While working on new content for my SME leadership development program, it occurred to me that every single one of my current clients has a common challenge. I just hadn’t seen it quite as clearly as I do now. 

They are all trying to hand the baton of running the business, or some elements of it, to others.

For some, it is about a complete transition of power, like a Jedi knight training their Padawan, before spectacularly facing their last battle. For others, it is passing on powers in the form of additional responsibility to directors or managers.

They want to do this to focus on more strategic issues, spend more time doing the bit of ‘business’ that they most enjoy, or even step away and spend more time outside the business.

There are two main reasons that delegating and creating behavioural shifts take work.  

  1. Owner Proximity.

In small businesses, the owner is close to the coal face and, in the nicest way possible, can be a psychopath. The company is their baby, and they’ve worked hard to get it where it is. No one handles situations or takes good decisions, like the owner. Or at least that’s what they tell themselves.

In other words, it’s hard to allow someone to do things ‘their way’ when they are holding your baby.

  • Busy-ness: Everyone, including the owner, is busy. The hamster wheel never stops turning in small businesses, and there are always more things to be done than there is time for. This leaves little time for the crucial conversations that enable others to develop the self-awareness, decision-making skills, key relationships and commercial insight they need to take on more responsibility.

The result is that most people given more responsibility or asked to step up will avoid making decisions for fear of getting it wrong, or they end up deferring complex tasks that require high-quality leadership skills.

Small businesses are challenging environments in which to lead.

Owners have a passion for the company they have built that helps them carry leadership weight. No matter how senior, an employee needs to develop resilience to cope with the constantly moving field of play that small businesses operate in. Self-awareness and commercial insight are required to deal with opportunities and challenges to make decisions that balance customer needs, margins and quality relationships.

I’ve now taken over forty managers and directors from management newbies to experienced directors through my leadership framework. The most significant value for participants has not been the skills and tactics they learned but rather in the shift created in their self-awareness, confidence and resilience.

This enables them to show up more effectively in their roles, which allows them to drive performance, make well-rounded decisions and drive the company forward.

The youngest person (21) ever to complete this program had this to say:

“Dave is one of a kind, a brilliant mentor and very knowledgeable. The key to the effectiveness of this programme is that everything is done at a personal level, and not just to satisfy the group; this really makes it engaging! The programme really helped bring me out of my shell and boost my confidence as a manager, problem-solving and dealing with my team. The course helped me think outside of the box, and to see things how they really are, rather than how I perceive them.”

Developing leadership skills is not about tips and tactics.

It’s about finding your best position from which to lead and make change happen. This requires, above all else, that you become highly aware of everything happening around you and creating direction in the face of uncertainty.  Developing that level of ability requires that you become aware of how you show up and the role of your thinking and state of mind. That is my Jedi skill.