Panel Discussion about Leadership in SMEs

Peter Taylor’s (partner from the ICT Partnership LLP) talking about the big challenges for leaders in SME organisations where the leader needs to take responsibility for many aspects of the business and who spend their time working in instead of on the business.  Plus there’s then the aspect of often being family-owned and the shares being spread among a number of family members which can make decisions more difficult than in other businesses.

Peter recommends watching Digby Jones’ Trouble Shooter 3rd episode where Warburtons recognised the need to bring in people who were better than them to bring a fresh perspective and an objective, non-family view.  But it’s usually important that these people will retain the family-feel to the culture which is what’s got the business to where it is today.

Anabela says as a business you need to think about what leadership you want for your business? How do you recruit for it or develop it if it’s not there already.  And this isn’t just about the top person – everyone has a role to play in leading.

Conor’s telling us that staff of SMEs have much greater trust in their leadership – more like 68% vs about 40% in larger organisations.  This is a fantastic story!

You can achieve great things if you create a great purpose and change the self-view of staff – Conor’s example of a company he worked with where rather than being a ‘security staff’ business they were a business who were responsible for keeping people safe, and who created partnerships with the Police to give staff a sense of responsibility and status through being able to talk to them direct about issues.

Now to the floor for questions……

What about followership – a question of whether graduates leave university with high aspirations to be leaders but who don’t know how to be a good follower – don’t have the ability to work within a team.  Peter sees this as a blend because you need the right fit for your culture, and grads are often the people who have great new ideas.  However Conor sees this as grads being good with skills and need to learn leadership.  He talks to his undergrads about humility and vulnerability (see Brene Brown on TED Talks) being a key part of leadership success – situationally adjusting to follow and lead when needed.

Self-managed teams where hierarchies are flattened and where you will sometimes lead and sometimes follow is a new way of working which could become more prevalent.  It will help maintain agility and encourage cultures of innovation – which we heard at the start of today is a core part of being a successful SME.

Keith Jackson makes a good point that we need to oscillate between Manager and Leader – and to be able to do ‘management’ effectively is made easier when you’ve got robust systems and processes around you.  But how do you balance the two?  Are you aware when you’re moving between the two?  Are you making conscious choices about which ‘mode’ you’re going to be in – situational leadership (Goleman).


New question about being creative with learning & development with a limited budget.

Conor advocates using social media and prezzi to curate content for others to learn from.  Use Storify to curate and share experiences like from events such as today’s.  And the Charity Learning Consortium allows access to hundreds of courses – but you have to be a charity.

Peter’s seeing more learning being in bite-sized chunks, or one person going to the ‘official’ training and cascading to others internally.


And that’s all folks!  Till next time…..





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