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Are ‘outstanding leaders’ born or made?

Rohini Bhattacharya

14 February 2013

Outstanding leaders are the driving force for successful businesses – the ones that innovate, expand, create jobs and achieve high growth year on year. However, leaders themselves need the right learning environment to become ‘outstanding leaders’. This challenge is far greater in SMEs and has received little attention from policy makers and agenda setters.  SMEs need multiple, diverse learning stimuli within a peer – supported environment that allows them to develop their individual leadership style. Traditional week–long leadership training courses have been a source of inspiration in the past, but do they really work for an entrepreneur who wants to ‘learn by doing’?

Over the past decade, The Work Foundation has gathered evidence both on the value of leadership for the bottom line and the behaviours of outstanding leaders. While the risk of not growing our own leaders is not imminent, a lack of developmental opportunities within the organisation has an immediate impact on employee morale and productivity. CIPD’s 2012-13 Winter Employee Outlook shows only 35% of employees across all sectors and businesses are engaged at work. There is a distinct link between employee engagement, productivity and business profitability and ultimately, it is a leader’s primary job to engage staff through organisational culture and values.

Large corporates have the luxury of earmarking budgets for regular learning and development initiatives across their organisations. It is the SMEs that find themselves unable to step away from the daily operational management of their businesses. This means they are less able to focus on learning and development within their organisation that sets off a virtuous cycle to develop employees, spark innovation and create growth.

SMEs need support from policy makers as well as practical measures. The Work Foundation is hosting a multi-stakeholder event on March 13th to address this issue and identify what policy makers can do to support this agenda. The event will address issues such as what are the most successful interventions in delivering this agenda and what leadership skills one SME leader has identified as being ‘essential’ to support organisational growth? The event is open to all SME leaders who are interested in achieving high growth but not able to see ‘how’.

But what practical support can be provided to the SME leaders? There are plenty of leadership training courses available around the country. However, what’s important is making sure the SME leader’s learning environment and learning style are key considerations factored into the leadership programme of support. Any programme delivered should also be able to demonstrate tangible benefits that impact the SME’s bottom line to make it worth the leader’s time spent on the programme.

LEAD is a ten month leadership development programme that focuses on the personal development of the SME owner - manager and the business itself, providing a framework for the leader to innovate, grow the business and increase profitability and productivity. The programme has been developed through rigorous research and insights into entrepreneurial learning by The Lancaster University Management School. It is programmes like LEAD that will provide SMEs with the practical skills, expertise and tools that they can apply within their businesses to develop their leadership styles.

With so much focus on the SME sector to boost the UK economy and create jobs, it is imperative to support and foster learning and development for SME leaders. There is a danger that development of leadership and management skills remains a low priority for the SME sector without appropriate policy support and resources made available. LEAD hopes to make leadership a priority again.

LEAD is an evidence – based programme of leadership and enterprise development that is based on rigorous research and is due to be launched and delivered in London from September 2013 through The Work Foundation. Find out more about LEAD at our event on the management and leadership gap for SMEs.

Comments in Chronological Order (Total 2 Comments)


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16 Jul 2014 8:34AM

A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I do think that you need to write more about this topic, it may not be a taboo matter but generally people do not discuss such topics. To the next! Kind regards!! #I Like