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March 10, 2016
Tools  |  3 min read

3 Tips for Leaders of Small Teams

By Natalie Burg

Are you part of the team, or do you lead it? For small businesses with a small staff, the answer is often "both." That becomes a challenge when aspects of one role come into conflict with the other. Being a member of the team can make it awkward to take charge. But as long as you sign the checks, it's important to maintain your identity as the leader, even when you're also a hands-on member of the team. Here are three tips to help you wear both hats more effectively.

1. Balance visibility and blending in

"We know that leaders need to be seen by followers—from formal presentations and announcements, to a crisis, to simple 'managing by walking around,'" writes Brian Evje for Time Business. "The less-obvious occasions, however, are easily overlooked. They can be lost opportunities, or powerful expressions of leadership." Bearing unpopular news and mediating disputes, Evje says, are occasions when it should be clear who is in charge. But good leaders also know how to blend into the team. "Otherwise, he or she risks drawing attention away from the people and issues at hand," Evje says. "When you pull back, it makes it easier for other people to bring you hard problems, bad news, and perspectives that challenge the status quo."

2. Set the sense of purpose

A common sense of purpose is the core of any team. Clearly setting and maintaining that mission marks you as the leader, even while you're working elbow-to-elbow with employees. Regardless of business type, writes Gwen Moran for, your purpose can and should be articulated to the team. "For example," Moran says, "if you sell machine parts, it's because someone needs them to keep their equipment running. The receptionist at an insurance company helps protect people from financial catastrophe. Clarifying the big-picture importance of what your people do helps employees stay focused and committed, even when the demands are great."

3. Be right or be wrong, but be in charge

Kevin Daum writes on that leaders should be "right much of the time, but be comfortable being wrong. The simple way to be right is to do your homework and state facts that are well thought out." Team members should be informed, but there's extra incentive to be on top of the facts as a leader. Being the most informed builds respect among your team, as will admitting when you're wrong. "Take it as a qualified risk, manage expectations, and if you're wrong, smile and be happy you learned something that day," Daum writes. Also important, he adds, is showing equal respect to your team members whether they are right or wrong.

Being part of a team is fun; there's no doubt about that. But maintaining control of your own small business is certainly more fun than the alternative. Do you consider yourself more of a team player or a leader? What could you do to create a better balance?


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