The truth is that very few people are born leaders and in these trying times, even the strongest of leaders are struggling to present a brave face and lead successfully. In the opinion of Nazeem Martin, the recently appointed ‘leader’ of Business Partners, financier of entrepreneurs in South Africa:
“Leadership is a trait that can be learnt and refined as your experience in the small business sector deepens. After all, you wouldn’t have opted to run your own business if you didn’t have some aptitude for leadership and a willingness to learn.”
It’s important that the SME owner realise that how he manages his business, and his employees, is the biggest contributing factor to the company’s eventual success. If he knows his leadership skills are lacking, he can take the appropriate action to improve these skills.
Courage, determination, risk-taking, vision and the readiness to do whatever it takes to realise the vision are all character traits of an entrepreneur. These also provide a solid foundation for strong leadership and should not be underestimated.
Martin explains that there are some basic steps that can be taken to build one’s leadership confidence and abilities. He summarises them briefly:
- Acknowledge your talents: Everyone has unique talents that set them apart, so find out what yours are and use them to your company’s advantage
- Leave your comfort zone: Don’t allow fear to prevent you from trying new things, make new contacts and take certain risks
- Know your strengths: Working with your strengths and improving on your weaknesses will do wonders for your confidence. Don’t waste time worrying about what you can’t do and focus on what you can
- Use your influence: Your role as a leader gives you power, so know how to use it to get things done and increase your own effectiveness
- Roll with the punches: A confident leader doesn’t let obstacles get in the way of his success. Don’t be afraid to tackle problems head-on and be creative about finding solutions
- Get a mentor: If you feel you need outside help, consider getting a mentor who has proven to be a good leader. Identify the traits you would like to build within yourself and ask your mentor to help you do this
“Business Partners provides technical consulting and mentorship services to our clients and non-Business Partners clients in an effort to help these SME owners improve on their knowledge and skills,” says Martin.
Mentorship – also referred to as Business Counselling – is a proven practice. Mentors provide on-going counselling and support, based on experience, knowledge, skills and wisdom. The sphere of Business Management and leadership, therefore, lends itself quite appropriately to this concept.
Mentors participating in the Business Partners Mentorship Programme have been through a vetting process that assures they are successful in their businesses and careers, and uphold the vision of Business Partners to provide a high quality of service. These mentors are prepared to make time available to assist entrepreneurs to improve the efficiency, profitability and growth of their businesses.
“The entrepreneur comes to us with the need for a mentor. We identify someone with the appropriate experience and allocate him or her to the business owner, who can rest assured the mentor comes with the Business Partners stamp of approval,” Martin says.
On another level, the need for an entrepreneur to have good communication and people skills can not be overlooked, Martin goes on to say. Assertiveness, approachability, conflict resolution skills, etc. all go a long way in effectively managing employees, service providers and customers.
“Directors of businesses from the largest organisations through to the smallest often under-estimate the importance of how they deal with their own emotions and how they relate to others,” he says. “Business gurus will tell you that this human touch, also referred to as Emotional Intelligence, can set a business apart and increase their competitiveness.”
A small business owner may not start off as the strongest or most confident of leaders, but being an entrepreneur is a learning curve. There is a lot that can be done – on a formal and informal level – to increase one’s skills, knowledge and confidence over time. By doing this, leadership will eventually come naturally