To Manage or to Lead: That is the Question

Dear SBO (small business owner),

As business owners, we commit to doing just about any and everything to ensure our business’s success. This action further cements our individual desire to succeed and eventually, win at business. We are aware of the fact that in order to win we must first understand the game and become familiar with the rules - Be consistent. Sell yourself, not your services. Build a team. Stay humble. Differentiate from your competition.

Perhaps the most overlooked and/or misunderstood rule of all is learning the difference between managing and leading your business.

Managing Your Business

First of all, possessing the ability to manage anything in your business is what I like to call a “small win”. Small wins are any kind of modest but notable enhancement that benefits your business. So if you manage people or you manage time successfully, those can be considered small wins. I love small wins because when done well, they can combine and formulate big wins.

Having confidence in the smooth operation of your business is a shared desire among all SBOs. It takes a measure of organization, will-power, and at times, an aerial view of a situation in order to get a handle on your day-to-day tasks, employees or partners in your business. This is one reason some SBOs opt to hire an office or business manager. Depending on their title and job description, this manager will coordinate all your business operations, perform payroll, clerical functions, evaluate employees, and ensure your business is on track to meet it’s financial goals. In most cases, SBOs are Jacks and Jills of all trades, performing all duties themselves while managing the ins and outs of their business.

So what is managing your business? It’s maintenance. It’s continuously performing maintenance on your business for the life of the business. It’s making your systems efficient, cutting costs, and increasing profits. Management is an absolute necessity to all businesses and if a SBO possesses previous managerial skills, frequently attends managerial conferences or takes courses along the same lines, then he or she will be better for it.

Leading your business

I have had the pleasure of speaking with different SBOs over the years. Some highly educated and others extremely creative. An interesting take away from most of those conversations – most of them weren’t leading their businesses. Yes, you read right. Most entrepreneurs have the ability to recognize opportunities and possess the guts to go after them. They can see what is lacking in a particular market and figure out ways to meet the need and turn a profit but not all of them are leading their businesses. Still others, despite success and being financially and organizationally sound, continued to feel as if something is missing, like they continued to hit a glass wall. That feeling of being stuck coupled with the desire for ‘more’ is indicative of a strong and necessary characteristic found in most successful SBOs - the capability to lead.

In social and corporate settings, leaders are known for their ability to influence others to follow them or buy-in to their ideals and culture. The same is true for SBOs only the ‘others’ in this case are their employees/contractors or business partners. Just think about it; your market, society, and the economy are ever changing. In order to lead your business through multiple conditions you have to be flexible, quick on your feet and above all you have to be prepared to innovate. Innovation comes easy when the vision for your business’s potential is fully realized and is communicated to all necessary players involved (i.e. partner, employees etc). Your team needs to be able to see your vision for your business so vividly that they willingly spend their own time and energy to make your vision a reality.

Super Nova

If you ever talk to another entrepreneur and ask them about their business goals there is always at least one goal that highlights their desire to be successful in business. Every entrepreneur wants their business to be successful. So, how do you achieve said success? Should you focus on managing or leading your business? The answer is – both. You need to focus on becoming a super nova, possessing the ability to maintain and innovate effectively. Both are vital to the continued health and growth of a business.

Without management, your business may succumb to the seemingly little things such as mismanaging tasks, payroll taxes and the like. What seems small can have grave implications down the line. Without leadership, you can effectively and efficiently manage your business to its death. Look at Polaroid. They were the first on the scene with a quick and easy way to capture memories but when the market changed, and camera phones became the way of the world, they were not flexible and moved slowly.

The beauty of garnering the super nova status is that it does not have to be the sole duty of the SBO. If you are a killer manager, but do not have the imagination necessary to lead your company into uncharted waters, consider hiring an executive director. If you have the leadership aspects down pat but lack the ability to maintain your business, hire an office or business manager. Can’t afford either position? Expand your network. Find fellow entrepreneurs with different strengths and lean on them for advice, tips, tidbits and implement, implement, implement!