Small Business Leadership during COVID-19

If you've found this post as you're thinking about how to handle a COVID-19 world, you might also be interested in my free ebook, Winning the Uncertainty: A Playbook for Strategy in Times of Survival, or my blog post on Winning the Uncertainty.

Your business is growing, and getting more challenging to manage. The business needs more leaders - and more out of the leaders you already have. How do you develop your leaders? 

This overview of leadership and leadership development will walk you through what leadership development is, how it will help your business, how to do it, and how to decide if DIY is fine or you should get help from an outside expert.


There are many definitions of leadership, but the best one is: providing the insight and energy to make valuable changes happen when they otherwise wouldn't. 

How do leaders make changes happen? There are several pieces of leadership: 

  • Vision and strategy: the leader anticipates market ad company forces, defines the changes they'll require, and sets the direction and priorities.

  • Values and culture: the leader sets the tone, behaviors, and norms

  • Influence and motivation: the leader gets other people to buy in and go beyond, and creates collaboration

  • Assessment and decision making: the leader understands the situation and their complexity, and sees them holistically, can assess what's important: and makes good decisions effectively and efficiently 


The goal of leadership development is the goal to develop the depth and breadth of the leader - depth is the

ability to drive better results in familiar situations, and breadth is the ability to drive better results in new

situations. Depth and breadth require a leader to use a wide range of skills, tools, and approaches. 

There are three numerical important elements of leadership development: 

  • Awareness: the ability to recognize what's happening within and around the leader

  • Open-mindedness: the flexibility to understand things in multiple ways

  • Learning: constantly:  expanding the leader's knowledge and capabilities 


Leadership is needed when "keep on keeping on is not enough" - when more is needed than "auto-pilot."

Any organization that is already operating will generate results and has some ability to manage itself and even change. However, when more is needed from the business - heading in a different direction, or improving it's performance - leadership is needed to get the organization to change... for people to give more than they typically would have, or get more out of the business than it usually gives. ​


Few people are natural-born leaders - and the ones who are, are not always what a business needs (natural-born leaders are often good during times of change and poor during times of stability). Sometimes it makes more sense to hire a leader from outside the company. But other times, it makes more sense to "skill up" someone from inside the company - for example, when there are promising employees that want a growth path, situations, the business needs to have a program to develop leaders. 

Benefits of Leadership Development

Enables their employees to have the highest impact
Retain great employees
Increased productivity
 Insure the future of the business through a solid succession path 
Make the business more resilient with a pipeline of talent

How Leadership Development Works

Self-Guided Learning - Training Classes - Internal Mentoring - External Mentoring - Peer Learning - OJT 


When taking command of leadership, maneuvering the playing field is half the battle. A clear understanding of critical next steps drives leadership development. So too often barriers surface and it is how these are addressed will keep leadership on course. knowledge of roadblocks and challenges is key. What are some of the challenges that should be addressed?
  • Development programs take time away from work:  Most rising leaders play important roles in their companies, and it’s hard for them to get away from the day-to-day work they have to do

  • Leaders have high expectations:  “Pedestrian” training programs will not work for future leaders – they want strong, sharp content and experiences for their training

  • The best development is multi-discipline:  Leaders learn best when they are getting help in multiple ways – focused classes, executive coaches, just-in-time resources they can reference, etc.

  • Development can make them unhappy with current leadership:  Future leaders usually have their own opinions.  As they learn about leadership, they may find that they don’t like how things are happening currently.  That is both a threat and an opportunity for a company.  If this is a potential issue at your company, you have to ask (a) how can I use this new leader to make the business better, (b) is that new leader a potential flight risk if not on a growth trajectory, and (c) how important is it to the company to help people fulfill their potential, even if that has negative short-term consequences?


Your leaders drive performance throughout your business. As a result, your ability to develop new and better leaders has wide-ranging impact throughout your company.
  • Get more out of the teams you have:  Good leaders improve productivity by focusing on more important issues, and getting people to make improvements to how they work

  • Expand your business into new opportunities:  Good leaders recognize and promote new opportunities, and are able to push the company into those new areas

  • Prepare for and capitalize on the future:  Good leaders are better at anticipating and moving toward the future

  • Improve the valuation of your business:  A primary contributor to business value is consistent and predictable performance, which good leaders will provide

  • Make your business succession-ready:  Having a “bench” of leaders will give you flexibility when it’s time to transition from the current leaders who got you where you are, to new leaders who will take the business where it’s going

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