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How to improve your leadership skills

PUBLISHED: 15:35 02 October 2018

Stewart Barnes of Quolux

Stewart Barnes of Quolux


Effective leaders must learn to switch between the helicopter view, the big picture and the microscope of tasks – but how? Stewart Barnes, Managing Director of QuoLux, explains

Every business faces its own leadership challenges. But for growing SMEs these can feel particularly acute. Intense periods of change can leave fast-growing companies ricocheting from one new challenge to another.

There are definite patterns of change; if you recognise what’s happening (or what might be coming next) it’s easier to prepare and take the lead.

It’s often an entrepreneurial spark that ignites a young business, driven by its founders and the small team around them that create something exciting. As output increases or more investment is needed, the informality of the early days needs to move towards more formal management.

That brings new challenges; more delegation is required with the top management needing to ‘let go’ and take on the role of leading. That can be a struggle for those used to being highly directive. Growth continues and that means more people, or more sites, and greater coordination is required. Systems are put in place. But too many controls and the ‘red tape’ becomes restrictive; all that innovative energy is being dampened. A shift in culture may be needed, moving towards collaboration. Now we’re in the era of professional good sense, effective information systems and, above all,

strong leadership.

These cycles of growth and change are not just experienced by young firms. We work with many leaders of long-established successful companies, where systems, structures and cultures have evolved over time. The need to ‘step back’, reflect, assess any bottlenecks, brakes or levers for growth that may need adjusting (and then know what steps to take) is a vital part of leading any organisation.

Every business context is different, but the challenges are common. And the best news is, leadership skills are learnt, so everyone can improve. On our 10-month LEAD programme we help owner-managers, directors and senior managers to navigate their way through change using ‘tools’, shared learning with like-minded peers and time for thinking deeply, so that they feel equipped to deal with whatever is thrown at them. Learning together among peers on a cohort is powerful; it’s something our clients tell us they value most.

Independent research has shown that our alumni grow their businesses by around 27% after completing LEAD. One in three businesses have expanded into new markets, acquired new companies, diversified, or opened new premises. Most have become more productive and profitable (profitability of alumni’s business has grown by 548%). And nearly all (97%) credit the programmes with having a significant impact on their business, while all say they are better leaders as a result.

The role of business leader requires great dexterity, juggling the strategic intent of long-term success with the immediate pressures of today’s priorities. Leaders must be adept at switching between the ‘helicopter’ view, the big picture, and the ‘microscope’ of individual tasks and responsibilities.

When we first begin working with owner-managers on the LEAD programme, it’s very common for them to be immersed in day-to-day activities and to give very little time to strategic development – this is a pattern replicated widely in research among SMEs. Differentiating between the urgent tasks and the important ones requires us to move freely up and down through our field of vision, to get a balanced perspective.

Those who aspire to long-standing achievement know that ‘big ideas’ and entrepreneurship are just part of the equation. Playing the long game is not a solo enterprise; it demands a high performing team and it is strong leadership that will orchestrate the best team performance.

Holding true to your vision, building an effective top team, creating strong employee engagement to drive productivity, and establishing the culture and systems for continuous improvement, these are some of the ingredients that we see in businesses with enduring success.

At QuoLux, we have made it our mission to develop high performance leadership so that every firm can improve its productivity, profitability and achieve their goals to grow sustainably.

To find out more about joining our next cohort of leaders on the LEAD programme, contact stewart.barnes@quolux.co.uk.

Visit the Quolux website here.

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