Learning Leadership

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Writing my recent blog on job roles, and about how organisations evolve over the years from one person to many I was reminded of another theme I’ve noticed in the typical owner managed SME.

It’s simply that the people at the top are usually (and understandably) often those who were there at the start, irrespective of their qualifications & previous experience.  (How many Directors do you know that started out as a secretary or PA?).

Now I’m not against that per se. In fact quite the opposite. Having had the privilege of an MBA and good professional training, I am in a strong position to say that you can’t beat the University of Life.  It’s where I learnt my most important lessons – which complement my formal training which I’ve also found invaluable.

Learning leadership

So actually what I do believe in is the importance of continuous learning.  I don’t believe any leader ever gets to being perfect as a leader – although I’ve known some good ones! We can always do better.  We’re always making mistakes and always learning. Indeed just looking back at my comment there – the good ones were the ones who would be most open to admitting how much they still had to learn themselves.

So I believe the best leaders are those hungry to learn how to be better leaders.

But it seems that many businesses hold a belief that the leader doesn’t need to learn how to be a better leader.

It is very common for business leaders, especially in SMEs,  to have got to that position without ANY leadership development activity.  They simply did a great job in the early days and grew with the business to be one of the senior team without ever having any training to do the job.

There isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with the process.  As I said earlier I’m not arguing against University of Life training – I’m very much in favour of it – and it is the best training for the real world of business.  But I am arguing for leaders to invest time to learn how to be a better leader.

The first question I often ask is: ‘Which person in the business has, or should have, the greatest ability to influence its long term success?’.  For me the answer has to be the business leader. Its intuitively obvious to anyone who observes business.  The best businesses are the ones led by someone who really knows how to get the best out of their team.

And the second question: ‘How much does the company invest in the ability of that most influential person to lead the business?… and how much does the company invest in getting good staff further down the organisation?’.

Often the company that has difficulties recruiting and retaining good staff is the one that hasn’t invested in developing a leader that understands how to lead. (The best definition of leadership is, I feel, the ability to create ‘followers’ – which I roughly translate to attracting motivated staff!).

Business plateau

That’s why corporates spend £10,000 – £20,000 to send their managing director candidates off on a SMDP – Senior Management Development Programme – at a business school. Maybe a local one, or more probably Cranfield or Henley, or for the richest companies LBS, SAID, INSEAD or Harvard.

And, I’m pleased to say, that’s also why ambitious SME business leaders join MD2MD to achieve a similar outcome – confident and competent leadership – through manageable bite sized chunks of time and at a cost not only lower but also paid in bite sized chunks.

OK I know – I would say that wouldn’t I – but I don’t believe many astute and successful managing directors that are currently members of MD2MD can all be wrong.  Look at the business schools online and look at the speakers we have at MD2MD.  The key differences are our bite sized chunks model and the emphasis we place on learning from real world practitioners and leaders.

And if there’s a business leader reading this who thinks ‘sounds interesting but is it as good as it sounds?’, please ring me on 01865 600 800 and we’ll arrange a free guest place so that you can find out for yourself just how effective MD2MD is for its members!

Written by Bob Bradley, founder of MD2MD.