Budding entrepreneurs deserve a crash course in leadership skills

Emma Jones
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Labour Leadership Contender Jeremy Corbyn Talks To Supporters In The North West
If we invest in leadership, the whole economy will benefit (Source: Getty)

Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, and Vince Cable have all been limbering up in recent weeks, stretching their political muscles to the tune of the applauding party faithful.

At the party conferences, they get a chance to see what management styles are working – or not.

Meanwhile, successful entrepreneurs gets no such exercise. Britain’s 5.2m small business bosses are busy leading the economy forward, in spite of the obstacles thrown in their way by the aforementioned politicians.

Read more: Jeremy Corbyn launches attack on "big business" in conference speech

If you happen to be a clever entrepreneur with a skill for technology, finance or fashion, and have built a successful business based on your own effort, leading from the front is an everyday challenge.

And while the early stage challenges may be the obvious stuff – funding, getting sales, managing cash flow – the fundamental thing that never changes is that every day brings a new test. You will never stop learning, and nowhere is this truer than when it comes to people.

Professor Tim Dafforn is researching and writing the entrepreneurship element of a review that will be included in the government’s Industrial Strategy. He highlighted recently that the key issues small business owners most need help with are becoming clear: leadership and management.

I tend to agree with him.

We all know businesses emerge from passionate individuals who are brilliant at what they do. But entrepreneurs may not feel so at ease when it comes to handling staff, recruiting new talent, motivating them, and ensuring a happy workforce that helps build a loyal customer base.

Yet it’s being good at that bit – or hiring someone who is – that can take your business from good to great.

While those at management level in larger firms are pruned and pinched, sent on expensive courses until they grasp the basics of leadership, entrepreneurs learn on the job and in their spare time.

Being the leader of your own ship, and taking on board staff, often means you have to work even harder just to stay afloat. After all there are more mouths to feed now – and taking time out to train is just another item on a long to-do list.

In addition, entrepreneurs by definition tend to be self-starters – they like to do everything themselves to an extremely high standard. Learning to work with and rely on others doesn’t always come naturally to them.

The independent Scaleup Report on UK Economic Growth 2014 identified the key barriers that businesses must conquer if they are going to achieve their growth ambitions. One of them is – you guessed it – learning how to build a great team and working to build leadership capability.

As a leader, you must be decisive and fair. You must answer a plethora of questions from staff and partners without throwing your toys out of the pram. You must be charming, while knowing how to apply the pressure in exactly the right places to get great work – and praise where praise is due. It’s important.

And it’s also one of the reasons we run an event every year called ScaleUp. It’s a day out to network, and also a time to pick up tips from others that have been there – and got the T-shirt. There will be no political prancing or placards, although there might be orderly queues forming to quiz speakers about how to acquire the skills of leadership.

If the Industrial Strategy recommends help so entrepreneurs can get support to boost their leadership caliber, I say with calm authority that this will be good news for Britain’s business community. Just as political rising stars need to learn how to lead, so too do our small business bosses.

They are, after all, the future drivers of growth and prosperity. If we invest in their leadership, the whole economy will benefit.

Read more: Small businesses shaken by Brexit uncertainty

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