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Being a leader can be a big responsibility, especially if you’re an owner-manager that’s new to being in charge of an expanding team of people. But if you’re going to get the best from your workforce, and create the next generation of leaders, it’s important to consider the impact you’re having as a boss – and strive to improve your abilities as a leader.

Mark Hewitson, Partner at Haines Watts Esher, explains how to improve your leadership skills and the need for true self-awareness as the boss of an owner-managed business.

 

Evolving to become a good leader

As an owner-manager, being an effective boss is likely to be key to your success as a business. But for some owners, being a good leader and role model doesn’t always come naturally. It takes time and effort to mold yourself into this leadership role.

The objective of being a leader is to be the person where the buck stops – the individual who’s scanning the horizon, taking in the field of play, making sense of it all and delegating work down to the right people in the team.

In a nutshell, the role is about balancing responsibility alongside authority. You’re the leader who calls the shots, but also a fair and even-handed boss. Someone who your people respect, but where you have the authority to lead with conviction from the front.

 

Delegation and giving your people space

Balancing those two areas of responsibility and authority is no simple task. But an important part of the leadership process is learning when to delegate your work to others.

When you started out, you and your fellow directors probably did a lot of the hands-on work yourself. But once you have employees, managers and a workforce to call on, learning to share out the important operational tasks is a big part of becoming a true leader.

As the boss, you must learn to:

  • Delegate to your managers – rather than getting your own hands dirty, prioritise the workload and delegate the big tasks to trusted members of your management and operational teams, so you have more time to actually run the business.
  • Give people authority – key to good delegation is giving your managers the authority needed to get the job done. Give them responsibility for a budget, allow them to sign-off on projects and let them be fully in charge of the task at hand.
  • Let them make mistakes – the only way your team will learn and evolve is to let them make mistakes (within a certain level of tolerance, obviously). So give them full authority and autonomy and let them get the job done their way.
  • Don’t micromanage – however tempting it may be, don’t hover over a manager’s shoulder checking in on their work. Don’t micromanage, don’t interfere and don’t enforce your own working methods on them. Employees generally work better and with more motivation when left to their own devices.

 

Good relationships and regular catch-ups

A positive and productive relationship with your employees is a crucial part of making your leadership style work and keeping your team motivated.

40% of owners say that a responsibility towards their staff is what keeps them going through tough times, according to our ‘For Love or Money’ report.

Having this healthy and trusted relationship with your workforce benefits the whole company, in the long term. And good communication is a big part of this.

Make sure you treat every team member as an equal and have open and adult conversations with them about the work that’s required. Regular management and team meetings help to promote this openness. Weekly catch-ups and team huddles become a forum where everyone can pitch in, and where you (as the boss) can find out what’s going on down on the ‘shopfloor’.

These weekly meetings become a forum for:

  • Managers and team leaders to report back on the progress of jobs
  • Your employees to raise queries and questions
  • You to deliver news re company updates and new wins
  • Updates on sales targets and the key financial numbers
  • Promoting true transparency – so everyone in the team knows exactly what’s going on in the business, what the priorities are, and what’s now expected of them.

 

Building the right team around you

As the business grows and expands, increasingly you’re going to need to step back from the basic day-to-day operations of the company and take a more strategic role as leader.

A good leader takes the everyday responsibilities of the company away from themselves. In the early days of the business, you’ll have overseen every operational element – from winning the work, managing the job right through to delivering the end product or service. Now, there’s a pressing need to step back, delegate and let your team run the business.

This means ensuring that your staff have the ability to replicate what you do – at all operational levels. So you have to impart that knowledge and experience to the right people, gradually ‘passing on the baton’ to the most appropriate people in the business – and essentially making yourself redundant from day-to-day running of the company

A mix of personality types is needed to make this work:

 

  • The professors – ‘professors’ are the technical specialists who know your processes and procedures like the back of their hand. They’re the ones who get the work done, but they’re less likely to be the people with the full skill set needed to fill your shoes.
  • The entrepreneurs – your entrepreneurs are the ambitious managers who think like you. They’re the ones with the ideas, the drive and aspirations that will drive the business forward, and the people you’ll want to nurture for key leadership roles.
  • The relationship builders – solid customer and supplier relationships are the bedrock of the company, so you need people who have the social and relationship-building skills to keep your all stakeholders happy and on board.
  • The adviorsit’s lonely at the top, as the saying goes, so you need someone to bounce ideas off and to get advice from. This might be another director, a non-executive director or other trusted advisers, such as your accountant or business coach.

 

Emotional intelligence and self-awareness

With the right mix of talented people, you can step back and start working ON the business rather than IN it. But you’re also going to need to manage these people – and this means having the emotional intelligence that’s required of a great leader.

As a Haines Watts partner and team leader, I know the importance of understanding the psychology of your staff, and becoming more aware of how you act around them. I’m certainly not perfect, but part of our evolution as partners in the firm is to understand the emotional impact of our management style – and how to get the best from our people.

Your initial reaction to a client issue, or a big problem internally within the company, isn’t always the one you want to present to your team. Losing your temper, or taking out your frustrations on one of your team is bad leadership and (ultimately) not a productive approach.

We’ve probably all encountered the ‘seagull boss’ before – the leader who flies in, sh*ts over people and then flies out again. And if you’ve been on the receiving end of this, you’ll know how destructive it can be.

For me, the key to becoming a better leader had been increased self-awareness.

To a degree, you’ve got to ring-fence your original reaction and learn how to step outside the situation. This can mean taking a deep breath, counting to ten or even sleeping on the problem overnight – whatever it takes to come back with a professional, positive and productive response to the scenario.

Having a shouting match with an unfortunate manager in the middle of the office (the seagull approach) just alienates your team and positions you as a bad boss. So, be aware of the impact you have, moderate your reactions and aim (wherever possible) to turn the negative into some form of positive outcome or response.

 

Knowing what resonates with the next generation

The workplace has changed considerably in the past decade. With millennials now in senior management positions and Gen Z employees making up a chunk of the workforce, attitudes to work, leadership and company engagement are evolving – so you need to up your game and understand what younger generations expect from their employer and leader.

Studies show that millenials want an employer that’s “proactive about making a positive impact in society” and “responsive to employees’ needs.”. And your role as leader is to offer a company vision and working environment that accommodates this.

The next generation of leaders want:

  • Greater equality and responsibility – the next generation is extremely ambitious and doesn’t want to feel like a small cog in a big machine. So it’s important to give them responsibility, encourage their development and treat them as equals.
  • A flexible workplace – the 9-5 is dead. People want flexible working hours that fit around other commitments, as well as the ability to take ‘duvet days’ and mental health days as they’re needed. So you need to embrace these expectations.
  • A more socially responsible employer – your carbon footprint, your sustainability credentials and your focus on community and social responsibility (CSR) are all areas where a younger workforce will judge your impact as a business.
  • A boss who inspires them – the younger generation want an inspirational role model; someone they can look up to, learn from and who encourages their own ambitions for development, responsibility and career progression.

 

Flexing your leadership style

The world is full of great leadership role models, whether it’s great business entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, or inspirational sporting legends such as Sir Alex Ferguson. The way to meet your goals as a leader is to learn from the best, and develop your own style.

Key skills will include a deep understanding of people, an ability to stay cool under pressure and the skill to know when tough love is the most effective management approach.

As specialist advisers to many of the UK’s leading owner-managed business, we know the hard work needed to become a good boss. But with the right advice and support, you can take the first steps to improving your leadership capabilities.

Our advisors, business coaches and HR specialists can all assist you, giving you the best possible opportunity to reevaluate and enhance your role as an employer and leader.

 

Talk to us about becoming a better leader.

 

Haines Watts is a firm of Surrey accountants, tax and business advisors.

Want to know more? Call us on 020 8549 5137 or email esher@hwca.com

About the author

Mark Hewitson

Mark joined our Esher team in 2013 following over 20 years working within London firms.

Over the course of his career, he has worked with owners across a wide range of industries, but has increasingly focused on clients in the property, digital/gaming and healthcare sectors.

Whether it be a meeting to discuss management accounts or just a catch up over a coffee, Mark is driven by forging a close relationship with his clients as this enables him to better understand their business and identify and deal with issues as soon as they arise.

 

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is the work I do with start-ups & fast growing businesses. They tend to be exciting, full of innovative ideas and led by really talented and passionate people.

If I wasn't doing this I'd be: FD of Manchester United.

Favourite Book: The Iliad, Homer.

Dream Location: New Zealand (or Old Trafford!)

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