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Are You a Leader or a Wanter?

July 21, 2023

By George Scott, originally published in SBAM’s May/June 2023 issue of Focus magazine

I have seen it happen way too often. Employers put the onus of knowledge of role responsibilities and duties on the employees…without that precise information being previously shared with the employees.

A Wanter Business Owner Explained

The Wanter business owner wants the employees to know what they should be doing rather than taking the time and putting forth the effort to provide clear communications about what is expected and required for the performance of their role responsibilities and duties.

Essentially, a Wanter business owner abdicates business leadership responsibilities, wanting the function of a business owner to be easy.

A Wanter’s Work Environment

Due to the rudderless ship aspect of a Wanter’s business, the work environment quite often has:

  1. High stress, with angered employees’ hostilities frequently boiling over;
  2. A higher-than-industry-average employee turnover rate, with good people leaving and the wrong people staying;
  3. Consistently unhappy customers/clients.

As an attempt to compensate for the lack of leadership skills, a Wanter business owner is likely to view the relationship with the employees as a top/down relationship whereas demands (often unreasonable) are made of the employees. Undoubtedly, micromanagement exists, which Tim Denning, a prolific personal development writer, indicates in his LinkedIn posting as “a red flag for a lack of leadership skills.”

A common outcome is repeated “enforcement in the breach” situations. These occur when the employer has assumed employees knew the rules, which were never verbally shared and/or never supplied to the employees in writing. The Wanter business owner ends up reprimanding the violating employee for not knowing what the employee never knew (aka was never told).

When questioned about that approach, the business owner claims, “The information was given to them on the day they were hired.” Chances are, since that day, there has been no follow up training, employee reviews and/or general dissemination of the referenced information and operational guidelines.

This type of situation was more likely to have occurred in the 1950-60s. However, we are now in the 21st century.

Clearly, a Wanter business owner is self-centered whereas a Leader business owner is employee centric.

Becoming a Leader

How can a Wanter business owner become a Leader business owner?

Be Employee Focused: First, the business owner must realize that it’s not all about them. As the author and motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, once said, “If you help enough people get what they want, they will help you get what you want.”

Steven Sample, the past president of the University of Buffalo and University of Southern California, explains in his book The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, how he felt his position as university president gave him access to resources that no other faculty or staff member had. He then sought ways to connect his faculty and staff members with those resources so they could be more successful in their respective roles.

Help Those Who Help You: Tony Dungy, in his book The Mentor Leader, states “The best leaders I’ve found are those who are engaged with the people around them.” He continues by saying, “Truly serving others requires putting ourselves and our desires aside while looking for ways and opportunities to do what is best for others.”

Taking it a step further, Richard Branson, founder of The Virgin Group, advises business owners to “take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.”

George Clements, past President of the Jewel Tea Company, was quoted by Steven Sample as saying, “90% of your time… should be doing everything you can to help your direct reports succeed.”

Delegate and Outsource Logically: Pause for a moment and perform a business strengths and weaknesses self-assessment. Chances are you have core knowledge and core competencies that allow you to bring value to your clients/customers. Thus, stick with what you know and do best.

If you have employees, follow Steven Sample’s advice to “hire people who are more competent than [you] in specific areas of expertise” and then, let them do their job.

Attend Leadership Classes or Seminars: Whether you attend classes in person and/or online, there are a number of colleges and universities in Michigan that provide excellent business and leadership courses. Some that come to mind are:

  • Baker College
  • Grand Valley State University
  • Northwood University
  • Central Michigan University
  • Hillsdale College
  • Spring Arbor University
  • Cornerstone University
  • Kalamazoo College
  • University of Michigan
  • Davenport University
  • Michigan State University
  • Western Michigan University

Depending on where in Michigan you live, asynchronous online courses might make the most sense for you. Costs vary, so do your due diligence and find a course that fits your leadership development goals, your budget and your busy schedule.

Read More: An alternative to taking courses is self-paced reading of and/or listening to business-leadership-focused books, articles and whitepapers of which there are many hardcover, softcover or audio versions. Amazon and Audible are good places to start.

When reading, you never know when a particular word, phrase or concept might suddenly mean something significant that you can immediately put to use. The chance of those words, phrases or concepts coming alive increases substantially if you set aside a few minutes each day to read a few pages. I know of one self-disciplined business owner who reads for exactly 10 minutes every day. Another example is Steven Sample who says, “I devote about thirty minutes a day to reading.” Whatever length of time works for you, do it.

Join Peer Groups and Participate: Being a member of an industry association can provide countless benefits that include how to become a better business leader within your industry and your business.

Additionally, business-oriented social media sites have peer groups and presentations. One such example is the Leadership Development Group on LinkedIn.

The value of utilizing these resources increases with the level of your participation. Don’t be a wallflower. Lead a discussion from time to time.

Give it Time to Work: Some changes can occur immediately. For instance, making sure all trash goes into a trash can, rather than on the floor around it, is something that can (and should) change instantly.

However, when it comes to changing a work environment from Wanter to Leader style, it takes considerably longer—sometimes as long as six to twelve months. Sometimes people resist change, even if the change is for the positive.

Initially, there will be skepticism. Why? Because that is the way people are. A work environment shift is slow. You MUST remain consistent with your changed actions. If you lapse back to your old way of doing things, you will have to restart the change.

Stay or Go: If you can honestly admit that you are a Wanter business owner and you feel there is no need to change how you handle business operations and your employees, then go. Sell your business to a worthy buyer. If you don’t wish to sell your business, find someone who can manage it for you and go do something you are more excited about.

For those of you who are already Leader business owners, and for those of you who are striving to become a Leader business owner—CONGRATULATIONS! Stay the course. You’ll be glad you did.

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