Leadership in your SME: Practical wisdom to succeed without dying in the attempt

My dear readers, in this edition, I have decided to share my experience on a seemingly trivial but vital topic: Leadership. Throughout my career, I had the opportunity to collaborate with teams led by great individuals and I hold a special regard and appreciation for a couple of them.

Though they had very different leadership styles, they left me with valuable lessons. The most precious thing I cherish from both is that they had faith in my abilities and skills, even beyond what I sometimes believed in myself. They allowed me to make mistakes and stumble as many times as necessary for me to learn from my errors and emerge stronger each time. Much of what I am today in the professional field is thanks to them. Both of them opened doors and provided growth opportunities that have shaped my existence. Now, as I face challenges and introspect, I wonder how they would have solved the situations or what actions they would have taken. I always find it helpful to remember the patience they had with me, even when I displayed a challenging and stubborn attitude.

In the end, I’ve always been a bit rebellious, somewhat defiant and always questioning the status quo. This has led to some enjoyable boat rides but also some rough and interesting seas to navigate. If, like me, you are working on the growth and development of your SME (Small and Medium-sized Enterprise), I want to share some advice based on this transition from being just me and my computer in some obscure café to growing and having a team in nice offices in Monterrey.

1. The first thing we need to understand is that the team is not you. While you may share the dream and vision, the reality is that you are the entrepreneur, you are the visionary. It’s not fair to wear down your team in favor of your projects and ideas. There must be a balance between work and personal time for everyone in your organization, including yourself.

And don’t take it the wrong way; I understand. I’m passionate about my work and I know that we often juggle too many things during the day and we have to catch up in the evenings and even at night. However, there’s a tool in your email that allows you to schedule message deliveries for the following day or provide mobile devices for contacting your team during working hours. It’s not about there being a Mexican standard dictating these kinds of “rules” (if you’re not aware, it’s Standard 035). I call it the minimum decency of having respect for your collaborators’ space and time.

2. Let’s talk about diversity and inclusion in your organization. I warn you that simply displaying a rainbow-colored logo during Pride Month doesn’t automatically make your organization inclusive.
It goes beyond that. How conscious are you of the challenges faced by people in vulnerable conditions and with different cultural backgrounds, be it ethnic, gender, disabilities, sexual orientation, etc.?

As a leader, what are you doing to include and promote diversity? It’s of no use to proclaim on your communication channels on March 8th if a working mother approaches and has to request permission to attend her child’s festival with fear or reservations about whether she will be given the opportunity.
Let’s remember that the 48-hour workweek was designed with the past century’s male-breadwinner and female-household roles in mind. Times have changed and the management that worked in the last century may not necessarily be suitable today. The world is in constant flux and we, as leaders, must stay informed and adapt.

3. The generational gap – how are you dealing with this issue? For me, it has been one of my biggest challenges. Our clients are Baby Boomers and Millennials, while the work team is half Millennials and half Gen Z. I have a couple of magic words to consider: Tolerance and Understanding.

The reality is that if you’re like me, an “Early Millennial,” you know that we have an interesting combination of “hustle” and an obsession with success. We grew up in the “Workaholic” school of our predecessors, which I truly appreciate. However, the newer generations have different interests, different tolerance for frustration and an irreverence that we probably didn’t show, or in my case, repressed. Although my former boss might contradict me on that point. But the point is, how much do we pause to observe our surroundings and focus on finding solutions to provide stability to our collaborators and clients? Concentrate on developing your company’s organizational culture with an eye to the future.
The Generation Alpha is just around the corner, so educate yourself and prepare for this transition.

4. The selection of your “Champions,” those individuals who lead your leadership team and help you communicate and spread the organization’s culture, is a beautiful task. I’ve had more successes than stumbles in this area, but I’ve also hit a wall a couple of times.

Make sure you have two-way communication with your champions and that your messages are delivered appropriately to your work team. If you notice a game of “telephone,” don’t delay in initiating a dialogue and reestablishing immediate communication.

Remember that these individuals must be a blend of attitude and aptitude. Along the way, we’ll encounter people with great technical skills but lacking the attitude and soft skills required to lead your most valuable and important element: People. Trust, honesty, resilience and adaptability are key in identifying these magical individuals.

5. Pay attention to your language and how you communicate with your team. Sometimes, we underestimate the power of our words and energy. Imagine that on a Monday in your weekly kickoff meeting, you have a gloomy face, a terrible attitude and words like, “This week is really tough, we’re overwhelmed, we’re stressed, it’s impossible, it’s really hard.” You complain about the clients, the projects, the team and you’re only missing complaining about yourself, as that would be an exaggeration.

Pause for a moment and analyze your behavior. Always remember that what is inside is reflected outside. It won’t be long before you hear the same words and see the same attitudes mirrored in your team. If you detect such an attitude in one of your champions, address it immediately. Try to understand what’s happening and if it’s beyond your control, don’t be afraid to take drastic action like parting ways with them. One of my biggest regrets is not having taken action in these situations earlier and letting small issues grow into significant problems.

6. Finally, learn that your decisions won’t necessarily be the most popular or make everyone happy.
It’s part of your job. If you’re looking for a large following, open an account on X or start selling ice cream because we all love ice cream. For example, the man who passes by our office every day. There’s no better sign of approval than the cheer when his horn sounds at 5 pm.

And understand that it’s okay because no one else has the global understanding of what’s happening. While there should always be active listening to your collaborators since they can provide insights for improvement, their interests and what may work better in operations, when it comes to business, you set the course because you know what’s best for the organization based on the vision of what you want to achieve as a company. Lean on your mentors or peers who align with your vision of conscious leadership and who are experiencing or have gone through complex situations in their organizations. These are the people who can provide a different perspective that makes you question your actions and improve.

As a closing remark for this article, I’d like to ask you to always remember the reasons why you decided to start a business. You took a leap of faith that has become a game of persistence and resilience and inadvertently, you opened the door to the path of leadership.

There will always be detractors and people who can point out what’s wrong with your company, what should be done, or the myriad reasons why everything seems to be going wrong. Their opinions are valid because freedom of expression exists. Many times, this is nothing more than a reflection of frustration. They express themselves from their comfort zones. They are entities who, on average, are not seen innovating, proposing, changing, improving, or taking risks. Their attitude generally has more to do with them than with you.

As a leader, always keep your ears open and your mind receptive. But pay special attention to who you place your trust in and at the table. Don’t forget that the line of people offering opinions is always long, while the line of people making things happen is short. That’s your power.

From my Libra and entrepreneurial existence, see you in the next edition.

Jess Rojas.

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