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Edition 248 – The Leadership Four

In last week’s edition of Growth, I made the bold call that family business owners aren’t that great at articulating business direction to their team. Essentially, it’s what you and I call leadership.

What most family business owners don’t understand is how they are perceived by their employees. Whether it is for good or bad how we are viewed, we’ve actually forgotten what it was like to be an employee ourselves. As such, we’ve forgotten who we looked up to in our early days of employment – and why.

Plenty has been published over the years on the issue of leadership. In my opinion, the leadership role of a family business owner can be summarised into four key areas:

  1. Developing your business strategy.
  2. Winning work.
  3. Nurturing your team.
  4. Reflecting.

When I think about the leaders that influenced me throughout my career and the clients that I have observed as true leaders in their family businesses, these are the four fundamental areas they have got right, are passionate about and drives everything else they do.

Your business strategy is all about the direction you’re taking your business, why you’re taking it that way and how you intend to achieve that purpose. As you’ve heard me say here on these pages in the past, most family businesses aren’t that great at developing their business strategy – and when they do, not that great at sticking to it.

Winning work is all about “pressing the flesh”. To drive your business forward, owners and managers need to be out there, in front of their clients, scoping the opportunities and developing the relationships that are necessary to establish trust – which creates a trigger for someone, at some stage, to make a decision to engage your business. 

Most family business owners are quite good at pressing the flesh. However, they’re not that consistent. When things go quiet, they wonder what’s happening. Ironically, I can show them with a whiteboard and pen very quickly what has happened, why it has happened and what they need to do to change it.

Nurturing your team is such a deep topic. I’ve spoken to many family business owners this year who, on the one hand, have said it’s been one of the most difficult years they’ve experienced in business, then on the other, lament some recent drop off in performance. Blind Freddy can tell you that if you’re hanging out for the Christmas break, no doubt your team are as well.

In my opinion, it doesn’t take a lot to nurture your team. Check in with them, informally, semi-regularly. Share Friday drinks with them and talk about their favourite sport or their lives. Ask them how they’re going in their roles and what help they may need to be better at what they do and who they are.

The other aspect of nurturing is to show them what they need to know. The only way you can develop your team, particularly if the skill set sits high in the organisational chart, is to be on site with your team not to do the job yourself, but to show them how to do the job so they can upskill. Your business will not grow, or will not cope with growth, unless you develop skills deep down line in your business.

Finally, reflection is about making time to think. We don’t always get it right. In fact, we learn incredibly valuable lessons when we get it wrong. However, most family business owners don’t give themselves enough time to stop, close the door, switch off their devices and merely think. They fill their diaries and days up with appointments and “stuff” so that at the end of the week, they flop in a heap, only to repeat it all next week – which means repeating the same errors, not ingraining any learning and, as a result, not achieving the success they truly seek in business.

All of this might seem simple – leadership in 700 words. However, after 30 plus years working with family business owners, these are the common themes that I see amongst those family businesses that succeed – and those that don’t. 

Notice how circular this is – once you’ve developed strategy, won the work, developed your time, then reflected on what you’ve done, you’re back to refining your strategy.