Becoming a great leader takes time, but it's certainly not impossible. According to Phil Eastman II, partner at Boise, Idaho-based Leadership Advisors Group and author of The Character of Leadership: An Ancient Model for a Quantum Age, anyone can become a great leader by following four basic steps:
Step 1: Distinguish between ‘manager’ and ‘leader’
According to Eastman, managing is different than leading. Managers control business processes and make sure things are running smoothly. Leadership, on the other hand, is about “moving the people,” he says. Since most small businesses have a small upper-level staff, it is essential for small business owners to be competent in both leading and managing.
“An example of a management competency would be setting up a budget,” Eastman notes. “But an example of a leadership competency would be deciding which markets to take advantage of and what other opportunities are out there. It is about inspiring your people and giving them the tools to do a better job.
“Leadership drives an organization over the long run. You could be a very effective manager and still have an organization that fails.”
Step 2: Define the necessary competencies for your organization
Since every organization has a different set of needs, Eastman recommends, “Small business owners sit down and determine what competencies they need to demonstrate to be effective within their organization.”
“For example, let’s say you love to bake cupcakes and decide to open a cupcake store,” Eastman says. “Pretty soon, you have three cupcake stores. Now you are no longer a baker, you are a leader of an organization. What do you need to learn to become a better leader?”
First, find out where your strengths lie by asking employees and customers what virtues they perceive in you, he advises. “Also, try taking online leadership assessments and reading books on leadership.”
(A few great books include The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You by John C. Maxwell and Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don’t by Jim Collins.)
Step 3: Engage
Once you’ve decided what leadership competencies you’d like to work on, Eastman suggests sharing your development plan with your team. “Leadership never happens in a vacuum,” he says. “Pick one or two things per year that you want to work on. Then, your team can hold you accountable for your new behaviors and encourage you along the way.”
This is a difficult concept for a lot of business owners. Should a leader be transparent and share his/her struggles and goals with a team? Eastman says Yes, that transparency enhances leadership.
Step 4: Check in
After about a year of working on the one or two leadership competencies, check back in with yourself and your team to see how you’ve progressed. “Leadership development is a lifelong pursuit; you never arrive,” Eastman says, adding that it is important to move on to additional competencies after a few have been fulfilled.
“It is very encouraging for employees to see their leader working on getting better at leadership. The better the leader gets, the more an organization can grow.”