5 Leadership Lessons From Successful Small-Business Owners

Successful leaders offer their best tips for effective communication and creating a healthy company culture.
February 15, 2012

No two businesses and industries are alike, but successful leadership principles are largely universal. So, learn by emulating what successful business owners and leaders have done to succeed.

We asked several successful business owners for their best leadership advice. Some fundamental concepts were cited over and over again.

1. Communicate vision and goals

It's not enough for successful leaders to simply have a clear vision. A true leader must communicate that vision and those goals to employees, investors and customers. Without a clear sense of goals, it is easy for everyone involved to lose sight of the larger picture and get lost in the details.

“Much time is wasted in the entrepreneurial process, because the entrepreneur is not clear on the desired outcome," says Dr. David Washington, founder of Washington and Company. "The lack of clarity is then passed down to the followers, which results in missed objectives.” Washington is the author of Life is a Choice: A Guide to Success in Life.

2. Listen

Leaders must be able to listen and understand, as well as communicate.

“Leadership has a core fundamental for me, and that is dialog," said John Spiridigliozzi, vice president of business development at Infinit Technology Solutions. "I have had instances where I was sure I was communicating only to find out I was publishing.

"Engaging in a dialog with team members [is an] opportunity for clarity…. Learning to listen is not simply keeping quiet while others talk. It is comprehending what is being said, assessing the value and responding accordingly.”

3. Build relationships

People are your greatest resource: clients and customers as well as employees. Find ways to strengthen the level of trust you have with everyone involved in your enterprise.

“Be considerate. Be transparent and consistent. Be fair. Be constructive. Be realistic. Be decisive," says Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFPR and founder of Palisades Hudson Financial Group. He says it all comes down to trust. "We all say we want team players, but many leaders forget to act as part of the team. It is not only important that your workers trust each other: It is vital that they trust you as their leader.”

4. Set the tone

Company culture, tone and attitude come from the top down. A passionate and compassionate leader can energize an entire company. Set an example of cooperation, trust and openness. Focus on solutions and positivity instead of blame and backstabbing.

“You can go through thousands of dollars in consultants to shape your culture, but it will still come back to the owner's approach," says Kristi Hedges, leadership consultant and coach at The Hedges Company.

Hedges favors a hands-on approach. "If you're motivated and happy in your role, then others will follow your lead. And if you're burned out and tired, that energy will permeate everything. Owners need to make sure they shape their role, and their company, to make them fulfilled and excited. If you put yourself last, you're hurting the entire organization."

5. Share ownership

In a tough economic climate, it is more important than ever to be open-minded and employ a community-style approach to leadership. It's a “many heads are better than one” approach.

A good leader allows both employee responsibility and creativity to encourage growth and new ideas. Successful leaders understand the value of customer and community input. Soliciting and listening to feedback and suggestions can lead to a better understanding of what needs to be done and also generates company loyalty and a brand following.

“In our business, we've learned that a little transparency can go a long way toward increasing employees' confidence, commitment and energy,” said Ethan Willis, CEO of Prosper Inc. and co-author of "The One-Minute Entrepreneur."

Royale Scuderi is a freelance writer and success coach. She is the founder of Productive Life Concepts and has been featured on Stepcase Lifehack and The Huffington Post. You can find her musings on life and business at GuardWife.com and Twitter.com/RoyaleScuderi.

Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages