During periods of high economic uncertainties small and medium-sized businesses are likely to struggle. The blame for the struggle will typically be laid at the feet of; the economy, the governmental leaders who had not responded adequately, or the lack of adequately motivated employees. But I suggest, the No. 1 variable in the success or failure of any business is its leader.
What sets a highly effective leader apart? What uncommon quality does this leader bring to his/her team so they can rise above the daily grind, the tyranny of the urgent, changing market place and economic uncertainties? What would lead the team to great engagement for exceptional performance?
Clarity! Clarity is the single greatest value a leader can bring to his organization.
What kind of clarity? The clarity that brings meaning, congruence and alignment to every area and every activity of the organization. The clarity that colors every; discussion, priority and brings coherence to every decision.
Bring clarity to your business with these four questions:
Who are we?
What business are we in? What do our customers say we are really good at? Why would anyone do business with us again and again over other competitors? How is it that people get a big WIN when they use us? What keeps us above competing based mainly on price?
When I asked a group of attorneys what business they were in some gave very reasonable "we help people with legal issues." But one person replied, "when people are confronted with fear and insecurities arising from a legal situation I bring confidence and competence and alleviate their fear." The latter description is not just about legal service but what value that business endeavors to deliver to their clients. This clarifies what kind of experience people will have when they first come in contact with their business to when their needs are met.
If your answer to this question is typical of how your competitors would respond, likely, you will all ultimately compete on price. The key is seeing your business that is uniquely yours.
What's important to us?
What do we value? What is so important to us that they are non-negotiable? What would we not compromise on? If we don't keep these values, we would be indistinguishable from others.
If a business determines extraordinary customer experience is essential to its success, they face an immediate challenge. Customers would be receiving these experiences through employees; who may be competent, incompetent, excited, bored, distracted or uninterested.
It should be obvious that delivery of extraordinary customer service cannot come from employees who do not feel valued. When a customer service person has to make a quick decision between expedient service versus an extraordinary customer experience, which would he choose if he has not experienced it himself, fears being second-guessed, or has seen his leaders taking shortcuts when difficulties arise?
If he feels valued by the leaders and his team and knows extraordinary experience firsthand, he is more likely to reproduce that not only with customers but also with his colleagues.
Where are we going?
Many of us live in the daily, weekly and monthly grind. Your answer to this question will help set your businesses free from the tyranny of the urgent and help break you free from the rut.
What is a clear compelling destination for your business? Where would you want your business to be in five years that would be compelling to you and your team to counteract the tyranny of the urgent?
It may be easy to define it on what may serve the owner/leader, such as more income, or value of the business for sale. But my experience has been that more income has not necessarily been a strong enough motivator to fire up and sustain a new initiative or to put new habits into practice. What primarily serves the leader would not be motivating to your team.
However, a greater future, a destination (five years) that would inspire you as a leader may also inspire your team.
How are we going to get there?
Once you have clarified: Who are we? What's important to us? Where are we going? The next question would be, how are we going to get there? A simple well thought out plan can connect the dots and help drive alignment, clearing priorities across the organization. Some crucial elements of the plan would be: clear goals, a timeline and persons responsible for execution.
So, what happens when the leader does not provide such crucial clarity? The organization will be run by the tyranny of the urgent. Employees, especially high-performance employees, would be frustrated and discouraged. A business buried in the myriad of daily fires, weekly challenges and regular crises would ultimately produce an average financial performance.
The clarity a leader provides serves as the lightning rod for aligned action, releasing hidden potential as employees engage more deeply because they can see and believe in the future they are building.
When economic conditions are turbulent and changing, opportunities will arise for highly effective leaders who can help their team navigate these challenges and lead them to a better future.
Leaders, may you lead with all diligence!
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Bill Jhung is the director of the Idaho Small Business Development Center at North Idaho College. Jhung and his team provide leadership and business coaching, training and resources to business owners and leaders in North Idaho. He can be reached at 208-769-3284 or at email@example.com.