Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm
In this article, we will explore the key components of leadership style, based upon a recent survey of the top executives of companies named to the Future 50 list of the Milwaukee area’s fastest-growing small businesses. Examples will be drawn from that research to demonstrate how these components are put into action in successful entrepreneurial organizations.
The consensus among the experts in the field is that an effective leader communicates organization direction, develops key relationships and inspires others to achieve. In their book, “The Leadership Challenge,” Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner postulate a number of assumptions about effective leaders:
• Leaders learn from other people and from experiences.
• Those who become the best leaders take advantage of the broadest range of opportunities.
• Leaders develop best when they are enthusiastic participants in change.
In my survey of Future 50 winners, the identities of the respondents are not being shared, but their collective wisdom is. Based upon the survey, effective corporate leaders share three common strategies:
Communicate the organization’s direction
Here, the leader understands the landscape of the organization and drives the organization to a single super-ordinate goal that positions their business outside the reach of their competitors. It is critical that the leader clearly defines the vision for his or her organization, and set out the specific objectives and metrics that will be used to measure progress in achieving and implementing the strategic plan.
An entrepreneur’s vision is not easy for his or her organization to understand. The passion to achieve that vision is communicated by their actions and words. This behavior was demonstrated by the chairman of Southwest Airlines. It was not unusual to find Herb Kelleher loading luggage or taking tickets at the gate. In order to effectively communicate the vision, the entrepreneur needs to translate it into terms the organization can understand. Herb Kelleher not only ‘talked the talk’ but ‘walked the walk’ when it came to Southwest’s mission.
The mission statement is the vehicle that is most commonly used to translate the vision. The strategic plan can be organized around the mission statement, and all of the strategies selected should be aligned with the mission. Many of the entrepreneurs who responded to our questionnaire stressed the importance of communicating their vision on a consistent basis. One entrepreneur stated it was important to “make people believe in our direction and their important role in making progress.”
The use of the phase “believe in our direction” stresses the need to share the passion with your employees and management team.
Develop key relationships
In effective organizations, all individuals and groups view themselves as having critical roles in the success of the organization, and an effective leader clearly acknowledges their role in that success. Here, the effective leader needs to bring the employees into the decision-making process. Techniques like coaching, team building and delegation of important tasks bring other key players into the journey of accomplishing the entrepreneur’s vision.
One entrepreneur responding to our survey stated, “I believe in my team, and I trust them,” which demonstrates his confidence in his people. Trust is a major component in relationship building. It is important that both suppliers and customers be brought into the process to assure that they can support the achievement of the entrepreneur’s vision and plan for the business.
A local cleaning company formed a client advisory board, which meets on a monthly basis and provides valuable feedback on service offerings and quality control.
The respondents to the questionnaire stressed that delegation, developing other employees, motivating the talent existing in the organization, transferring knowledge to the employees and getting them to take pride in their work also were critical to relationship building.
The effective leader must be able to resolve conflicts when they occur in the daily conduct of business, whether they involve employees, clients or suppliers. It can be inferred from the research that the effective leader is also a consensus builder, and one who brings people together to determine the proper course of action.
Inspire others to achieve
The effective leader establishes credibility with the key parties and infuses them with a sense of commitment to each other, the organization and its clients. Again, coaching is a key element in this component of leadership.
One entrepreneur stated that he “coached people to achieve more and not to accept the mediocre.” The effective leader devotes time and energy to keeping his or her employees informed about the organization’s progress to achieving the mission and the goals set out in the strategic plan. They invest the resources necessary for their employees to be successful. They develop the level of infrastructure needed to support the organization’s journey.
One way to inspire others is to empower them, provide them with the resources and the ability to assist in the achievement of the organization’s vision. The entrepreneurs who responded to the questionnaire saw themselves and were seen by their peers as strong motivators. The source of this high level of self- and employee-motivation is the passion that drives the entrepreneur. These entrepreneurs lead by example and demonstrate their commitment to the organization on a daily basis. Their behaviors reflect their caring for the business and its success.
At the recent Future 50 Awards luncheon presented by the Council of Small Business Executives of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Robert Hillis, chairman and chief executive officer of Direct Supply Inc., spoke about the importance of sharing the passion and making that passion part of the ongoing culture of the company. In fact, when they hire at Direct Supply, they look for employees who can share the passion and the commitment to quality and customer satisfaction.
In conclusion, the challenge is to incorporate these three components into your leadership style. The successful leaders fight off distractions, loss of confidence, internal and external threats and turmoil and inspire their stakeholders to execute their company’s mission.
Cary Silverstein, MBA is the president and chief executive officer of
Fox Point-based Strategic Management Associates LLC. He can be reached at
(414) 352-5140 or via email at