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The diffusion of SME leadership?

When it comes to concepts of leadership, the very nature of SMEs with their smaller workforces, encourages a more traditional view of the leader’s role being vested in just one or two key individuals – usually the business owner.

A broader idea of leadership

But more and more, the contemporary concept of workplace leadership is broadening to include, well, everybody. Modern HR practice tends towards the view that leadership is a quality that should be embedded throughout the organisation and its systems, allowing anybody to take a leadership role should the circumstances require it.

If this evokes the hackneyed old saw about, too many chiefs… then try substituting “decision-maker” for “leader”, or even perhaps, “responsibility-taker”.

Whatever you call it, the context is global competition, a more restrictive economic environment and a world in which businesses are increasingly transparent to their clients and customers. Under these circumstances, a hierarchical approach with a leader/dictator figure at the peak of the pyramid is increasingly inefficient. Business moves too fast and too fluidly (and too unpredictably) to rely on a single guiding light. Instead, you need good quality decisions being taken at all levels and in all corners of your organisation, however big or small.

Equipping your leaders

However, there are implications. If you want someone to take responsibility and decisions, you need to give them the necessary support; otherwise they’ll either a) make very bad decisions, or b) do anything they can to avoid decisions.

Awareness is key. Awareness of the wider business strategy (vision, values, mission statements, and so on). Awareness of available resources, budgetary constraints, supplier relationships, etc. Awareness of organisational goals, targets, key performance indicators. Put simply, once somebody understands the context in which they are doing their own job, they feel more confident about taking decisions which have an impact more widely – they begin to understand not only their own role but also what’s best for the business. Then they start to lead, even if the only person they’re leading is themselves.

Sound unlikely? Risky? Utopian? Maybe, but ask yourself if your organisation can really afford to have people keeping their heads down, safely tucked away in the limited scope of their own narrow responsibilities? Or are there benefits to be had from engaging everybody in the wider vision of a successful business? Certainly in the early stages of starting up and getting established, a strong personal style of leadership can drive things forward, but as an SME develops through its life cycle towards consolidation and becoming a long-term going concern (of whatever size) then a more sophisticated model of leadership is required; less dependent on a single link in the chain or point in the hierarchy.



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