Why SME leaders need their own brand

Here, we look at the importance of building your leadership brand.

As businesses grow, founders have to rise to the demands and challenges of leadership. In an increasingly competitive marketplace being a strong and respected leader is more important than ever. For some people leadership can be a natural preference but for others it is a behaviour that needs to develop and grow.

Many of the world’s successful businesses started small and almost all owe their success to the vision and leadership abilities of their founders. Those individuals developed leadership skills that created a culture of success; most had to learn how to do this.

The leadership journey

Typical owner managers start as ‘artisans’ – skilled in their particular craft, but consumed by the nuts and bolts of running a small business. As the company develops, it is natural to stay ‘on the ground’, spending increasing amounts of time on routine tasks, including accountancy, maintaining new business pipelines and account management, becoming the agency’s ‘hero’ figure and chief problem solver. With this role, focus is almost exclusively ‘day to day’ and rarely allows time for higher level, strategic thinking.

Instead, owner managers must step back and think more holistically about their leadership, at an earlier stage. At the heart of this is the creation of a vision and a reason for people to follow them. A true leader must answer the questions, what is my identity as a leader? What are my unique personal characteristics? What values and behaviours do I want to be famous for? What impression do I make on staff and clients, and how do I want them to remember me?

The articulation of these points helps leaders to focus efficiently and identify what and how to communicate and behave with staff and clients.

Reaping the rewards

A successful leadership brand that is communicating effectively among staff will create an environment where people feel safe to work, thereby delivering much better results. In small business this is particularly relevant. In these cultures it is common for individuals to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones, picking up tasks that may not be ‘in the job description’, but this should be seen as an advantage and not a negative. If a leader can create a positive, motivated environment, not only will staff be willing to go the extra mile, they will be determined to do it, and do it well.

However, it is not just about creating an atmosphere for success, but one in which people trust that they will be supported by their organisation, if they fail. Once this trust is introduced and nurtured, the challenge, commitment, accountability and results will follow.

The benefits of being small

Over the years there has been a move away from more traditional, top-down, leadership styles to a more collaborative approach. The latter is built on the demonstration of authenticity and trust by the leader. Small businesses have a unique opportunity to inject this employee structure whilst it is more manageable, allowing the business to thrive and grow with a positive culture already at its core.

Confident leaders must observe their team and the functions of the business to assess how they can confidently experiment with a collaborative team model. This can be a challenge for those owners finding themselves interfering with the work of other individuals, despite those employees being capable enough, but in small businesses trust in the abilities of staff is imperative to success.

Aliya Vigor-Robertson is co-founder of JourneyHR

Further reading on leadership

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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