A Lesson in Leadership

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There’s a notion that leaders are born rather than created, but the majority of people would agree that leadership is a skill and character trait that can be learned.  This is a particularly important skill to learn today, as whether you have a simple side hustle or run a substantial company, the need to effectively manage others is becoming increasingly important, particularly given the diverse and fluid nature of shifts such as virtual assistants, outsourcing to overseas, and the flexible working lifestyle.

This article offers two fundamental leadership lessons for small business owners.

  1. BE THE BOSS

Of course, there is a fine line between being a “leader” that people respect and being a dictator that people vilify.  In this sense, the golden rule is to be directional rather than dictatorial in your approach, however, there does need to be an element of hierarchy enforced, where you assert yourself as being the person in charge.  It can be a fine balance, and at times will feel like walking on a tightrope.

The trick is to be assertive yet affirmative, directional but not dictatorial and responsive rather than reactive.

Of course, it can be a difficult balancing act, and challenging to manage your own emotions, let alone those in your employ, but a common pitfall seen in start-up businesses is that the leader aims to be everyone’s cool best friend rather than the captain of the ship!  

Interestingly, Captain’s unapologetically give orders to their crew; and whilst it’s clearly important to be civil and respectful in a business context (unlike pirates), it’s important that you do take the wheel with authority and assertiveness.

You need to develop the power to assert your authority and enforce healthy boundaries, standards, and expectations within your team.  When you act as the Captain of the ship, people will pull together and work more as a team. The downside, in relation to you wanting to be everyone’s best friend is that humans love a common enemy, and what greater common enemy than “the boss”.

  1.  USE BOTH THE CARROT AND THE STICK

The carrot and the stick metaphor describes the polar forces of motivation theory.  

If you think of a donkey, he often has a carrot dangled in front of him which he moves toward on the basis he is motivated by the pleasure associated with eating the carrot.  In psychology, we could say the donkey has a motivation bias “toward pleasure” rather than “away from pain”.

That said, the man that leads the donkey has a stick, and the donkey associates this stick with pain.  Indeed, the man doesn’t even need to use the stick because the fear association alone is enough to move the donkey, as he is motivated by getting away from the pain associated with the stick.

In human psychology, people have a predominant bias to either avoiding pain or gaining pleasure.  Of course, people have a mixture of both motivations, but there is normally one predominant force that motivates someone.

You’ll want to get to know your team and understand what motivates them to take action.  For some it will be the possibility of promotion or reward, as an example, you could create custom awards to recognise their achievement… which, in this metaphor would be the carrot.

The stick on the other hand would be something relating to loss, pain or suffering – such as the fear of dismissal, being told off, or having a penalty such as having to stay late at the office.  Indeed, if we think back to school and the concept of detention, we can see the stick at work.

The key principle is to understand what motivates each team member and then relate with them on this basis; motivating them either toward pleasure or away from pain, on the basis of their primary modality.

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