Source: Every small business has its share of challenges, and each successful business owner must have an iron stomach to lead their business through times of growth or economic downturns. A small business owner must often make unpopular decisions, however are in tune with the best interest of their business.  Do you want to lead like a General? Samuel K. Burlum explores the leadership qualities of one of America's Modern Generals and compares how would those qualities apply to a Small Business Operation...

One of the most successful Generals who ever served this country also had to make difficult choices.  So, let’s entertain a hypothetical situation: General Colin Powell got bored with retirement and decided to open a small business, offering a set of products and services he was passionate about and felt would be of great service to the community. How would he manage his business? ? Are you ready to take charge of your business to win over Main Street just the same as he commanded an Army?

“Command is lonely.” Another way to express this is, “It is lonely at the top.” In business, the business owner cannot be everyone’s friend. They must be a leader. You can expect not to be liked by some of your employees, or by your competition, or even by some of your neighbors or even some of your own family, as they may become jealous and resentful of your small business success. What I have found is that most people who would be the first to complain they have less than someone else, are usually the last people to take risk and responsibility for their own situation. They are also the most unlikely to ever own a small business venture, and would rather criticize others from the cheap seats and sidelines.

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As the leader at the top, your business will require you to put in the time investment when no others will. That means staying late to serve a customer or to clean your store front. That means giving up doing the “normal things” with family and friends when you need to fill in for an employee who just called out sick. It means spending extra time beyond the normal business hours to take care of the business paperwork and accounting or marketing functions. As a business leader you must accept the idea of being an army of one when everyone else has gone home for the day.

General Powell once said, “Being responsible sometimes means ticking people off.” How does that apply to small business ownership? A small business owner must make unpopular choices that may not sit well with employees. A business owner may decide to set hours that are designed to cater to their clientele, which may mean staying open late on weekdays or open on weekends, when most people would rather be home or out with friends and family. When a small business owner sets the schedule, someone is assigned hours they are required to work that may not be popular. The business is being responsible by recognizing its clients’ needs and accommodating them by the hours of operation the business is open.

Another example that can be applicable to General Powell’s quote is when dealing with a difficult customer. As a business owner, it is not always possible to satisfy the demands of a client. Say you own a hardware store, and a potential customer walks in the door. They desire to purchase an item, but demand you provide the item at the same price or lower price as a big box retailer down the street. You explain your position of why your price has already been set. You take the time out to educate the potential customer about the higher quality and value your store offers; and yet the potential client begins to argue with you, voicing their demands to the point of shouting at the sales counter. In some cases, you must stand your ground if you believe in the value you offer, and not compromise on your position, even if it pisses off the potential customer who never stepped foot in your store before and may never return.

General Powell also shared, “Keep looking below the surface of appearances. Don’t shrink from doing so, because you might not like what you find.”  Basically, never stop in your journey in improving your business. There is always room for improvement. If a business is not looking to improve itself, or looking to grow, it will begin to fail and die. A business owner can never become complacent and think they are on top, if they do, the advantage automatically will be given to the competition. A business owner must always stay hungry and be in search of new methods or practices that improve the profitability and branding of their business image. I have found that every small business has one area of business competency which lags behind the rest of the operations and functions of that business, and to not go back and improve these areas when resources may be abundant, creates an internal risk.

Also, “Have fun with your command.” This means playing hard when you have earned it. Never forget the passion that was the reason why you went into business for yourself. Look for the joy and celebrate the joy of owning your own business enterprise. Every once in a while, sit back and enjoy the rewards of your efforts, even if it’s in the small things. Remember, when you enjoy what you are doing, it no longer becomes work, it is play.

Most of all, General Colin Powell believes, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”  The direction of any organization will trend toward where the attitude of the people involved take it. If the leader of the business is always looking forward, even in difficult times, their influence can spread quickly to give hope throughout the business. On the flip side of the coin, the sour outlook of any employee or manager can have a devastating effect on the productivity of the organization. It only takes one sour apple to poison the entire situation. A positive attitude can uplift employees when the message is reflected that the business and its leaders are capable.

So, how do you think General Powell would run his business? Do you think he would operate it like an army; ready to serve its clients at any moment? Would his employees be ready in a moment’s notice to meet their objectives?  Would his business be the well-oiled machine you can set your watch to? If he ran his business like he did the armed forces, you can count on it.