smallbusinessaustralia

Is A Leader Born or Made?

On the back of our last posting covering the similarities between followership and leadership, this week we're going to take a brief look on the personal characteristics of a leader. A popular myth is that an effective leader is one who dominates and possesses high degrees of intelligence, confidence, initiative and limitless stamina. Even their height can be deemed a contributory factor. That is until we look at the physical stature of leaders like Napoleon or Gandi as well as the more infamous examples who turned the tides of history such as Hitler and Stalin.

Early theorists who supported these myths also assumed that leaders could only be born and not made whilst often forgetting that leadership characteristics can differ significantly. Take, for example, a general leading an army, a politician, a priest or team leader in a supermarket.

In running a small business, effective leadership embraces a number of factors:

1) Deliverables - this all about the goods and services. Things like quality control, customer satisfaction, competitive pricing and the numerous efficiencies that ultimately determine what is usually referred to as our business' bottom line.

2) People - an empathetic and considerate approach that leads to the motivation and job satisfaction of the team.

3) Education and coaching - linked closely with 2); these are the influences that govern our team players' growth in terms of knowledge and skill sets.

4) Values and culture - This ties together all of the story so far by being able to answer key questions, like exactly WHO we are, WHAT we are and WHY we do what we do. (If you're wondering about the 'HOW' and the 'WHEN', they usually sit in 1).

Think about this. In larger corporates, each of the categories above may come under the responsibility of a single executive with a CEO at the top whose job is to periodically run her or his thermometer across each of the 4 cells in order to report authoritatively (and hopefully with a few 'smileys' in tow) to shareholders and board members.

It's all a bit different in small business. An owner rarely has the luxury of being able to delegate these types of roles but rather embrace a little bit of everything themself and that's really the long and the short of it. Sound familiar?

In previous posts we've touched on a lot of things associated, directly or indirectly, with this topic. So, because of its importance, make no apology for any repetition. Indeed, we are confident, small business owner and writer, Susan Ward's take on leadership will help you on your journey, particularly the bit where she says, 'Leadership can be learned'. Enjoy the read.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Good Leaders Know How To Follow!

In Praise of Followers!

This is the title of a paper posted by Robert E.Kelley in the Harvard Business Review back in 1988 (Nov - Dec edition, pp 142-148).

The writer reminds business people of the emphasis we all place on leadership, and rightly so of course. He then quickly switches to the question of what about the people they lead? He cites Napoleon as being, without the support of his massive armies, ' merely a man with grandiose ambitions'. In the case of a business, Kelley states that they survive or fail partly on the basis of how well their leaders lead and partly how well their followers follow.

Recognising the importance of good followership, back in the last century when Jack Welch took over the reins of the massive, yet crippled, GE Corporation, he came up with an intriguing yet effective plan to save the Company. Put simply, it involved delegating responsibility by cutting through the many management layers and empowering those of the so-called lower echelons to make decisions which would collectively transform the organisation. In other words he created an army of effective followers.

Now hang on! I know BLA is all about small business, but don't be put off as the principles here can easily be applied in any size operation; even a one man band who is often a sort of leader/follower hybrid!

OK, back to Kelley. He explains that what distinguishes an effective from an ineffective follower is enthusiastic, intelligent and self-reliant participation - without star billing - in pursuit of an organisational goal. Culturally, self-confident followers see colleagues as allies, not competitors, and leaders as equals. Organisationally, more often than not, they can also see both the forest and the trees!

But how does the boss create this sort of environment? Simple!! (as that pesky meerkat would say!) Good leaders know how to follow and, in doings so, set an example for others.

By the way, do let us know if you want to know more about Jack Welch's pitch in the followership arena as we realise we barely scratched the surface by giving it the cursory air time above. In the meantime, here's another great article on the subject which hopefully will foster some practical tips on the roles of leaders and followers in the successful running of your business.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Finding Our True North

Anybody who's succeeded in the sport of orienteering, or pursuits like flying, sailing and other activities which involve navigating skills, will know the importance of maintaining a watchful eye on True North. Just to get technical for a second, True North (also called geodetic north) is the direction along our Earth's surface towards the geographic North Pole or True North Pole. Because it differs from Magnetic North, which is the direction a compass points toward the Magnetic North Pole, the navigator has to plot his or her course in order to make the necessary adjustments for that difference.

In running a small business, we must keep a keen eye on our True North. This means, figuratively speaking of course, we are standing up there on the bridge with the ocean all around us, having to constantly navigate the changes, conditions and environmental factors that impact on our plans and budgets etc. Of course, it's all a test of our leadership role and, as such, worthy of occasionally taking time out to ask ourselves a few pertinent questions, such as:

  • What's keeping us awake at night?

  • How do we want to be remembered (sorry if that sounds a bit morbid!)?

  • Who inspires us?

  • What is the one word that describes us?

'C'mon!', we hear you say. 'Isn't this all a bunch of airy fairy stuff that is so far removed from the nuts and bolts of my business. Wouldn't we all be better off if it's left in the domain one of those highly paid psychologists?'

Not so! These are just some examples of the kind of questions posed by Harvard Professor, Bill George, who emphasises the importance of finding True North in many of his postings and books. Have a peruse of his full list of questions in the link, noting that most are of a personal nature and a timely reminder of the synergy between our business world and private life. ............And perhaps a reinforcement that, since starting at 8 years or so ago, BLA's catchcry remains, Business is Personal and a key consideration when seeking our True North.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

It Takes A Community To Run A Small Business

They used to sing it at Funerals before they realised the value of COMMUNITY!

Not so long ago, in celebrating the life of 'so-and-so', and especially when the deceased was once a sharp shooter in the business world, their funeral service would often end with the famous Frank Sinatra recording of, 'I did it my way'.

Invariably there would be at least one of the mourners quietly cringing in the pew thinking, 'His way (or hers, of course)? ' 'What about the time I got him out of that hopeless mess-up with the books? Without my team's intervention, we would've soon had the liquidators knocking at the door?' Then there'd be others recalling and mumbling to themselves about all those situations where the 'My Way' factor was completely trumped by the time, effort and specialist knowledge of others.

Now let's be fair. Resilience, fortitude, tenacity, leadership and all those other 'power-words' may well be part of the DNA being eulogised on behalf of the subject in the coffin. And so they should.

But...Remember the old African proverb, ' It takes a village to raise a child '. This means that it takes an entire community of different people interacting with children in order for a child to experience and grow in a safe environment. How easy it is to apply this to the small-business world. Think about it, 'An entire Community interacting'. Not a bad legacy to take with you if you were the driver behind it (and the mourners smiling at your photograph on the crematorium wall instead of glaring at it indignantly!)

Moving away from all this morbidity, let's take a look at the value of integrating into our business life the topic of community engagement as articulated in the link.

You may well be saying this Forbes HR Council article is all very well but I'm not there yet. Alternatively you may be struggling to get things started or have hit a rough patch. Come and talk to us and let's explore the ways and opportunities that may be available to you.

More to the point, let's go far beyond the undertaker's reach with another song, courtesy, Lennon and McCartney, 'I'll get by with a little Help from My Friends !!!!!'

Smart Goals & Know Roles

As businesses dealing with a world of constant change, we are now going to take a quick look at a couple of the things we need to embrace in order to remain truly effective. Let's dive into the important subject of goals and roles.

GOALS invariably sit at the top of the list of any good manager; also you'll get the same vibe if you talk to a change practitioner. Not surprisingly, therefore, much has been written about the subject. One of the most popular, well tried and tested theories is presented as the mnemonic, 'SMART'. What it simply tells us is that our goals need to be:

S=Specific
M =Measurable
A= Achievable
R=Relevant
T=Time bound

Here's an excellent link offering more detailed insight into this useful topic; please make sure you have a good read of it!

Moving on, let's ask ourselves about what our ROLE is in all of this? Even if we are a one-person-band, the interactions we have with our stakeholders are critical to the success of our business. So, here's a few pointers:

Networking skills - we need to establish the right contacts both internally and externally to our business, making them feel part of our decision making and goals.

Being champions of good communication, including listening, means we can effectively transmit and receive vital information which is important to our business.

Always foster ENTHUSIASM towards our planning and ideas to encourage participation, motivation and commitment. It also can be fun!

Remember to regularly hone those negotiating skills and other areas where influence is the key to getting things done.

From time to time pull back and then hover, yes, hover! This will give a 'Helicopter Perspective', taking us beyond our immediate focus and thus be able to spot new challenges and opportunities in good time. It also enables us to see what's working and what's not, things that we can easily miss when we get too absorbed in routine 'stuff'.

So there we have it for this week, a brief run-down on goal setting and some of the disciplines that will bring it to life and, in doing so, keep our businesses ahead of the pack!

Ted Beecher
BLA Director



Make A Habit Of Asking Questions

A lot of the work of a good detective is centred on the list of questions he or she has to build from statements, suspects, witnesses, forensics and CCTV etc. Just look at almost any TV cop show or murder, mystery movie. Of course there's heaps more to it than just the questions. There's all the preliminary research, retrieval of historical evidence, pre-interview preparation and the like. Then it's all down to finding out what is behind the answers to those questions and what links with what.

Simple? Probably not…

At least we now know why our law-enforcement bodies undergo such rigid training and role playing before they are launched fully into the ever challenging and often feisty investigative world.

The whole 'question' of 'questions' needs to be a constant feature of our small business environment. All questions are important - the what?, the how?, the which?, the when? and finally, the why?, possibly the most dynamic of all the questions. Here in Australia some of us are old enough to remember watching the kids' science shows hosted by the late Professor Julius Sumner Miller. Remember, his catch phrase, 'Why is this so?' It prompted him to explain the scientific rationale behind the experiments he shared with his young audience.

Making a habit of asking the 'why' question can be a great discipline, especially in business. After all, not taking things for granted is simply a must, especially given that what is true for today may not be the same tomorrow. By asking the 'why is it so ' question, the answers will usually give you up-to-the minute clarity and perspective. Don't necessarily stop at that first layer as there may well be another 'why' that must be explored to address the answer to that first 'why!' And then another and another.......

Just drill down until you're satisfied that you can go no further to the point that, with reasonable peace of mind, you're back at your desk hopefully enjoying a thriving business.

FOR THE MOMENT THAT IS...

By regularly revisiting these 'Why' areas you become alert to what is changing on the outside, perhaps situations over which you may have little or no control. However being in a position to meet these changes head -on and then make the necessary adjustments in your own business will, over time, become a useful , healthy and fruitful habit.

In the meantime and maybe just for old-times' sake, you can easily find the late Professor's snippets of wisdom on YouTube, so enjoy!!

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Will My Small Business Work Out?

In starting up a fresh Australian small business, the last thing you want to think about is what if it doesn't work out? The reality is that about one-fifth of small business start-ups in this country don't make the first year; and only about one third manage to survive ten years or more. That's all rather frightening...

So what are some of the key reasons for these rather depressing statistics?

  • Starting up for the wrong reasons: maybe a knee jerk reaction as a result of frustrations through working for a boss for umpteen years. Often the thoughts of a better work-life balance including more time with the family take precedence over the sheer hard work, dogged passion and resilience in the face of adversity that are absolute musts when setting up your 'own show'.

  • Insufficient Planning: a good workable business plan needs to be carefully thought out and realistic. In fact you must almost let it rule your life (well, within reason!). After all it will be based on all sorts of assumptions which will always be subject to the winds of change such as a volatile economic environment, your competitors and customer behaviours.

  • Weak use of technology: make no mistake, business success these days is dependent on having a good website, effective SEO and online marketing including a strong presence on social media. This way you can instantly highlight your professionalism, effectively promote your products and services whilst explaining points of difference over your competition alongside other 'reasons to buy'.

There are several websites on this subject which will be of great value to anyone thinking about starting a small business. However, at the other end of the scale, BLA exists to help struggling small businesses which may have fallen victim to one or more of the above situations. Other factors may have come into play like insufficient capital, overzealous expansion, ineffective financial control or risk mitigation. Whatever the case, our job is to work with struggling small business owners by helping them through the 'dark times' and its negative consequences, whatever the ultimate solution might be.

By Ted Beecher
BLA Director

How Business Life Australia Helps

When a business owner starts to experience a downturn in sales, a shortfall in profits, a 'drought' in orders or excessive predatory activity by competitors, that's when the anxiety sets in alongside other negative physical conditions. Does this sound familiar?

This is where BLA is fully equipped and ready to help!

So what's likely to happen next?

Firstly, we will assign a concierge to get alongside that owner and listen carefully to their story - basically little more than that at this first meeting. BLA's primary aim at this early stage is to establish a connection of mutual trust and to create an environment of hope, whatever the eventual course of action is most appropriate for that business owner's situation.

Using the information gleaned at that initial meeting, the concierge will consult with the BLA team, including our specialist service providers, in order to map out a pathway for the business owner. That pathway will usually lead to 3 possible outcomes:

  • Business recovery and restart

  • Sale

  • Closure

At the next meeting, the concierge will discuss our conclusions with the business owner and outline the next steps they need to take. Often this involves connecting them with one or more of our service providers who, for example, may have expertise in the accountancy, marketing, legal or insolvency space. Importantly, these providers understand BLA's 'heart' and will provide initial services free of charge.

At all times, the BLA concierge will remain the owner's friend in order to provide continuous encouragement and hope in their new journey. Typically, we will work with the business owner by getting them back into the driver's seat at the most appropriate time so they can reapply their skills and initiative. At the same time we see them using the experience as a learning tool as they strive towards their new goals.

By Ted Beecher, BLA Director

Relaxation Techniques

When a stress-generating event occurs, such as a lull in profitability, an order that's gone astray, or the resignation of your top performer etc. etc., we all know about the burgeoning anxiety that can cut across our business day. Then someone says, 'Just relax'!

Well, hello? ..........................

Actually, having a few relaxation techniques in our tool kit is a very useful thing and, of course, there are many. One of the key strategies on offer for whenever you're feeling particularly frazzled, scattered, and out of balance is simply to concentrate on breathing techniques. Like an anchor in the midst of a stormy sea, breath awareness is a balancing force for the mind, anchoring you in the present time.

When under stress, most of us tend to breathe in short, shallow breaths, primarily by expanding our chests. This thoracic breathing is not the most efficient way to breathe. Not only does it prevent the lungs from filling and emptying completely, it can also contribute to increased muscle tension. During stressful situations, it is especially important that we breathe from our abdomen, not just our chest. Abdominal breathing relaxes the muscles, massages the internal organs, and allows more oxygen to energise our system.

The ideal times to practice this breathing relaxation technique is when you are feeling tense or anxious or in need of energising your body or calming your mind. Just a few of these complete breaths are wonderfully calming and won't be noticed during a meeting or a phone call. This simple procedure is very effective:

1. Sit comfortably with your spine straight.

2. Exhale completely.

3. Inhale very slowly, allowing the breath to enter effortlessly through your nose. At the same time push out your abdomen as though it were a balloon expanding. Move your chest as little as possible.

4. After your abdomen is stretched, allow your chest to expand with air. This fills the middle part of your lungs.

5. Allow your abdomen to pull in slightly, and your shoulders and collarbones to rise. This fills the upper part of your lungs.

6. Gently hold your breath for a few seconds. At this point, every part of your lungs is filled.

7. Slowly begin to exhale through your nose. Breathe abdominally by lifting your diaphragm and allowing your lungs to empty. Proper exhalation releases used air and opens space for fresh air to enter.

Though at first this way of breathing may feel awkward, once you become familiar with this it, it can be done quite easily and comfortably. Try this link for more tips on the subject.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Offset some of the stress and strain of running a small business with a healthy diet

In recent blogs we spoke about the importance of establishing good sleeping and exercise routines to help offset some of the stress and strain of our business lives. To complete this 'good habit' cycle, it's time to give a few simple tips on diet.

THERE ARE FIVE FOODS GROUPS TO ENJOY EVERY DAY:

1. Bread, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles (include wholegrain varieties) 
N.B. Eat from this group in moderation if trying to lose weight!
2. Vegetables (include 5 serves a day)
3. Fruit (include 2 serves a day)
4. Milk, yoghurt, cheese (choose low fat dairy products)
5. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and nuts.

It is also important to drink 6 – 8 glasses of water each day. Where possible, avoid soft drinks or high energy drinks including fruit juices – avoid sugar wherever possible.

Caffeinated drinks need to be kept to a minimum and alcohol avoided.

Here is a link to the government website, Eat for Health, for more detailed information on healthy eating.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director