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Small business leadership: "I can focus more on leading and less on managing"

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The UK Futures Programme is a series of productivity challenges that target specific workforce development problems. The challenges trial innovative ideas with industry to test what works in addressing current or anticipated workforce development problems identified by UKCES research. The programme takes a learning approach and shares learning from all projects with industry and business.

 The fifth productivity challenge looks at leadership and entrepreneurship skills in small businesses, working with “anchor institutions” with a strong presence in their local community. One of these is the Leadership Forge project, led by Teeside University. This project will develop skills in small businesses by creating a community of experiential and shared learning via workshops, coaching, site visits to large employers and peer learning sessions.

 This series of posts features the reflections of small business owners who have been involved in the Leadership Forge, and presents their thoughts on how their experience has helped their business.

I started running my own business straight after graduating from university so I didn’t have a boss to learn ‘leadership’ from. To be honest, for me, leadership was just something you did, not something you needed to spend too much time thinking about. But when I did start to consider leadership strategically it changed my business and the way I ran it.

I had seen lots of leadership training courses advertised before, but the ‘Leading Growth’ course at Teesside University was different. I liked the range of learning styles (lectures, group learning, coaching, peer-to-peer and practical visits) that were being offered and decided to take the plunge.

The one-to-one coaching was one element in particular that was fantastic. My coach helped me see how I could use different techniques and approaches to situations to achieve specific outcomes. For example, I used to respond quite emotionally to some high pressure situations. My coach taught me to train myself to handle situations differently, more rationally. That’s helped me to get better outcomes and a make better decisions, especially under pressure.

Drawing on the other participants’ knowledge was really helpful too. We could share our experiences and issues we were facing in sessions called Action Learning Sets, and then talk those issues through with a group of people with empathy towards and experience of those same situations. Action Learning isn’t about giving and receiving advice, it’s about questioning round an issue and enabling the person at the centre of it to work out a solution for themselves. For me, it worked really well.

The training massively boosted my confidence. I began to recognise my own leadership qualities, understand where I needed work and began to improve as a leader. Now I actively think about leadership and how I can take my business where I want it to go by bringing my incredible team along with me.

Reflecting on the long-term direction of my business led me to change how I ran it. I decided to invest more trust in my teams. I’ve found that by giving them more autonomy and flexibility they’ve flourished. Now I can focus more on leading and less on managing, which, frankly, is better for all concerned.

As a result, we are much more productive, profits are up and our team is growing rapidly!  It’s not in any way just about my performance, but the fact that I focused on myself and what it means to be a leader has certainly made a big contribution.

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