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Do you have the leadership qualities to successfully grow your business?

By Alan Woods on 06/02/2015 - 0 Comments

The recent commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the funeral of Britain’s 2nd World Wartime leader, Sir Winston Churchill, gave rise in the media to a debate over his leadership qualities, both good and bad. In a particularly adverse situation, he did what all good leaders do and demonstrated traits which earned him credibility among a large number of followers.

Once the War had ended, those leadership traits were no longer valued by the electorate, the situation had changed and a different type of leadership was wanted to take the country forward.

People often look to famous leaders from history to find inspiration in developing their own leadership traits to be able to deal better with the many situations they face both in business and in life. Acknowledged great leaders like Mandella, Shackleton and Churchill have all overcome adversity and galvanised their followers towards achieving a common goal or purpose.

Most people who find themselves in a position of leadership have to deal with a large variety of situations over a lifetime that require a different set of traits in order to be effective and maintain their position.

What is leadership?

A huge amount of research has been done in the field of leadership and management, the difference between the two being a large topic of debate alone. Maybe the most popular phrase which comes out of this debate is from Warren Bennis: “Managers do things right - Leaders do the right things”.

I like to think of the subject as management being about getting things done through the use of people and other resources – preferably with some sort of goal in mind; and leadership being about the techniques and behaviours employed in achieving that goal.

Formal definitions of leadership include: “The behaviour of an individual to direct the activities of a group toward a shared goal” (Hemphill & Coons, 1957) or “The process of influencing the activities of an organised group toward the achievement of a goal” (Rauch & Behling, 1984)

The experience of leadership for most people is probably summed up by this quote also from Warren Bennis - “To an extent leadership is like beauty: it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it”. Are the best leaders born or made?

Probably somewhere in between for most of them, but what is certain is that leadership can be learned through a combination of observation and reflection as well as formal training.

Ken Parry, of Bond University, New Zealand, has adapted research to come up with a formula for the level of development and identification of leadership behaviour shown below.

Try putting a value out of 10 to each factor for the good (and maybe not so good) leaders you have observed in your life and see where they score.

Trust and Credibility

However they get into their position, leaders need followers and have to earn their respect and demonstrate credibility in order to be effective. Business leaders have the task of turning their employees into true followers to maximise their performance and achieve the goals of the business.  An article by Glenn Llopis in Forbes (December 2013) listed 7 early warning signs as reasons why employees may not trust their leaders:

  1. Lack Courage - Leaders that don’t stand up for what they believe in are difficult to respect and trust.
  2. Hidden Agendas-Leaders that are too politically savvy can be viewed as devious and inauthentic.  Employees want to follow leaders who are less about the politics and more about how to accomplish goals and objectives.
  3. Self-Centred - Hidden agendas make it difficult to trust that a leader’s intentions and decision-making are not self-centred.  When a leader is only looking out for themselves and lacks any sense of commitment to the advancement of their employees – this shuts-off employees quickly.
  4. Reputation Issues - When people begin to speak negatively about their leader, it makes it more difficult for others to trust their intentions and vision.
  5. Inconsistent Behaviour - People are more inclined to trust those who are consistent with their behaviour.   Isn’t it easy to begin questioning one’s motives/judgment when they are inconsistent?
  6. Don’t Get Their Hands Dirty - Leaders must touch the business, just as much as they lead it. When leaders are over-delegating employees begin to question whether or not their leader actually knows what is required to get the job done. Distrust amongst employees begins to rise.
  7. Lack a Generous Purpose - When a leader doesn’t genuinely have an employee’s best interests at heart, it’s difficult to trust them.  When leaders are not grateful for employees’ performance efforts – and are always attempting to squeeze every bit of effort they can out them – it’s difficult to trust that they have intentions to be more efficient, resourceful and collaborative.

Conversely, leaders who focus on developing and improving their traits to earn respect and gain credibility will have a following who will consistently deliver high performance. Again, research has shown (Smith, 2007) that credibility “learning” can be broken down into six areas, the “6 Cs of Leadership Credibility”:

  1. Conviction - the passion and commitment you demonstrate toward your vision
  2. Care – Demonstrating concern for others’ personal and professional well- being
  3. Composure – Consistently displaying appropriate emotional reaction, particularly in tough or crisis situations
  4. Competence - Hard skills: tech/functional +content expertise. Soft skills: interpersonal, communication, team, organisational
  5. Courage – Willing to stand up for one’s beliefs, appropriately challenging others, admitting mistakes, changing own behaviour when necessary.
  6. Character – consistently demonstrating integrity, honesty respect and trust

Leadership learning for the SME Business Owner

An individual cannot lead without someone following and at many stages in our lives we will have all been followers and throughout that experience have learned the practice of both leading and following. We also learn to lead by observing both our bosses and peers.  Steve Kempster (Lancaster University) and Ken Parry (Bond University) have recognised the problems that owner managers have in developing their own leadership skills in that they often:

Leadership knowledge in SMEs tends to be gained through practice as opposed to formal instruction and as the SME has a tendency to operate under uncertain conditions, learning often arises out of the consequences of the actions taken. Reflection by the owner over these actions is a type of leadership learning, also known as “thinking in action” or thinking on your feet! However, as noted by Higgins and Aspinall (2011), coping with the uncertainties using new and improved methods, or correcting an error without changing the underlying values of the business is a “mere adjustment” rather than learning. This places boundaries around the business which prevents it from moving forward. Aspinall was an SME business owner at the time of co-writing this paper as well as being a part time MBA student and learned that including leadership learning in a strategic plan for her business would help deliver the growth she wanted for it.

Many SME business owners start out as the “doers” in their business and demonstrate their credibility through their competence alone (one of the 6Cs). As their business grows and they employ people, they need to acquire leadership skills and earn credibility in that role in order to ensure that they maintain a following; and one which will be highly productive to deliver successful business growth.

Having a vision and setting goals for a business is wise, developing a plan to achieve those goals and realise the vision is essential. Be sure to include leadership learning in your plan.


Higgins, D., Aspinall, C. (2011) Learning to learn: A case for developing Small Firm Owner/Managers. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 18 (1). pp. 43-57. ISSN 1462-6004

Hemphill, J. K., Coons, A. E. (1957). Development of the leader behavior description questionnaire. In R. M. Stodgill and A. E. Coons (Eds.), Leader behaviour: Its description and measurement. Columbus, Ohio: Bureau of Business Research, Ohio State University, pp. 6-38.

Kempster, S.J. (2006). Leadership Learning through Lived Experience: A process of apprenticeship? Journal of Management and Organisation, 12(1), 4-22.

Llopis, Glen (2013),
Parry, K.W., Hansen, H. (2007). The Organisational Story as Leadership. Leadership Journal, 3(3), 281-300.

Rauch, C. F., & Behling, O. (1984). Functionalism: Basis for an alternate approach to the study of leadership. In J. G. Hunt, D. M. Hosking, C. A. Schriesheim, and R. Stewart (Eds.), Leaders and managers: International perspectives on managerial behavior and leadership. New York: Pergamon Press, pp. 45-62.

Smith A.F., (2007),

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