How To Lead

9 Amazingly Simple Things Every Effective Business Leader Does

Whether your business is big, small or Indie, leading it is no small feat. Effective leadership is not about theory and rhetoric. It's about action, about taking the bull by the horns. It's not about making noise and kicking up a bunch of dust. It's about touching home plate. Thank goodness we don't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to being effective Chief Executive Officers. There are thousands of business leaders who set good examples for us to follow, and we can learn from them daily by reading about them in magazines, enjoying their blog posts and joining their Twitter circle.


This article shares some of the most valuable things I have learned about effective leadership by watching and listening to others. One by one, I have put all of these things to work in my own business, including hosting the Indie Business Radio Show which this week celebrates the start of its fourth season! This is not an exhaustive list of leadership action tips, but these 9 things work for me and I do them over and over and over again. I hope you enjoy them, and can put some of them to work in your business. At the end, please weigh in with your own best leadership action tips in the comments.

1. Make Mistakes

In conversation after conversation with Indies, I am told that the reason they are not doing something they know they need to do is fear. Fear that they won't do it perfectly. Fear that it won't work. Fear that it will turn out to be a waste of time. I was terrified to host my first Indie Business Radio show. If I had followed that terror, the show that helps so many people (and is so much fun for me) would not exist.

Tinu Abayomi-Paul, a partner in a website promotion company (Twitter: @Tinu) puts it this way: "Repeat what works until it doesn't." If something turns out out be a mistake, don't do it anymore. If it works, repeat the activity. How simple is that? There's nothing to be afraid of because if it doesn't work, just scratch if off your to do list.

Effective business leaders risk making mistakes. It's how they learn. Something that first looks like a big mistake could turn out to be a big success instead. But, you'll never know unless you take the risk.

2. Welcome Competition

If you're not connecting with those who provide similar products and services to you, you're missing out on the best way to keep your business on top. It may seem counterintuitive, but welcoming competitors into your circle of influence is fun and empowering. Competition is good. It keeps us sharp. It's what drives us to make our products and services better, faster, less expensive, more enjoyable and more fun.

Iron sharpens iron. Be thankful that there are other people doing what you do so you can use them as a sort of tool sharpener. When this happens, you win because you learn ways to make your business better, and your customers win because when you compete, they have more options. This keeps the economy strong and keeps business leaders on their toes.

3. Seek Out Like-Minded Companions

Effective business leaders are connected to other people. For example, last year, I convinced my friend, the E-Commerce Diva to launch Bootstrap Babes Bootstrap Babes, a blog we co-editing for a few years. What happens when two or more passionate people get together is magical.

Take Indie Beauty Network member Anne-Marie Faiola of Brambleberry (Twitter: @brambleberry) who employs and writes about the power of MasterMinding as a collaborative business building technique. Anne-Marie, a regular MasterMinder who is featured in the November 2008 issue of Success Magazine, grew her business to over $3M in annual revenue before she turned 30 years old.

Anne-Marie also collaborates with like-minded companions in different ways. For example, she accompanied me and several other Indie Beauty Network members to Capitol Hill in August to advocate against FDA Globalization. Each one of us learned a lot from the experience and new ideas and collaborations continue to form as a result of the investment of time in ourselves and in each other.

WendyY Bailey (Twitter: @wendyybailey) of Group Mastery, a service that helps people successfully implement group coaching programs, says that, "Connecting with people via social media has exposed me to lots of new perspectives and opportunities to collaborate." WendyY says she found a kindred spirit in Melody Campbell, the Small Biz Guru (Twitter: @smbizguru). After meeting on Twitter, they discovered a joint passion for helping radio show hosts be successful, so are now collaborating to create a Facebook support group to help Internet radio show hosts be successful. (I joined yesterday!) Wendy says the group will officially launch later this month and when it does, it has the potential to enhance Wendy's and Melody's core businesses while allowing them to expand their reach naturally.

4. Don't Expect to Become Rich

Effective leaders don't overemphasize fortune and fame. They want to be comfortable, yes. Some even want to be rich and famous. They they don't do what they do because they expect those things. They do what they do because they want to have a positive impact somehow, and if those things, come as a by-product, it's icing on the cake of life.

Take Indie Beauty Network member Kayla Fioravanti of Essential Wholesale (Twitter: @EssentialU), a supplier of bulk cosmetics to cosmetic retailers. Kayla and her husband, Dennis, launched their business so that they could change the face of the cosmetics industry as they also supported themselves and their three children. They didn't pursue riches, nor did they expect them. According to Kayla, "We never wanted to be rich, we just wanted to develop products that could help others and sell them at a reasonable price so we could take care of ourselves. The fact that our business has grown beyond what we originally planned is like extra credit for us." (Enjoy my interview with Kayla and Dennis on Indie Business Radio.)

The most effective (and admired) business leaders never have financial gain and self indulgence as a primary motivation. I believe this is because the lure of money wears thin after a while. It's not money alone that's going to make you want to do that interview, launch that new website, get on that airplane or take that annoying phone call. Only true passion makes a leader do those things with a joyful and thankful attitude. Effective leaders are passionate about changing the world, not about becoming rich.

5. Stay in Touch With Your Audience

One of the ways Tinu Abayomi-Paul markets her business is through article marketing. At one point in 2005, she stopped article marketing altogether and invested 3 to 6 months a year to use some traditional advertising techniques. Says Tinu, "I stopped doing my weekly article marketing, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why my sales had dropped. Then someone pointed out that they hadn't seen a new article from me in months. Suddenly, it all made sense."

Staying connected with customers and clients is a necessity. Staying in touch is one of the ways Tinu has grown her business so much that she calls herself "retired." Like Tinu, we all have to figure out what works best in terms of staying in personal touch with our customers and clients. The same thing won't work for everyone, but as Tinu points out, staying in touch is critical. Use blogs (yours and other people's), email newsletters, Twitter, direct mail, the telephone, traditional email and everything else at your disposal to create and maintain contact with your target audience. Tinu's experience shows that, if you are experiencing a drop in sales, it may not be due to a recession, a poor economy or even poor products. It may simply be that your customers aren't hearing from you.

6. Use the Heck Out of Technology

One of the best things about leading a business today is that technology makes it easier and more fun than ever. One of the most effective ways to use technology is by establishing a blog. Take Indie Beauty Network member Kelley Maddison. Kelley started coaching with me earlier this year, almost a full year before the early 2009 launch of her cosmetics business, PRIIA Mineral Cosmetics. One of the first things I did was introduce Kelley to blogging, and she launched The Mineral Makeup Coach Blog nearly a year before the planned launch date of her cosmetics line.

Of my advice to launch a blog so far in advance of her products being available for purchase, Kelley says, "At first, I didn't know if it was a good idea because PRIIA wasn't slated to launch until early 2009. I didn't have a clue about what a blog was, or the value of having one BEFORE launching my business. I thought it didn't matter.  Boy, was I wrong!"

Kelley continues. "The Mineral Makeup Coach Blog has allowed me to establish myself as an expert in my field, plus people are interacting with me on a personal level. This is giving future customers a chance to know in advance who is behind their favorite brand of mineral makeup and skin care. They have a connection with me that the behemoths of the cosmetic industry don't have with their customers, and it's all thanks to technology, specifically my blog and other social networking avenues like Twitter.'

It's 5 months before Kelley's business launches and already, dozens of people are anticipating the event. In addition, Kelley has been named a beauty and cosmetics contributor at Boutique Flair, where she'll contribute an article each week. Kelley is taking effective leadership actions months in advance of her business launch. She summarizes the business launch experience thus far like this: "Behold the power of technology!"

7. Ask For Help

As simple as it sounds, this one gives a lot of people trouble. But any successful business leader will tell you that, without a combination of helpful clients, customers, partners, employees, team members, family members and friends, their business would not exist.

I am a perfect example of this. I launched Indie Beauty Network nearly 9 years ago. During that time, I have used all of the above to help my business maintain an edge in the market. Clients and customers help me by telling me what they like and don't like so I can serve them better. My husband and I are the only employees, but a team of independent contractors from website designers, graphics artists, SEO experts, my radio show engineer and more help keep everything working together. And perhaps most importantly, I have a group of family helpers and friends who help me take care of my home so that I have the freedom and flexibility I need to expand my business.

Without all of these people (and more that there's just no space to include!), nothing would be happening in my business. No Indie is an island, and no effective business leader goes it alone. If your business is stalled and you have more ideas than you have time and expertise to implement, you need some help. Get some.

8. Know When to Change, Then Change

Howard Schultz joined Starbucks in 1987. Over the years, as the CEO, Schultz lead the company through a series of decisions that resulted in enormous growth and profitability. In April 2005, James L. Donald was named president and CEO of the company. Unfortunately, on his watch, the company made decisions that led to too much bureaucracy; and a series of financial decisions that were not warranted given the growth curve of the business. So in January 2008, Schultz returned to the helm, and when he did, he made a series of difficult decisions designed to set the company back on the right track.

First, he shut down all 7,100 Starbucks stores for 3 hours on February 26 to give employees a crash course in improving coffee customer service. In July 2008, he announced that the company would close 600 US stores and terminate hundreds of employees and planned job openings between then and the first half of 2009. These were difficult but necessary changes to make. Acknowledging the need for change is a good thing, but effective business leaders also take action. They make things happen. They take control. They create change rather than let outside forces create change for them.

9.  Connect Your Business Mission With Your Life Mission

In an interview that aired yesterday on CNN's GPS Show, host Fareed Zakaria asked Microsoft founder Bill Gates whether he thought history would remember him as the man who created Microsoft or as the man who created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates answered:

"You know, most of the things we do, we do because of the people we care about, our family, because we love doing them every day. And it doesn't require a historical perspective. You have values. You have things you enjoy, things you're good at. And for me, these foundation issues really fit every one of those characteristics."

Gates' answer shows the inextricable connection between his personal and business missions. He pursued what he enjoyed, what he was good at. This allowed him to care for his family and remain true to his values. When the foundation came along, it was an organic extension of what already existed. You can read the transcript of the Gates interview here. Even before Gates became one of the most generous philanthropists in the world, he connected his business to his mission of ensuring that every home in America had at least one computer. Gates' life mission changed the word. His business is simply the tool he used to do that.

What do you think?

How many of these leadership actions do you take each day? What things do you do to lead your business that are not listed here? Please weigh in with your best Indie Business leadership tips and ideas.

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.