Business Changes Test Your Leadership Skills
Hannah Lintel has been an entrepreneur for 12 years. She freely admits that every other year or so she gets antsy. It's her view (and mine, as well) that the nature of entrepreneurship is change. Leading through change is something we entrepreneurs need to be adept with. We need to have the tools and CEO mindset to navigate ourselves, our customers, our businesses and our team member through the turmoil of getting to the new.
I've listened to thousands of entrepreneurs talk about their business, so I can tell you without a doubt that personal development and leadership skills are embraced by the long-term survivors in business. We create our businesses in a sea of turmoil as culture and commerce changes around us. Alongside that, as we mature we go through our own stages of personal development that cause us to change around our lifestyle and our businesses. When you're an entrepreneur there's no “steady normal” that lasts very long.
When Hannah (her name is changed for privacy) starts feeling a need to change things in her business she realizes that it impacts her team, not just herself. But it took her about 3 massive business changes to realize that part of her responsibility as the CEO of her business is leading through change. Keeping her own mindset steady, and leading her customers and team members through, too. She came very close to losing her business not once but twice, because she didn't realize her role as the change leader. It's not just about us. It's about the customers we serve and the others who help us run our businesses.
Why Leading Through Change is Important
Making changes in your business means deliberately creating dissonance in your organization. We need to make sure that the leadership skills we learn as entrepreneurs includes leading through this dissonance. While we feel antsy and perhaps fearful about getting successfully to the next level of business, we're not in a vacuum. Here's a few things to recognize and communicate.
- What was acceptable to us in the past is no longer acceptable.
- We've got nerves going on – will this massive change really work?
- We have several very steep learning curves ahead of us, in different areas, all at the same time.
- We have to step up as leaders and as CEO's. It's our responsibility to lead our business to the next level.
- We have to make decisions about massive change with incomplete information.
I don't see that most leadership courses for entrepreneurs talk about this. We don't have a large corporate structure, which is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that we are far more nimble and can manage massive change faster, and with less bureaucracy. The curse is that we don't have the deep pockets of a large corporate business to throw resources toward the changes we want to make.
In my experience with many entrepreneurs, the most dangerous time in business is the time of big growth and change. Sometimes as leaders we have a new vision, but we don't have the skills or experience to operate on a bigger level. It's so easy to get frustrated, throw a dirty look at the computer screen, and walk away. But this is what separates the “men from the boys” as my dad used to say. I say that this is what separates the women wearing their CEO hat and practicing CEO think. We stick it out through the pain or we get scared and quit. We are successful to the extent that we get good at leading through change.
I've been running my own businesses for more than twenty years now. I've consistently had to work on up-leveling my leadership abilities. It's very easy to focus on your own discomfort and worries when your business is in a time of massive change. It's easy to focus too much on your own fears and frustrations. It's easy to feel like you need to go incommunicado and keep your head down. Even if things are going well, you're crazy busy. No matter what we feel personally, our top job is leading our buisness through change.
Tips for Getting through Change in Your Business
- Offload anything you absolutely don't have to do. That includes running your household for the duration.
- Keep an eye on what you are telling yourself and others about this change. Create a change message and keep sticking to your message – for yourself, customers, team members, and family.
- Get your sleep! Have a ritual of deep breathing or calming music before you sleep – step your brain down. Read, use heat on your neck – whatever relaxes you.
- Stretch before you even get out of bed.
- Drink a ton of water – a glass an hour or so. This makes you have to get up now and then, too, ha!
- Eat protein and try to avoid the ice cream carton – sugar doesn't give your brain enough power
- Use a project management system (something like Trello, the free version, is just fine). If you like seeing things on paper then keep a list by project on a spreadsheet or a piece of paper. You can always take a photo of that to share with team members.
- Share access to your project management system with team members. I recommend creating a separate project board for yourself with each team member.
- Make sure you are not a roadblock. It's your job as the CEO to respond immediately when a team member has a question or an issue. Give her what she needs to keep going.
- Create deadlines for yourself and others, and monitor the deadlines. Getting the small steps done leads to the end goal. Focus small right now, not large. I strongly recommend the book The Twelve Week Year for great tips on how to set up tasks and monitor the right deadlines. (That's my Amazon affiliate link for the book.)
- Hire team members for projects that need doing quickly, on part time basis. Buy the expertise you need in the short term to lead your business through this change.
- Lead. Lead, lead, lead. Appreciate others. Thank them. Include them. Communicate with them. Keep your focused message in front of them.
- Dive in but then come out for air. You've got to rest your eyes and your brain. Schedule in time to exercise, walk, meditate, read, swim – whatever gives you respite and a break from the tension of change.
- Celebrate the small wins as you go just as much (or more) as you gnash your teeth over the problems.
While leading through change can be painful, your accomplishments last a long, long time. You're growing your own leadership skills and you're growing your team and your company. That benefits you and every customer you serve.
By the way, it's true that men and women lead differently, and you can find out more about that in this article. I'm recommending below 3 books that are great reads on leading through change. (These are Amazon affiliate links.)