3 Key Leadership Traits for Small Business Owners

There is a great deal of information on traits or qualities of a great leader and leadership. A few minutes of internet research revealed a list of about 30 characteristics. If you read a couple of books on leadership, you could add even more. One of the many ways that we assist, coach and advise small businesses is to take broad information intended for large businesses and mix it with our knowledge and years of experience with small businesses to develop practical advice for the small business owner. So, here are 3 key leadership traits an owner of a small company should consider.



Character encompasses qualities like honesty, responsibility, accountability, doing what you say you are going to do and just plain doing the right thing.

Here is an example of character in action. A small manufacturing company (buyer) contracts with another small manufacturing company (vendor) to purchase products for $19000. The products are received, but the invoice is sent to the buyer for only $17000. The buyer calls the vendor and says “you did not charge us enough, $17000 was not our agreement”. The vendor says “that was our mistake, you are not responsible for our error”. The buyer says “but paying you $19000 is the right thing to do”. The $19000 was paid. Character was displayed by both companies.



Knowledge means the small business owner has at least a general understanding of all aspects of their business. They may not be a CPA, but they understand financial statements. They may not be a professional marketer, but they understand their target market and which marketing methods are most useful in reaching the target. They may not be a HR professional, but they have an understanding of employment law and the fact that each employee has a unique background and personality. They may not be an engineer, but they understand the need to develop new products, services and processes. Also, successful small business owners seek to learn more.

Consider the owner of a small service company that struggled to understand financial statements like the income statement and balance sheet. The owner took the time to learn the relationship between these two financial statements and how to use these documents to help manage their company. The owner then shared this knowledge with their employees so they could have an understanding of how their actions affected the company from a financial perspective.



Communication includes attributes such as writing, speaking and acting with reasoning, clarity, simplicity and purpose to customers, employees and vendors. It means taking the time to listen and consider all points of view before making critical decisions. Communication should have a consistent message.

Consider an example of a small manufacturing business having a verbal and written policy in regards to producing quality products. A batch of product was produced with some of the product not meeting quality standards. Some thought of calling the customer to see if they would accept the non-compliant products. Others thought that simply placing them (hiding them) at the bottom of the shipping container was the answer. The business owner made the decision to scrap the non-compliant products and remake them. This communicated a clear and concise message that quality products will indeed be produced.



Sometimes, despite the small businesses owner’s best efforts to be a great leader, some employees will choose not to follow. This is simply the reality of human nature. There may come a point where the owner must make difficult decisions in regards to the employment status of these non-following employees based on their impact to the company.

These 3 traits of character, knowledge and communication are critical to small business owners and the success of their companies.

Please contact us today if we can help you in developing these traits.