The one leadership quality to rule them all

I’ve been thinking and writing about 2020 – what it may bring for small business, and how we can make it better for ourselves. The theme of leadership (both good and bad) keeps coming to the surface, so I just did a quick Google search. I typed in “Qualities of a Good Leader”. In 0.58 seconds, I had 854,000,000 results.

That’s a lot of qualities of a good leader! To be sure, the majority of those articles would cover the same themes. Here’s an example from one article I found:

  • strong communication
  • passion and commitment
  • positivity
  • innovation
  • collaboration.

All the articles I opened to look through had variations on these themes, but there are a few items that appear in some articles, but by no means all.

The collateral damage of unethical corporate behaviour

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you couldn’t help but to have heard about the antics of our largest financial institutions in Australia – unveiled by the Banking Royal Commission. Yes, we’ve known about it for quite some time, but there’s nothing like a Royal Commission to shine some daylight into dark corners.

I suspect that we, as small-business owners, are disproportionately represented in the collateral damage of this corporate misbehaviour. I have no hard evidence for that, but given that 94 per cent of businesses in Australia are small, and that all business owners will have an investment in these big companies through share portfolios and super funds, I think I’m on pretty safe ground.

It’s time to call foul

Therefore, I think that we SME owners are perfectly entitled to call foul. Unethical behaviour at the top of our major corporations damages us – as business owners and as shareholders. It undermines the trust that is needed for Small Companies and Big Business to work together for mutual benefit.

Unfortunately, such bad behaviour isn’t limited to our own shores. The Global Financial Crisis of the late 2000s resulted in the demise of hundreds of thousands of small businesses across the globe. Unfortunately, some of our friends in other countries were numbered amongst them, even though their own businesses were well-run. At the very root of this near-death experience for the entire financial system, was unscrupulous lending.

The one quality of a good leader we mustn’t forget

In the Lord of the Rings Trilogy written by J. R. R. Tolkien, there is One Ring to Rule Them All. The other rings created were powerful in themselves, but the One Ring was able to rule and control all.

My thesis is that there is One Quality of a Good Leader to Rule Them All. It is more powerful than all the other qualities identified, talked about and taught:

Don’t be an unethical jerk!

Time and time again, unethical behaviour at the top of Government, business, churches, or not-for-profit organisations, is brought under the microscope. There is a great rustling of newspapers and headlines, a few resignations by sacrificial lambs, followed by a flurry of regulation.

Then there is silence. Until the next time.

I know that it can be beyond scary to call out a large organisation for bad behaviour. Your contract, or even the very survival of your business, may depend on your keeping it under wraps. But where we possibly can, it’s important for us to speak up. In any case, the very minimum you can do is model the correct behaviour in your own business.

For 2020, I hope more business owners will embrace the One Leadership Quality to Rule Them All, don’t be an unethical jerk.

Bronwyn Reid, Owner, Small Company Big Business

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