by James Craft, TEDCO Enterprise and Development Manager
There’s nothing small about deciding to take on the task of running a small business. As any entrepreneur knows, there are a wide variety of skills involved in the day-to-day running of any organisation, big or small. From financial and managerial insight to showcasing the right supportive attitude for employees and clients, strategic leadership skills are essential when it comes to taking an SME from strength to strength.
Over the coming months, I’ll be contributing my own thoughts on what it takes to run an SME here on the TEDCO blog. Having spent many years now supporting entrepreneurs through the various stages of the start-up process, I’d like to offer insight into how those successful professionals have navigated the many challenges that come with taking a business idea from conception to established reality. In this series, I’ll offer evidence, examples and expert opinions to determine the core competencies leaders must display to give their organisation the best chance of success.
So, what does it take to be a leader?
As I mentioned, business leaders are expected to showcase a wide range of skills and behaviours, and this list only grows more exhaustive as technology and the modern business landscape evolves.
However, some experts believe that the most critical skill a leader must demonstrate is, and always will be, the right attitude. Writing for the Harvard Business Review in 2015, Christine Porath suggests that being human and respectful are the most important leadership skills. This is a view shared by Giles (2016) and Putra & Cho (2019), who argue respectively that having good business morals and showing respect, compassion and good communication are the most vital characteristics.
The problem with this, however, is that much of the research available uses evidence taken from large global businesses, effectively ignoring the practicalities of day-to-day SME life. While the importance of having a good, fair and honest approach to running a business can’t be overstated, it’s necessary to add context to a positive attitude and understand that without good financial management, an eye for gaps in the market or a solid business plan, the right attitude can never really go anywhere.
This is why I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the most important SME strategic leadership skills over the next few months.
Are leaders born, or made?
One oft-asked question about running a business is whether you have to be a certain kind of person to succeed. Do particular personalities lend themselves to being a leader more than others, and are some of us simply born to build up our own brand?
This is a point of contention among researchers. Some, like Brian Tracy in Leadership, 2014, claims that “leaders are made, not born.” In Tracy’s view, self-image and self-concept are a necessary starting point for becoming a leader, as “you are what you believe you are.”
However, others – such as B.J. Avolio in An enduring leadership myth: Born a leader or made a leader? (2020) – believes that “leaders are born with greater neurological complexity, which makes those leaders more adaptable in dynamic leadership situations.”
While some people may be more inclined to start and run a business than others, I believe that those with the determination to succeed can learn and utilise the skilled needed to build a brand. Every month, I will be taking a closer look at a strategic leadership skill which I believe to be among the most important for SMEs.