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Secrets of business leadership revealed

Successful businesses are often driven by innovative leaders. PAUL KEIJZER examines the crucial characteristics which define these leaders.

There have been endless articles and books written on innovation and leadership.

Many authors, including myself, have extensively discussed the mix of different leadership styles used to create better businesses and better organisations.

There’s no debate left to be had on the importance of leadership within any small business operation, including retail operations.  Instead, I prefer to approach the topic from a different angle.

It’s important to not only understand what makes a successful leader – but also which behaviours define a poor leader.

There’s value to be had in studying the legacy habits that so many leaders, especially those in Asia and other frontier markets, have a difficult time abandoning.

Autocratic leadership

One change we’ll see in leadership studies in the next 10-20 years is the elimination, or at least minimisation, of autocratic leadership from business books and studies.

When you consider how the business world works today, having one person dictating how to complete a project or task simply won’t work. Of course, there are rare examples where a specific set of responsibilities or skills will challenge this principle, but for the average business – including jewellery stores – this is true.

As an owner or manager, you must have faith in your staff and foster a culture of upward communication to be a modern-day leader.

Laidback attitudes

Some experts advise that business owners attribute considerable focus to developing a relaxed workplace culture.

We all know that truly driven employees thrive when they are pushed (within reason) to do their best.

I recently consulted for one business where staff members can be observed working with intense energy at 8AM.

It was a stark contrast to the many offices I’ve seen in the past, half empty in the morning and full of employees still slowly waking up.

My experience has taught me that a lazy office environment will lead to lazy staff members and as a result, lousy results.

Business owners and managers should push people to reach their maximum potential in whatever role or responsibility they occupy. One day, they’ll thank you for it.

Following the industry

You know that place called your comfort zone? Get out of it!

Abandoning your comfort zone is the only way you’ll make waves. It’s far too easy
to just follow where the industry is going.

“It’s safe, and if everyone’s doing it, it must be the right way to go.” That’s the motto of so many struggling businesses. 

In reality, it’s a practice that prompts the question we offer children - “if everyone jumped off a bridge, would
you jump too?”.

Looking to help your business escape the comfort zone, but unsure of where to begin? I recommend the book Blue Ocean Strategy, by Renee Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim.

Written in 2005, it’s a powerful book dedicated to directing businesses to create and control untapped market space thus making the competition irrelevant. It’s a best-selling book due to the powerful and logical advice.

Don’t follow other businesses, pave your own path and take customers to places they only dreamed of.

Be viewed as a leader

By definition, innovative leadership requires constant work. Once you’ve implemented the tips above and eliminated archaic and ineffective business practices, it’s time to develop the attributes strong leaders possess.

You may intrinsically have leadership qualities, however, they don’t mean much if people don’t perceive you as a leader.

Also, let’s face it – actions speak louder than any trait a leader may have.

So today, I’ve put together a few crucial characteristics which define business leadership.

Don’t stay quiet

Voice your thoughts and ideas!

One of the most common mistakes emerging business leaders make is staying quiet rather than speaking their mind.

People often do this because they’re afraid of being perceived as a know-it-all. It’s especially common, in my experience, when the workforce of an organisation is primarily Generation X and earlier.

Instead of staying quiet, speaking up when you have something to contribute will show your peers that you’re engaged and, depending on the quality of the idea, smart. Someone who has ideas that can improve the way things are done.

Leaders know that they have to be the problem-solver and that they must discover solutions outside the box.

And that can only be achieved by talking about your ideas.

Stand out

People tend to get quickly intimidated by the success of others and because of this, new hires often keep a low profile until they’re better known.

However, by being confident in your success you not only break down barriers created by others, you also end up offering the ‘winning’ perspective that the organisation needs.

Even though it may cause difficulties for you in the beginning, the rewards will be worth the effort.

Escape your comfort zone

Successful leaders will network whenever they get the opportunity, and more importantly, they avoid the trap of spending all their time within their inner circle.

Most people naturally gravitate towards spending time with people in their inner circle, ultimately staying away from those who are outside their comfort zone. It’s only natural.

However, it’s the latter group that needs to have their perceptions changed about you.

To be seen as a strong leader, you need to spend time with those less familiar or confident with you, to showcase your leadership capabilities.

Networking, especially with those who need to be convinced that you’re a good leader, is not an easy task. There are many out there who would argue that a good leader shouldn’t have to convince anyone.

However, I believe that as a great leader you absolutely need to have the ability to attract people to your side.

Hone your interpersonal skills

Strong leaders in the modern workforce don’t rely on preformed opinions when dealing with staff members or customers.

Workplace diversity is a major business trend, however, filling your organisation with people of different backgrounds and identities isn’t the shortcut to success.

To be seen as an authentically inclusive leader, develop an understanding of different kinds of personal biases, such as implicit stereotypes, groupthink, and confirmation bias. Instead of carrying preconceived and stereotypical responses, when you interact with someone listen to what it is they’re saying.

Weak leaders judge others based on superficial characteristics. Gain more exposure to different backgrounds, so you can make others feel included by acknowledging your understanding of their needs and beliefs.

In turn, they’ll be free to repay your efforts by being a productive and fulfilled member of your business.

Take action

Armed with three common pitfalls to avoid and four easily adopted techniques for business owners and managers, there’s little excuse left – it’s time to begin your journey towards leadership!

According to the latest research from McKinsey and Company, more than 70 per cent of business leaders surveyed said they were willing to fail multiple times in order to see a business succeed in the long term.

The same f igure – 70 per cent – said they prefer timely action over perfection. So should you! Get started today and worry about being the perfect leader in the future.

It’s far easier said than done but that’s what a being successful leader is all about!


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Paul Keijzer

Contributor • Engage Consulting

Paul Keijzer is CEO of Engage Consulting, which is focused on helping CEOs transform top teams, talent and organisations. Learn more:

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