Small Business and Startups: 5 Traits of Leadership

What is a manager? What is a leader? In the context of small business and startups these two characteristically different beings are necessarily rolled into one. In the world of the mega-corporation-consultant-advised-worker-powered-behemoths a manager can often be a quietly effective, detail oriented, often cloistered individual who might supervise dozens or even hundreds of others, while displaying minimal, or even non-existent leadership skills. This is not to say that mid-level corporate managers are not often strong leaders, but merely that leadership ability is not always a required personality attribute for these folks.

However, in the world of small business and startups, a great manager must also be a great leader. Must undoubtedly be a great leader. The special breed of person who is attracted to and finds success in small businesses has to be a detail-oriented,  data-reading, team-building, communication-centric, debate-leading, empathically-oriented, responsibility-taking, customer-focused, strong-willed, no-nonsense, laughter-loving, strategy-creating, answer-seeking, curiosity-driven individual. This special manager/leader has to be and inspire others in their ambition, enthusiasm, dedication, loyalty, tenacity, energy, and commitment.

Thats a long list right? Well yes. Great manager-leaders are, at their core, complex individuals, but certain of these traits are common to all of us. These are the 5 that I consider the most crucial to the success of a great small business manager-leader:

1. Is honest. Transparency, openness, and willingness to share are key traits for an effective small business manager. Your own values and core beliefs should permeate your organization and the people you hire should be both beneficiary and reflection of those values. A mission statement, while not critical to many small businesses, can be a valuable tool for emphasizing the principles by which you do business and for maintaining focus on the integrity you want to encourage.

2. Has superior communication skills: It is completely and totally incumbent on great manager-leaders to also be great communicators. Expectations are set and guidelines are defined via strong communication skills, both oral and written. How can your team understand what is expected of them unless clear and honest feedback is offered consistently? When employees have concerns a great manager-leader needs the ability to listen and respond. And when good work merits praise or when improvements are needed communicating with your team is imperative.

3. Takes responsibility: Great manager-leaders do not hesitate to take responsibility for their actions and for the outcomes, whether those are successes, failures, mistakes, or triumphs. A strong ethic of buck-stops-here accountability is always on display, but is also expected from the entire team. By consistently and persistently taking responsibility, you set high expectations while effecting positive change. Sharing in the success rather than assigning blame is a great strategy for building strong teams.

4. Collaborates freely and willingly: There are several elements to collaboration that any manager-leader should be mindful of and practice. Great collaboration most always involves an element of delegation; a critical part of leadership is understanding that other team members need to work their way up their own learning curves and have input along with the ability to succeed (or fail) on their own. Team-building starts through each individual’s growth and development, and without empathic, collaborative, effort that growth can never occur.

5. Displays passion: Great leadership should be inspirational: clear commitment should always be readily apparent, and a visible mixture of enthusiasm and eagerness will inspire the same in those around you. Passion brings perspective by always expressing commitment and hard work is a manifestation of that passion. Set an example through your own passion and use that to kindle energy and fervor in your team.

Pat Summit, one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, epitomized these traits; photo: USA Today