Business leaders face many challenges each day. The state of the economy over the last few years has proven to be a big challenge for leaders, who also must figure out how to deal with day-to-day issues and survive despite less than ideal situations.
“If you can lead people through tough times, and show them a direction and give them something to believe in, you can certainly do it through good times,” says Darci Congrove, CPA, managing director at GBQ Partners LLC.
Smart Business spoke with Congrove about the benefits of strong leadership on your business and how to position yourself as an exceptional leader.
What are some of the current challenges that many business leaders are facing?
Leaders have gotten very accustomed to playing defense, and figuring out how to operate in a difficult economy. It’s a hard transition for them to shift from thinking defensively and protectively about the business, to thinking strategically for the future. It’s difficult to plan for the future when you don’t know exactly what type of environment in which you can expect to work. The current economic climate and regulatory environment are both still uncertain.
A lot of leaders are having a tough time deciding when to hire and when to spend. They can see the things they need to do next, but they’re nervous about doing them. It’s a tricky balance.
It has been an emotionally draining time and a difficult couple of years for associates and leadership. It’s hard to stay enthusiastic when the news is all very grim. Even if your company is doing well, you’re still nervous and the attitude may not be great — it’s a lot easier to move people forward when everyone’s excited about what happens next.
How does dealing with these challenges make someone a better leader?
It forces leaders to improve their skills, particularly with regard to communicating throughout their organization. When things are down or uncertain, you have to be a lot more focused on communication so that everyone knows what’s going on. In the absence of good solid information, associates will fill the gap with rumor and innuendo, and take it in a direction that is often more negative than reality.
Associates want to know that leaders have a plan. It doesn’t matter exactly what that plan is; they just want to have some confidence that their leaders are working on it, and they can trust it will be OK.
How does having a strong leadership presence benefit a business’s position in the marketplace? What about in the business community?
Strong leaders get alignment, commitment and enthusiasm with their teams. Leaders can inspire people and get them rallied around a common cause. Those associates then go out in the community and touch other people — clients, prospects, or customers. That consistent representation of the brand influences the audience.
Those people who are outside the organization view it favorably and want to be associated with it. If every time you meet someone from ABC company, they are enthusiastic, professional, etc., that supports the merits of doing business with the company. The strong leadership presence that can be set by an individual or multiple individuals from an organization in a community can influence whether or not people want to do business with that company.
A lot of businesses and leaders are involved in community issues and charitable giving, and the people in those audience categories see the business favorably because they see the leader favorably based on what they’re doing for the good of the community.
How do you define exceptional leadership?
Exceptional leaders are those whom people want to follow, regardless of their title, position or authority. Leadership can happen at any level in an organization. Leaders distinguish themselves by being people who can influence others and make others want to go in the direction they are going.
A lot of people have leadership by title and that gives them authority, and then people are forced to follow them, but that’s not the definition of exceptional. Exceptional is when the crowd wants to go along and believes in that person and the direction.
How can someone position him or herself as a leader?
That can happen at any level. Leaders are able to look not just at what’s happening today, but what’s going to happen tomorrow and beyond, and how to do something different or better to make that future different or better. Individuals at any level in an organization can do that by having some vision or strategy and influencing those around them to join.
Leaders create followers. You’re not a leader just by virtue of the title you have. The most important thing a leader can do is turn around and make sure people are still following. If you don’t have any followers, you’re not a leader.
Leadership can also be learned. Some people subscribe to the theory of being born a leader, or that it is an innate personality characteristic. I think it’s a skill that can be learned.
Darci Congrove, CPA, is managing director of GBQ Partners LLC. Reach her at (614) 947-5224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.