Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Steve Ryan on Small Business Leadership

Small Business Leadership

(or Chickens, military intelligence and you)(

During a recent meeting I had with a buyer from a large national chain, he asked, “Are there any of them (small independent stores) left?”  I thought it was a fairly bold and dismissive attitude; but, I’ve never known buyers in any business to be a demure and humble lot.

Even into the next day, I couldn’t get rid of his assumption, and the questions rattling around in my head, so I finally wrote them down:

  • Are there really any thriving stores?
  • Are local paint stores going the way of butcher shops, bakeries, and independent pharmacies as supermarket chains and big boxes come to town?
  • If stores can’t adjust and compete, should owners admit defeat and disappear gracefully?
  • What is the future of the Independent paint store and chain?

As I thought about it, I realized that yes, there are stores and chains that are doing well, even in today’s economy. I believe this is because small business owners thrive on challenge. We all know that small business is the life blood of the country, and the country is depending on us to succeed! The real question is, how do we do it?  Small businesses, although out-gunned, can change quicker and adapt faster than the larger, national organizations.

The only way a business can survive, grow, and prosper is through clear and decisive leadership.  Leaders need to be focused, visible, communicate effectively, and inspire others to act and implement what needs to be done.  Leaders know where they are going, what needs to be done, who needs to be trained, and who is going to implement each portion of the plan.

So, how does it all work? How does one become a good leader?  There is only so much time in a day, too many things to do, and only so much of yourself to go around.  Not only that, but you can’t be successful all by yourself.

The only way to thrive personally and professionally is to build a team and delegate tasks.  But delegate what?  Ask yourself, what can others do quicker, better and cheaper than you, based on their talents?  What can you, and only you, do that can’t be delegated? The leader must build the team and include them in moving towards the objective.

This quest for proficient leadership is as old as the written word; from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” to Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish (29:18).”  Thousands of years later, we still seek the answer on how to lead. A more modern example can be found in the following story.

During WWII, the Army sent many Rangers into action behind enemy lines.  The missions were vital, but casualties were heavy.  Generals noticed that a Captain Robert Camp had much lower loss of life with his troops.

As command studied the management and leadership style of Captain Camp, they realized he didn’t order his men, he consulted them as to the best way to achieve the mission they were given.  The mission’s orders never changed, only the way the team executed the mission was negotiable.

Every aspect of the mission was analyzed and consulted by members of the team.  As planning continued and tactics developed, it was now the team’s mission. The Army soon realized that men ordered and not consulted gave up more quickly; they were just following orders. Camp’s men owned the mission. His team wasn’t about to give up easily on what they conceived and created, and as a result, more men came back alive.

In a company, advisory groups are an excellent way to create employee ownership of the small and large aspects of the business. Employees included in the plan and results have a reason to see it to its conclusion.  Many company problems can be solved by presenting the issues to employees who are in the trenches every day.

If you need to cut payroll by 10% this year and are considering letting a few people go, it might be better to propose it to the employee advisory group for solution rather than by mandate.  You might be surprised when the team challenges all employees to reduce costs by increasing energy efficiency, streamlining costs, etc. and offering to each cut two hours per week from their schedules.

When difficulties arise, most employees won’t give up their plan so easily. “Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly,” states renowned motivational speaker, Dr. Stephen Covey.

Now you might be thinking that it is easier to obtain commitment when sending men in to harm’s way and more difficult in day to day business. Let me tell you about a company that makes chicken cages. Of all things unexciting, this company could be the poster child for worker absenteeism.

On the contrary, this company is a model for leadership, employee dedication, innovation and motivation.  Their mission statement is, “Feed a Hungry World.”  Around the plant are photos of all the villages in third world countries that have been changed by the products they sell. Testimonials in abundance are hung on the halls from the villagers, families and children whose lives that have been changed from hunger to nourishment.  The entire company works as a team to enrich the lives of others.

All aspects of the company from increasing customer service to production methods can be upgraded by leading and consulting those around you. What is your mission? What motivates you and your employees to be part of the small business revolution.  Continually upgrading your leadership skills and deciding on the mission will propel you and others to better times ahead.


Good Luck,

Steve Ryan

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Steve Ryan has 20 years of experience as a contractor. He now produces Mad Dog Paint Products. An ALLPRO member since 2005 (search under Associate Paint/Mad Dog Paint Products), Steve can be reached at

Editors note:

In the course of five articles, Steve will share with you how independant business associates operate their businesses. Steve will share this information with the Blogging Painters and we look forward to reading more.


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