Leadership Development in small businesses and beyond – a Brief Overview

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Leadership Development in small businesses and beyond – a Brief Overview

This blog post provides some more background information about the concept of BEYOND Leadership Coaching. The findings presented here have inspired and challenged me personally to provide a program that suits small business leaders, while it is certainly applicable to the larger business context as well.

It is broadly suggested that in the small business context, “leadership development needs to be conceptualized differently from that in the corporate context” (Leitch et al., 2009). According to different studies, small business leaders mostly learn from their experience rather than through formal leadership training programs. Leaders tend to avoid such programs which often lack “practitioner-based knowledge” (Holloway & Schaefer, 2014),“are too academic in terms of their style of delivery”, and are “either too inflexible, time-consuming and/or expensive” (Bolden & Terry, 2000). Further, in regards to emotional self-awareness, “leadership development requires reflection and feedback in safe environments” (Leitch et al., 2009) which seems to be another reason why small business leaders avoid formal training programs. In fact, Leitch et al. (2009) mention that they often don’t see “their need to change either attitudes or behaviors”.

Bolden and Terry’s (2000) study presents several characteristics of training programs that work for small business leaders. First, they should be facilitated workshops that allow sufficient time for group discussion and reflection. Theory has to be able to be applied in practice. Second, they should include real-life case studies that attendees can relate to within their small business context, as well as best practice recommendations. Third, they should be delivered by credible practitioners. This point is emphasized by Holloway and Schaefer (2014) that critique a “gap between academics and practitioners”. Their study points to mentoring as a favored learning practice of small business leaders, which is where they get advice and guidance from a more experienced small business leader.

Another leadership development method for small business leaders, presented by Leitch et al. (2009), is Action Learning, an integrated approach that “allows for theoretical contributions and insights to be balanced with the chance to draw on practical experience and application”. Fundamental to action learning is the emphasis on learning from peers that bring a variety of knowledge and skills to the table, which is consistent to the entrepreneurial learning style (Bolden, 2001; Leitch et al., 2009). Leitch et al. (2009) propose a program that includes seven two-day residential workshops within seven months. Between each workshop, each participant also receives a coaching session to support the achievement of goals, as well as the group visit one of the participating businesses “to bench-learn from peers”. The benefits of the seven-month period are that such a program builds trust amongst the participants and facilitators which “breaks down defensive routines that inhibit learning”, it increases self-confidence through transparency, and the social networking provides resources for further leadership development. The conclusion of their research shows that the action learning approach has been effective for small business leaders, not only for their leadership but also for their personal development.

On that note, it is important to understand that our personal development and our leadership development are closely intertwined. Therefore, it directly effects our business development. In a larger business setting, the success of the business is not so strongly dependent on one person but rather on various different people. Less so in a small business. The impact of a small business leader’s development is much faster to recognize than in a large business.

In conclusion, leadership development for small business leaders needs to be flexible, affordable, tailored to small business needs, delivered by credible practitioners, and supported by mentoring and/or coaching. Relating to developing emotional intelligence, Goleman (2002) suggests five steps to take in order to change:

(1) “Who do I want to be?”

(2) “Who am I now? What are my strengths and gaps?”

(3) “How can I build on my strengths while reducing my gaps?”

(4) “Experimenting with and practicing new behaviors, thoughts, and feelings to the point of mastery.”

(5) “Developing supportive and trusting relationships that make change possible.”

These steps are largely incorporated in the programs offered by BEYOND Leadership Coaching. Please contact us and inquire today about both individual and team coaching. We would love to see you and your business succeed beyond your imagination.

Happy Tuesday once again, have the best week!


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