Business StrategyEntrepreneurial ambition & growthLeading behaviours

Accidental business leaders

I have been working with SME Managing Directors for over a decade and I’ve learnt a lot about them and a couple (at least) were really significant learning points for me as someone who has been well trained in business with an MBA and loads of professional and commercial training with big firms behind me. This is the first of two blogs highlighting a couple of key things I’ve learnt.

The first revelation was that many SME managing directors did not set out to run a business. For someone like me that worked through a career ladder before deciding I enjoyed leading businesses and worked hard to get myself that opportunity, that was quite a shock. How can you end up running a business by accident?

Well I’ve since learnt its quite simple really. You start off doing some work for someone or making something for someone – often in the evening – on the side so to speak. You do a good job and they pay you and ask for more. Step by step, you do more and you soon discover this is more lucrative and more fun than the day job. So you give up the day job so you can do more of it. But you’re so good that your customers demand more still. So you ask someone to work for you to help get more done. Then someone else and then someone else. Until suddenly you realise you have a million pound revenue stream and twenty people depending upon you for a living. And then the recession comes and .. help!

So that’s how many businesses get started – and why adolescent businesses have growth pains. They’re not all planned by well trained professionals – they’re simply an entrepreneurial person making a living. But then such entrepreneurs do sometimes run into a problem and encounter growth pains with their business.

There are loads of businesses out there run by people with no training to do so. That in itself is NOT the problem – many entrepreneurial people do a great job. But it does sometimes become a problem for them. They take their responsibility to their staff and their customers seriously and can can find themselves a little out of their depth. Especially when the business gets a little too big for one person to manage by instinct. Or when difficulties like a recession hit!

And the thing is, Managing Directors aren’t allowed to be unsure and lacking confidence are they! Who wants to work for a boss who is even slightly unsure about management? And it’s at this point they realise the need to learn something about managing and leading a business. Which is where the business schools, the commercial training companies and the government agencies come in. And all play their part in helping Managing Directors to learn about leadership and management.

And it’s where MD2MD comes in too. We do much the same thing, develop leaders, as the others. The key difference with us is that we learn as a group of peers. A group of Managing Directors learning from each other as much as from external experts.And there is another useful side benefit of this approach too. We get to know each other well through our monthly meetings and so can be there to help each other at the end of the phone or by email at any time in the month. And that’s very satisfying, both for the individual who needs to talk something through, and for the Managing Director giving the benefit of their experience. It’s like having a non executive director, but instead of one you’ve got a dozen, so you can choose who to listen to, and they’re not there to hold you to account; simply to help you in return for you helping them! No longer is it lonely at the top. And now the Managing Director has time to work ON the business not just IN it.