How to Improve Leadership Skills

Expert tips for leading your small business.

Great leaders are decisive, effective communicators with foresight who create a culture that inspires their employees. Those traits, skills, and qualities develop over time.To help you better guide your company, we asked experts to sound off on some of the biggest leadership questions of small business owners like you. Read on to gain insight that can help you achieve your best year yet.

Barry J. Moltz

Small business consultant. Author of “How to Get Unstuck: 25 Ways to Get Your Business Growing Again,” New Buffalo, Michigan. Follow him on Twitter @barrymoltz.

Q: My biggest leadership challenge is balancing customer feedback with the strategic vision for the growth of the company. How do you know when to implement customer feedback into your sales process versus ignoring it and building what you know they would want and need anyway? —Bryan Clayton; GreenPal; three years in business; Nashville, Tennessee

A: Set strategically where you want to go. Focus on what pain you solve and which buyers have the money to solve the pain. A company that serves everyone really helps no one. While selling and servicing these customers, listen to their feedback and gradually incorporate it into your company’s direction to boost sales. Remember, customers vote with their money. It’s the best way to figure out what they want.

Q: I’m transitioning from running a small agency to a medium agency. What are the biggest hurdles for business owners when making the transition from small to medium-sized businesses? —Chris Post; Post Modern Marketing; six years in business; Sacramento, California

A: The biggest hurdle is the organization, process, and infrastructure that needs to be created to run a larger company. At a smaller company, these things can be taught orally, but at a larger company, all leverage will be lost without this structure. With more people and a bigger organization, it also takes longer to change directions and respond to the marketplace. [A] common culture is also difficult to maintain as the company expands with additional team members. Get away from a hub and spoke model where everything has to go through you. Draw the organization based on who can make decisions on their own in specific areas. If you are the only one that can make important decisions, this needs to be shifted to a more hierarchical model.

Q: What is the best way to discipline an employee? For example, publicly, privately, or does it depend on the context of the situation? How can I use that employee’s misbehavior or mistake as a teachable moment for the entire company without humiliating or making the employee feel uncomfortable? —Clint Evans, Stand Out Authority; two years in business; Austin, Texas

A: Meet with them privately to point out the mistake and seek next steps so it does not happen again. Teach the mistake to others without placing blame on the individual and focus on the future solution.

Q: When staffing positions, how do I make sure I get the right people in the right seats?—Mary “Mickey” Swortzel; New Eagle Consulting; eight years in business; Ann Arbor, Michigan

A: Match for attitude, not skills. You can always teach skills, but not their attitude. Make sure anyone you hire is a cultural fit.

Colleen Stanley

President of sales training company SalesLeadership in Lakewood, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter @EiSelling.

Q: How do you manage a remote team? Our business is 100 percent remote, with a team throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world. Can you provide tips for communicating, creating processes and building culture? —Dayne Shuda;; six years in business; Eau Claire, Wisconsin

A: Remote team members can feel like they are on an island, so here are a couple of tips for building community and connection.

  • When holding the weekly/monthly sales meeting, share one “little-known fact” about a member of the team. It’s important to achieve the sales quota and the fun quota. Have members of the team send in success stories and sales stumpers for a weekly coaching call. Training and coaching is a process, not an event.
  • Combine information into a document and select a service where the document can be viewed by all members of the team. Provide live coaching, feedback, and recognition. Ask for feedback from members of the team. How have they dealt with similar challenges?
  • Create a theme each quarter and assign members of the team to develop ways to keep the theme “alive.” This can range from sending funny cards to their fellow team members or a motivational quote each day, to surprises landing in the reps’ home mailboxes. Set aside a budget so your sales team can be creative.

Juntae DeLane

Digital branding evangelist and founder of the Digital Branding Institute in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @JuntaeDeLane.

Q: Our customer base has changed over the last two years. How do I get a better understanding of exactly whom our customer base is? —Candice Galek; Bikini Luxe; two years in business; Miami

A: Understanding your customers’ most pressing issues, problems, and desires is important. Each person in your customer base has a specific want or need and is naturally receptive to consuming information that helps meet their challenges. By understanding what your customers care about, you can start creating content to meet their needs. As they begin to engage with your content, you can develop a deeper understanding of how this challenge affects their lives. With this engagement, you also can recognize the engagement patterns of your best customers.

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Related Topics: Business Growth , Lead Generation