leadership skills

By Rieva Lesonsky

Do you think you’re above average? Apparently, so do most entrepreneurs. The Alternative Board recently polled small business owners about their leadership abilities and discovered that 95 percent think their leadership skills are “above average.”

That doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement, however. When asked to identify the top areas in which they need to improve their leadership skills, entrepreneurs in the survey say:

  • Holding others accountable — 67 percent
  • Tending to my team’s development — 51 percent
  • Delegating to others — 41 percent
  • Demonstrating a strong vision — 41 percent
  • Communicating clearly — 40 percent

What do small business owners think they’re doing well? When asked to name their top leadership qualities, 47 percent believe they are positive, 45 percent say they are ethical and 30 percent say they are confident. However, just 15 percent think they are inspiring, a mere 16 percent think they are focused and only 17 percent believe they are patient.

If you’re not sure where you need to improve your leadership skills, getting feedback from your team can help you pinpoint both your strengths and your weaknesses. However, although the majority conduct performance reviews for their employees, more than half (55 percent) of small business owners surveyed admit they didn’t ask for any feedback on their leadership performance from their key employees last year. In other words, they’re giving their employees feedback, but not getting any of themselves. If you’re not comfortable asking your entire team for feedback, talking to your top managers to get their insights can be helpful. Just make sure they know that you want them to be completely honest.

Small business owners in the study have a very clear idea of what they need to do. Half of respondents believe that their primary responsibility as a leader is fulfilling the company’s mission, vision and goals. That’s far above the 21 percent who say “keeping customer satisfied” is their major responsibility. But while they value their role in driving the company’s success, small business owners are falling short in the day-to-day actions needed to achieve this.

That may be because small business owners are working long hours to handle all their responsibilities. More than half (54 percent) work in their businesses between 50 and 69 hours per week. This is a pretty likely indicator that they’re not delegating enough.

There’s an old saying that you can work on your business or in your business. Working in your business means handling the day-to-day duties — and it’s easy to get caught up in this aspect of entrepreneurship. However, if you want your business to grow beyond the startup stage eventually, you need to prioritize working on your business. That means developing a strategic plan, outlining action steps to carry out that plan, and holding yourself and your team accountable for reaching the company’s goals.

When small business owners in the survey need guidance to improve their leadership abilities, most of them (46 percent) turn to a non-business advisor, 41 percent rely on their business partner and 36 percent say business coaching is the most valuable type of leadership training a person can get.

There are plenty of ways to get advice to improve your leadership skills, including developing your own informal advisory board, finding a personal mentor or using the services of your local SCORE chapter or Small Business Development Center (SBDC). (Disclosure: SCORE is a client of my company.)