Building a successful pet business takes more than product knowledge and a love of animals. It takes a particular type of person who possesses characteristics that not only help grow their business, but grow their people and themselves, too.
Having interviewed hundreds of leaders over the years and serving in leadership roles myself, I’ve discovered two things about leadership characteristics. The first is that the list of characteristics of great leaders varies depending on whom you ask. The second thing I’ve discovered is that when you combine all these characteristics, the list becomes overwhelming, especially if you’re a leader who is trying to develop strong leadership traits in yourself.
However, there are a few key characteristics that make just about every list that can help you lay the foundation for leadership success in your pet business.
Successful leaders know that to get anything done, they need to be able to communicate effectively with staff, customers, suppliers and others.
Unfortunately, great communication skills aren’t something we’re born with. They need to be developed through training and practice. Communication skills such as listening, choosing our words wisely, nonverbal communication, and providing clear and effective feedback are a must for leaders. Additionally, strong leaders ensure their staff has excellent communication skills, not only so they can communicate effectively with each other but so they best serve your customers. This includes ensuring that your staff has in-depth knowledge and understanding of the products you carry so they can convey the benefits of your products to customers.
“One of the things we do at the beginning of each year is schedule a training with each of the vendors and brands of foods and supplements we carry,” noted Stephenie Schneider, manager at The Pet Palace, outside Houston. “I can’t express how important it is for the staff to be able to clearly and effectively answer questions about products.”
Nobody wants to work with or for a Debbie or Doug Downer. Having a positive attitude and enthusiasm for your business, your products, your team and your customers is a must for success. Enthusiastic leaders are energetic, excited and have a powerful belief in their businesses and their employees. As a result, they can use that enthusiasm to inspire and motivate their team. Additionally, the positive energy of the leader’s enthusiasm is usually contagious and spreads to each team member. Not only does this help make your business a place great people will want to work, but it makes it a great place your customers will want to spend their time and money.
Many people start their own businesses because they’re tired of having a boss or a company dictate what they do. As a business owner myself, I love the freedom to do what I want to do when I want to do it and would never want to go back to a job where someone else called the shots. However, this freedom can also be the thing that destroys your business. Without someone else driving you to succeed, you only have yourself to rely on to drive you forward. Successful leaders are self-motivated to achieve their goals and work every day toward them.
A Great Team
Successful leaders know that there’s more to building a great team than just finding people who have a certain set of skills. These leaders put a lot of time and effort into their hiring processes, including creating accurate job descriptions, enticing job ads and interview processes that assess more than just skill. To build a great team, you need to find people with the right capabilities, of course, but you also want to be sure that you’re finding people with good character, are committed to their jobs and the team, and are a good fit with your team and your customer base.
Schneider added, “So many times I feel like our industry hires in duress. If you don’t feel good about a potential hire, don’t hire out of desperation.”
Time management is about more than to-do lists and keeping an appointment calendar. Time management starts with knowing what your priorities are. Think about the last time you went to buy a car. You probably didn’t just go to a car dealership and ask them to sell you any car. You probably had a list of criteria for the car you needed, in order of importance. Then, you compare the cars at the dealership with your criteria to narrow down contenders and then make a final decision based on which car fits your criteria the best.
A great leader does the same thing to prioritize how they’re going to spend their time. They create a list of criteria for what’s important for the success of their business and then any activity or task that comes up is assessed against that criteria to determine what actually makes it on their to-do list, what could be done by someone else and what doesn’t get done at all because it’s not really important. A successful leader also knows that it’s not their job to be a team member, it’s to be a team leader. This doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t step in to help when needed, but it does mean letting go of tasks, and delegating them to employees is a critical factor in making the most use of their time.
Too many business owners get caught up in daily survival mode with their businesses and don’t take the time to set goals for the future, whether it’s for the month, the quarter, the year or next five years. Without goals, though, how will you know if your business is successful? How will your employees know if they are successful? A great leader sets aside time to set goals for themselves and for the business. He or she also takes the time to meet with each employee to find out what their goals are, determine if the goals are aligned with the goals of the business, and if so, how the leader can support the employee in achieving those goals.
Leading a pet business comes with many ups and downs. On the same day you hire a great new employee, you can have several customer complaints, a lost shipment and a power outage. Successful leaders don’t give up in the face of those ups and downs. They bounce back, regroup and keep moving toward their goals.
“From my leadership interviews, the input is all over the board; however, one [characteristic] that comes up often is persistence,” stated Shawna Schuh, a leadership coach who is president of Women in the Pet Industry Network. “To pursue regardless of what happens, like a dog with a bone.”