knows who’s next in the chain of command. I was at a luncheon with the owner of a small mini-mart when he was asked who was minding the store to which he responded, “No one; I can’t afford a manager.” Don’t be ambiguous with your team. Send a message loud and clear that you are the one in charge, even when you can’t physically be there.
2. Circumvent hidden agendas. Everyone has a hidden agenda that likely governs their intentions and behavior. When your employees’ agendas are not aligned with company or team goals, it can cause problems. Take for example a sales person who just wants to get a bigger commission and doesn’t really care about how or when the product gets shipped or if the company gets paid. What happens when a waitperson only cares about their tips and not the restaurants viability? Their hidden agendas may supersede those of the company.
Strong leaders ensure that employee’s personal goals align with those of the business starting at the point of hire. Profile assessment tools like DISC or Myers Briggs can help you determine if the potential employee is a good fit. And by reviewing these on an annual basis you ensure everyone remains aligned. I once had an employee who decided she really wanted to go into nursing. We would have never discovered this if we had not been doing this work. She would have been miserable if she stayed with us and it would have showed in her work.
3. Stifle workplace gossip. Workplace gossip can undermine innovation, productivity, creativity and camaraderie. It can also destroy relationships and careers and cause higher turnover rates. When employees gossip about customers or fellow employees, it can jeopardize a company’s image and reputation. When there is a strong leader, everyone is on the same page and works toward the same end. Strong teams support each other and show respect for themselves and their customers.
Fostering this type of environment starts with the business culture you set. You will need to be a role model for the behavior that you want your employees to imitate, so no derogatory statements about customers or employees to anyone by anyone in the upper ranks. Another way to bring this about is by being transparent. When you do encounter gossip, bring all the employees together and deal with it out in the open to allay any concerns. This also confirms to the group that gossip isn’t acceptable and won’t be tolerated.
If you own a business or are planning to start one, it’s important to spend some time developing your leadership skills. A good coach or business roundtable with your peers can help you find out your strengths and address your weaknesses. Being a strong leader may take a bit of work on your part, but knowing how to engage your employees is crucial to the overall success of your business.
OPEN Cardmember Pamela R. Bauer, E.A. is the President/CEO of Abacus & Co of NY Inc.; an accounting and business consulting company out of Rochester, NY for small businesses. You can visit her blog “The Business Beacon” at www.abacusandco.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.