Ten Commandments of Leadership – A Primer for Small Business Owners

A recent discussion with one of the clients of our firm, Synconic Solutions and Services Pvt. Ltd., triggered a thought process and this post.

Shobhan owns a small scale manufacturing unit at Ahmedabad. His company has been on the growth path for a couple of years now. He has engaged us to transform his business using business excellence principles.

In the baseline assessment we conducted, his organization didn’t score very high. He expected this, because he realized that as an organization, there was a long way to go before his company attained process and results maturity.

What surprised him, in fact jolted him, was his low score on the leadership dimension. “I thought our leadership was of a high standard!! Otherwise, how would we have done so well in recent years? There must be a mistake somewhere. Are you sure your assessment was fair?” He asked me, shaking his head.

After I explained to him the leadership criteria for excellence and what it takes to be considered an “excellent” leader, he was convinced. To his credit, he decided to take some improvement actions right away.

Shobhan got the message, but how many small business owners get it?

Most small business owners feel that leadership is something that will happen in due course, while they focus on getting revenues and making profits. Certainly, top line and bottom line performance are very important yardsticks to measure a leader’s performance. So are positive cash flows and efficient return on investment. But focusing on financials only, according to me, is taking a narrow view of leadership.

Some questions come to mind.

  • How does one define leadership?
  • Who is a leader?
  • Why are some people leaders and others followers?
  • What are the qualities of business leaders?
  • How critical is effective leadership for building a business?

Weighty questions, calling for weighty answers. Let me focus on the last two, in reverse order.

To my mind, leadership is about visionary stewardship of the organization to greater and greater growth, to the realization of its fullest potential. It is about taking charge, and taking charge means being responsible and accountable for successes and failures alike.

The buck literally stops at the desk of the leader.

To achieve that, leaders need to look beyond sales and costs. They need to consider their organization as a functioning system, with inter-connected parts which need to work in an integrated manner. The integration needs to happen across strategy, customers, people, process and technology and across the expectations of all stakeholders, be it the customer, the employee, society or the government.

How does one go about this? It would help a great deal if leaders follow the Ten Commandments below:

1.      Thou shalt have a clear idea about where you want to take the business, and look beyond immediate business priorities for thinking about the future.

2.      Thou shalt clearly communicate the directions to achieve the growth plans to your employees and set the expectations in unambiguous terms.

3.      Thou shalt work tirelessly to achieve your ambitions, and ignite that passion among the employees.

4.      Thou shalt not do all the work yourself, but practice effective delegation to your employees. You have recruited them to assist you, right?

5.      Thou shalt empower your employees to make independent decisions and give them the freedom to make mistakes.

6.      Thou shalt build and maintain a positive and accessible work environment that collectively learns from mistakes and celebrates success.

7.      Thou shalt invest time in continually developing your capabilities to become a more effective manager and leader.

8.      Thou shalt always be there for your employees, and address their needs in a humane manner.

9.      Thou shalt manage the expectations of all the stakeholders and carry them along on your growth journey.

And, most important,

10.  Thou shalt have the courage to “walk the talk” and aspire to be a role model to all.

As Warren Bennis said- “No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely – all your skills, gifts and energies – in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.”

When you start to obey these commandments, the top line will come. So will the bottom line. Take my word for it.