3 Ways to Test How Well You Lead

Photo by *Sax via Flickr

Photo by *Sax via Flickr

We talk to business owners every day and one of the things we hear most often is that they have a “people problem” and it’s hurting their business…but there are always at least 2 sides to every story.  

Although every business is unique, I would challenge that few business really have “people problems”, despite being one of the most overstated reasons for lack of performance in a business.  When we methodically peel back the onion far enough the root is usually connected to leadership and ultimately the top rung on the leadership ladder is the owner or ownership team.  That’s not to say that you don’t or can’t have the wrong people in the wrong seats, but those kinds of problems are usually a symptom of leadership challenges.

Leadership is critical to business success and although it often feels intangible, it can be measured. Excluding uncontrollable events such as acts of nature or unforeseen economic turmoil the bottom line results of your business are the direct numerical indicator of your ability to lead.   When you lead effectively you set the stage for the rest of the business, your employees, and your customers. And when all of those things come together, because of your leadership, the numbers will reflect your success.

The good news is being an effective leader of a company is not as hard as it is often made out to be.    That is not to say it is easy or happens without purposeful intention; but there a few simple steps you can take to help you get well on your way to raising your leadership bar.

Without question, most of us have some leadership abilities.  If you are reading this and you own or manage a business it is safe to say you have already proven your ability to lead at some level. Great businesses and great business outcomes will come from strong leadership and the bottom line is that all of us can always get better.

How do you know how well you’re doing (other than the results)? Try this short 3 question quiz as a quick test of your current leadership performance.

#1:   3 for 3 – Same Page Test

Ask your top 3 employees to list their top 3 priorities.  The owner(s) do the same.   If they all match, congratulations, you passed Test #1.    If they don’t your employees are telling you they don’t know what you are expecting them to do.   One of the biggest reasons employees pass off responsibility is they don’t understand what you really want them to do.  Get everyone on the same page.

#2: Training the Trainers Test

If something happened to any of your key employees is there someone besides yourself who could step in and seamlessly fill that role? If you have anyone who is irreplaceable (including yourself) you still have work to do.

Depending on the size of your company having depth in different positions can be challenging, but the message is you must constantly be training.  Cross-training is invaluable when unplanned interruptions happen in business.  A simple way to start laying the ground work for this is to have each employee create a step-by-step manual defining what they do in their position.  It creates great opportunities for discussion to improve processes, create a scalable model for growth, and insulate your business from unexpected events or key employees leaving.

#3: Authority and Empowerment Test

After your next manager/staff meeting, where plans for the day, week, or project are discussed, start a timer and see how long your business can function without you having to provide additional input or make a decision.  The rule is you can’t initiate any communication.  If you can make it at least 24 hours, then you clearly have delegated some level of decision making duties to your employees/staff. The advanced version of this test is to be able to go a week or two without input and still have everything function smoothly.

Depending on your business size this same process can be replicated with department managers and their employees.   This is a great exercise to help reevaluate spending limits for purchased items, authority to grant warranty or sales discounts, granting employee’s time off, and any number of questions routinely channeled through upper management for approval.  The inability to “let go” is one of the biggest obstacles that prevents a business from being able to grow.   You can’t do everything and you shouldn’t if you want to grow sustainably.

So how did you perform?  Did you earn a passing grade?   As a business owner or manager your ability to lead ultimately determines the success of your business. And yes, leadership is more complicated than a 3 question test.   But hopefully this exposed a couple areas where there are opportunities to improve your business and improve your employee’s view of you as their leader which ultimately is what attracts the best employees to companies.  As always, please feel free to share your thought in the space below.

Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach