I always take pause when asked in interviews (now hundreds of times) “What skills are most important for being a successful entrepreneur?”
My answer is usually some version of “All of them” and “It depends.”
The skills required for you to be successful in business have a very tangible side to them – all businesses require operational strength, marketing savvy, emotional intelligence, financial literacy, systems thinking and sales skills.
There is also a very personal side to skills development as a business owner — the leadership skills you must exhibit, and inhabit, in order to provide what your business needs from you.
This is the greatest source of angst, and also the greatest source of relief, for my clients who face challenges at different stages of growth. The leadership skills and perspective that get you launched in business are not the same as those that will get you through more mature stages of growth.
Here are four key leadership skills that match phases of small business growth:
1. Grit and Determination
Half of my life, I have helped people take action on ideas that have been in their head for years, like starting a business, changing careers or radically changing their lifestyle.
In order to get momentum to take the first step toward such changes, most of what is needed is good old grit. The kind where you close your eyes and hit “publish” on your first blog post. Or the courage to walk into an unfamiliar networking event and steel your smile, stumble through your introduction speech and hand over your slightly sweaty business card.
Precision and craft do not belong at this first phase — it is about action and forward movement.
Leadership growth question: What can you do to develop more grit?
When opportunities start to land, instead of saying yes to everyone with a pulse and a credit card, you need to develop some decision criteria. You cannot say yes to every opportunity, or risk being overwhelmed.
You need to put operations and policies in place. You can’t afford to throw money at problems anymore, so when you make big decisions like hiring, you need to take your time to hire the best candidate.
From an audience definition perspective, you need to get more and more clear about who are ideal and non-ideal clients for you. Update your materials to be focused on the right clients.
Leadership growth question: How can you be more discerning with business decisions?
When your business starts to grow and you gain more visibility and popularity, prepare for pushback, challenge or outright rejection.
At this stage of growth, you must develop thicker skin in order to not take challenges personally. If you want your business to grow and remain viable, you must develop comfort with handling difficult conversations. You must remain open to new perspectives if they mean changing ineffective processes, and discovering new opportunities.
Leadership growth question: How can you become more objective when receiving tough feedback?
The more years you are in business, the easier it is to get stuck in habits and patterns.
You have more to lose, and you might fear destroying what you have spent so many years building.
But it is at this stage of maturity that you are able to take a more active role as a mentor, both to employees, and to others in the outside world.
To remain viable, you have to have the courage to explore new avenues and possibilities. To remain relevant, you have to decide when and how you will speak up in the public arena about issues that affect you, your customers and your community.
Remember that at this stage of your leadership growth, you have already practiced grit and determination, discernment and objectivity. These skills will help you be courageous in intelligent and effective ways.
Leadership growth question: Where and how do I want to be more courageous as a leader?
Knowing where you are on your business and personal journey will help you know which leadership skills to develop. When you know where you are, you can balance not getting ahead of yourself with not staying stuck in the past.
My friend and collaborator Charlie Gilkey has a great resource for understanding the stages of business growth in his book The Small Business Lifecycle
Brené Brown has a brand new book out today: Dare to Lead. If it is anything like her other books, it will be a game changer for your growth as a leader.