Saturday | October 21, 2017
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Business Leadership


When we think about leadership in business we tend to focus on the core skills that every entrepreneur must possess to be successful: a clear picture of what we sell, who we sell it to and how much we need to charge to make a reasonable profit. But when you begin to add other people — employees — to the equation, the challenge of running the business takes on a new dimension.

From an employee’s perspective, the owner of the business is expected to know everything, be organized and on top of decisions as they arise and, mostly importantly, a great communicator. That’s what they expect from their leader, regardless of the size of the company or organization.

Of course the reality is often times just the opposite — we don’t know everything about running our business, there is always too much to do and keep track of and sometimes we just don’t know the solution to a problem. And when it comes to communications, some of us are better at it than others.

So now the question: Are leaders born or is it a skill you can learn? My experience points to a combination of the two. We’ve all seen people who just seem to have a natural gift for getting others to follow their lead. And yet we have also seen others who grow into leadership positions. And it from these individuals I think we can learn a few lessons.

1. There is no substitute for doing the hard work. The vast majority of successful businesspeople have worked very, very hard to master their craft and business. They have in a sense earned the right to lead others.

2. Leaders are clear thinkers. In a world that is a click away from most everything you want to know or a text message away from another interruption it is easy to get caught up in the noise of everyday life.

Business leaders stay focused on those few things that really matter: the customer experience, the quality of their employees and the role of their business in our community.

3. We are all teachers. Some of the greatest lessons about business and life come from the sharing between mentor and protégée. Most every accomplished businessperson I have known over the years had such a person or persons in their life. If you don’t have one get one, or better yet be one. Remember some leaders are born but most are grown.

The other area of leadership in business comes when the business owner ventures into the realm of community leadership. Some do it because their kid’s soccer team needs a coach or a friend invited them to a Chamber or Rotary Club meeting. These venues offer a wonderful opportunity for business owners to expand their understanding of the community in which their business exists. Aside from the social value of getting away from the daily press of work, comes the opportunity for personal growth, confidence and for some the opportunity to become leading voices.

Here is what we know:

1. Every business owner shares a community of interests with other business owners. A thriving downtown is the sum total of successful businesses joined together by a common location, similar customers and a group of entrepreneurs with a common desire to “do it their way.” My neighbor’s success is my success.

2. Successful businesses and communities don’t just happen. If history teaches us anything it is that from time to time leaders emerge to chart the path toward prosperity. And the best leaders, whether as individuals or as members of a team, rise to the challenges for the common good of the many and not out of self-interest.

And so much of what drives entrepreneurs to strike out on their own are exactly the qualities that make for great community leaders: clarity of purpose, a sense of values and a commitment to leave behind a better place.

Kurt Corbin is the assistant State Director of the Hawaii Small Business Development Center, a program of the University of Hawaii at Hilo, funded in part by a grant from the US SBA. We invite your question and comments. Please write to us at


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