How to Become a Successful Business Leader

The best business owners are also great leaders. Read our guide to successful leadership to inspire you on your journey to being a better business leader.

Being a manager within an organisation where you aren’t the top boss is not the same as running your own business.

If you launch your own venture and start to build a team of employees, you need different and enhanced skills that make you not just a founder, but a leader.

See below for five pieces of advice to start you on your journey to being an inspirational business leader.

1. Create a vision

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
Jack Welch, CEO 1981-2001, General Electric

Leadership starts with a strong vision for the future of the business. It should reflect your own values and why you set the business up in the first place.

You then need to use that vision to inspire your employees and build growth. It will give direction and motivation to your staff and remind them of what they are working towards.

A strong and clear vision also helps to attract new staff. You can use it to connect with people who share a similar vision and see your company as one that aligns with their values.

You should constantly communicate your vision both internally and externally. Summarise it in a mission statement. You can reference it in staff meetings and emails, put it on your website, share it on social media and display it on your office walls.

Your vision may change as your business grows or external factors influence it. As you adapt your vision, involve your team in creating it.

Here are some great examples of vision statements.

2. Listen and communicate

“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable — and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening.”

Peter Nulty, Fortune Magazine, April 1994

Good communication is key to success for any business and it starts at the top.

Communicate clearly and concisely with your team. Be honest and transparent about the business’s successes and failures and what that means for the team.

Business leaders need to listen too. Be available, open to criticism and take feedback on board. Ask questions when appropriate and respond as necessary.

Adopting an approach of honesty, transparency, openness and communication will encourage everyone else to do the same. Be secretive, autocratic and uninterested and that will also be the culture of the business.

Autocratic leadership is one of the least effective leadership styles. Here’s a quiz you can take to understand your current approach and where you need to make improvements.

3. Support staff health and happiness

“Treating employees benevolently shouldn’t be viewed as an added cost that cuts into profits, but as a powerful energiser that can grow the enterprise into something far greater than one leader could envision.”

Howard Schultz, Founder, Starbucks

Treat your employees badly and your business will suffer.

Looking after staff doesn’t just mean paying them every month and approving their holidays; you need to make sure they stay fulfilled, healthy and happy too.

In the early days of your business when you only have a few members of staff, you will likely handle employee issues yourself. Make sure you are up-to-date with employment law and encourage open communication so you are aware of any concerns.

Recognise and reward success so people feel valued and appreciated. A simple ‘well done’ can go a long way.

Offer employee benefits that go beyond just their salary, and prioritise mental health. Ensure staff feel able to raise mental health concerns, and understand the routes to do so.

Working environment is important too. Natural light, good ventilation, outdoor spaces and access to healthy food and drink are all beneficial to employee satisfaction and productivity.

As a business grows, it’s easy for leaders to lose focus on day-to-day people management which can lead to problems and a negative impact on motivation and morale. You’ll need to put in place a more formal human resources structure that ensures employees continue to feel supported and motivated as the team gets bigger.

Bring HR experts on board and put them in charge of areas including recruitment, employee benefits, staff training and employment law compliance.

4. Know when to delegate

“Virgin’s ability to grow and diversify successfully was set in the company’s early days, with my learning how to delegate and let go.”
Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group

As the founder, you might think you know everything about your business but the best leaders are those who recognise that they can’t know everything. Trying to do everything yourself could lead to you burning out and affecting the growth of the company.

As a solo entrepreneur, you’re forced to wear many hats and be the CEO, sales manager and chief financial officer all at the same time. However, as your business grows and you build a team, you need to recognise your own strengths and weaknesses.

Your job is to lead so identify the best people in the organisation to do particular jobs. When recruiting new employees, look for people with skills that complement your own.

Empowering people to do the job they are good at will also improve your culture by creating an environment where staff feel trusted to deliver and have the freedom to be creative.

Delegation isn’t just about internal staff. You might also need to outsource to external experts, especially in the early days when you don’t have a big team. For example, rather than struggling with your accounts, employ an accountant who can do it for you.

5. Always be learning

“The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Meta

Curiosity and a constant desire to learn are key characteristics of a great business leader.

Understanding your own limitations and seeking self-improvement will lead to a strengthening of your leadership skills.

It also means you’ll stay up to date with the latest trends and innovations in your sector and know if your business needs to adapt. Fail to embrace change and you risk being overtaken by competitors.

To keep learning, read books and industry publications, watch videos and listen to podcasts.

For inspiration, here are some top leadership books and podcasts. For talks by leadership experts, TED.com is a useful resource.

Learning from your peers and external experts is important too. You can do that by attending networking events, business conferences and training. Plus X runs several innovation programmes which deliver knowledge, guidance and connections to communities in Hayes, West London, Brighton, and beyond.

The place where you work can also inspire you. Basing yourself in an innovation hub like Central Research Laboratory means you’ll be surrounded by other business leaders on similar journeys that you can learn from.

Plus X creates innovation communities for the pioneers of tomorrow. We empower and enable bold thinkers at every kind of business – whether you’re a growing startup, a large,
established business, or somewhere in between. To see how we can help you in your business journey, find out about membership.

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