What skills do you need as a small business leader?

This is a guest post from Jori Hamilton – see bio at end… Thanks Jori!

As the owner of a small business, you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. It is not always easy, but if you stand behind your idea and have faith in its success, you can bring your business to the next level. Having a workforce to help make that happen is an important step, but as the owner, you need to have the right leadership skills to create the best team possible.

A strong combination of hard and soft skills will help to keep your team organized, on task, and happy with the work they do. It is also important to have the ability to be honest with your team and let them go if they don’t quite fit. To that end, let’s talk about some essential leadership skills you should possess to help your company succeed.

Learn From Your Mistakes and Work As a Team

For employees to do their best work, they need a leader who can guide them on the right path and speak to them in an understandable way that enunciates your desire to see them succeed. Some leadership skills cannot be taught in a classroom, like the ability to actively listen. On the other hand, some management skills can be enhanced through leadership classes so you can get a better understanding of how to operate before you stumble with a real organization.

A good starting point for leadership in a small business is the ability to manage your team and show that you are all in this together. Collaboration and teamwork are key because each employee needs to understand that when one of them has a win, the entire organization succeeds. Each person has a key role in the success of your company, and no role is less important than any other. Employees who truly feel that they are contributing will stick around and grow with the company.

Constant communication is a great leadership quality, but it is not always easy to stop and talk to each employee, especially if you work with a remote team. Instead, get comfortable with technology, especially communication technology like video calls or instant messaging tools so you can pat someone on the back or offer a helping hand at a moment’s notice.

A small business leader can show their employees that they matter by brainstorming with them and considering their ideas to help the business grow. There are many ways that owners can effectively brainstorm with their teams. Just remember that this isn’t about turning down bad ideas, but instead, listening to the thoughts of the team and working together to determine an effective solution. One effective strategy is utilize mind mapping as a group, which involves writing a goal or topic that you want to flesh out, and creating branching paths of ideas on how to make that idea happen. By gauging the ideas provided and the level of engagement of individual team members, you can also determine potential future leaders of the company.

A Good Leader Knows How To Train

Another essential leadership quality that you must master is the ability to properly train your team. As your company grows, you won’t be able to do everything yourself, so you need to learn to delegate, and with proper training, you can ensure that your team works effectively even without your help. When teaching your employees, let them know that it is okay to make mistakes as they grow but with the caveat that the best way to move forward is to learn from those same mistakes.

It is important to remember that not all people learn the same way, so a technique that worked well on one employee may not work at all with another. Some learn better in a classroom setting and those who learn better by jumping right in and doing the job. Some adult learners take the initiative to learn new things and set goals for themselves so they can grow within the company, while others need a bit more hand-holding.

As you go, you will begin to see more of these differences in your employees, and you will want to adjust your training to their style. A smart idea may be to ask them upfront how they prefer to learn, so you make the best use of your time.

Along with delegating, you should also incorporate holding your employees accountable. Set clear expectations of what you need upfront, so your staff understands their role and their importance to the company. Good leaders will do the job themselves when an employee doesn’t understand, but a great leader will listen and train the employee accordingly so the employee can reach their full potential.


Although there is plenty of value in teamwork and training your employees, the best leaders truly shine when they express their ability to plan. Planning is all about executing initiatives to the best of your ability so your company can continue to thrive and your employees can see the big picture they’re working towards. A good leader will have a plan for everything before it occurs, including employee promotions and profit-expense ratios.

Part of good planning is also expecting the unexpected. Take some time to come up with disaster recovery plans that will provide a clear pathway if anything negative could impact your business such as a natural disaster or even a pandemic like COVID-19. If you don’t have a plan in place when a catastrophic event does occur, there’s a chance that you’ll feel lost as you try to get things under control. Your employees will see that lack of direction and may lose faith in you and your organization, and move on.

In unfortunate situations like these, a manager must also have the ability to empathize with their employees and listen when they have concerns about the job or their duties. You need to have an open-door policy to actively listen to their concerns and then take the proper steps to make things right. When you have a small business and a lack of resources, retaining your workforce through empathy and problem-solving skills is essential.

Managing a small business is no easy task, but with good leadership, you can make it work and watch your business grow. Think about the qualities listed above as you go through your day-to-day and see when you can put them into action.

Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to business productivity, marketing strategies, and HR solutions. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach