Seven traits you need to be a successful leader

Growing a business is no easy task. There is no magic formula that guarantees success, and there is a reason the leaders of many thriving organisations share certain characteristics. That reason is relatively simple – a leader’s traits directly impact the outcomes of their business.

So, what are the similarities? What can people do to be a successful leader? Having worked with many highly successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, we have identified seven traits that equip them with the skills and confidence they need to reliably steer their business towards its goals.

1. Implement a business plan

Leaders often spend a great deal of time thinking, talking and dreaming about where they can take their organisation. While it's great to have a goal in mind, it is a lost opportunity if that enthusiasm cannot be harnessed, run through a process to build out, and documented into a coherent strategy and action plan.

Having a documented plan allows you to share it with others, which is powerful because your team can then buy into it too. This plan is the first step in driving accountability and better governance for the direction of the business.

There is considerable value in involving an independent third party as part of your strategic planning process. They are not there to know the business better than you, but they can challenge your thinking, provide objective advice on best practices and insights, and drive accountability through the strategic planning process to help you and your team achieve your defined goals.

 2. Translate your plan into numbers

Many owners go into business with a passion for selling a product or delivering a service to a niche market. If they have not invested in financial education or been exposed to it in previous roles, they often lack an understanding of their financial position and the financial consequences of their decisions. This is why investing in financial literacy is important.

A powerful first step to enhancing financial literacy is to develop a budget, this is the translation of your business plan into a financial strategy. In today’s digitally enabled landscape, the budget must be linked to your accounting software. This empowers you to effectively track monthly progress and make timely decisions about performance.

In our experience, we have encountered business owners ‘growing themselves broke’. It can sound counter-intuitive, but in practice, scaling too quickly is an all too common hazard where businesses do not always see what is coming. Many owners operate with clear visibility on sales and revenue but fail to join the dots between the impact of growing sales on profit, the balance sheet and, ultimately, cash. It is critical to realise that a business can deliver strong profits and still be starved of cash.

Effective pricing strategy is imperative if you are going to grow your business effectively. Most business owners have a good understanding of the market and often price their offerings based on their competitors. Pricing strategy is about understanding the true cost of delivering your product or service. Confidence and clarity around pricing require you to factor in not just the traditional costs of inventory or chargeable time, but all other costs related to delivery and service. Fully costing your product or service can be surprising, and it is central to understanding what your pricing should be.

3. Align your activities to your customers

Understanding your existing customers and being able to articulate what your ideal customer looks like is vital to sustainable growth.

Initially, many businesses grow and scale as a matter of necessity. They often undertake any work they can find. Growing this way can leave a business spread across a range of different customer segments. 

Invariably this results in sales with less than ideal profitability and the risk being a poor fit with the unique capabilities and expertise of the business.

It is important to analyse your existing customers to optimise the market-fit of your business. Rank them across a range of attributes, but do not limit your analysis to their profitability. Key criteria to examine include what they are like to work with, how frequently do they refer business your way and other critical aspects that determine their overall desirability as a customer. It is a great opportunity to include other members of your team in this exercise, especially those on the front line as they can provide valuable insights and feel engaged around pro-actively managing and developing the business.

So, how does your customer base stack up? Chances are you are not inundated with ‘A-Class’ clients - this spells opportunity! Remember, you cannot control your customer’s habits, but you can control how you engage with them. Think about your internal processes. For example, if your customer engagement levels are not where you want them to be, examine your internal processes and challenge yourself on how to improve them. Undertaking this process helps build an ideal framework for creating a marketing strategy, developing target customer personas and ensuring you are focused on attracting the customer to your business.

4. Develop and leverage your team

Understanding the way your team communicates and work best is essential to developing a happy and high performing team. Leaders must realise their people are unique, with their own style and approach. Unique behaviours and traits are what make your team who they are.

Aligning your employees’ skill and personality to their roles can lead to a genuine benefit for your organisation. Understanding your people leads to better management, communication and faster decisions. When this approach is implemented across an entire team, performance skyrockets. There are many personality profiling solutions available to help you understand more about yourself and your teams’ natural and workplace communication styles. Understanding the difference between team members is a great step to better managing your teams. Investing in emotional intelligence can drive your team towards reaching their potential. Once you are comfortable with your understanding of the team, you will be empowered to make better recruitment decisions and find the right people to help your business continue to grow.

5. Invest in and streamline your operations

If you are not regularly reviewing your systems and processes, investing in new technology and redesigned your core operations, there is a very good chance you are working harder than you need to and missing out on many tech-driven operational efficiencies.

Successful leaders invest in documenting key processes and regularly review them. This helps drive a consistent and reliable outcome for your customers which is central to building and creating value in a business. Adopt a philosophy of continual improvement amongst all of your operation processes and empower your team to contribute.

6. Focus on building business value

Savvy business owners have a keen understanding of the value drivers and areas of risk in their business. They work hard to continually improve their businesses profitability. This can be achieved by de-risking and improving business operations, reviewing pricing and customer engagement, building strategic marketing campaigns to generate more consistent recurring revenues. All of these have a positive impact on business valuation. If there is one KPI all business owners should focus on, it is recognising the underlying value of their business as an asset. All the efforts around strategic planning, reviewing, fine-tuning, managing growth, and successfully scaling should be reflected by a strong increase in the value of your business.

7. Make regular time to review, fine-tune and execute your strategy

Traits and habits are important because you get good at what you spend time doing. Most business owners become great business operators because they are often responsible for delivering all aspects of the business before they grow and employ staff. Developing beyond an operator to a successful business leader often requires a shift. You go from being technically proficient to a leader, strategist, planner and problem solver for the business and its people. If you want to develop the relevant leadership traits, you need to dedicate regular time to make it a habit.