How to adapt a mindset for growth

Leading from the front may be the default management style for entrepreneurs, but you’ll need to develop a more collaborative skillset as your business grows. Professor Jonathan Gosling, University of Exeter Business School, explains why.

Leadership skills have evolved dramatically in recent years. The distinguishing mark of a good leader in the age of information is no longer the top-down commands of old-style, structured corporations; it is the ability to work across networks and different stakeholder groups. You need to persuade, enable, get things done and gain trust, skills with which any successful entrepreneur will already be familiar. But what happens when an entrepreneur achieves their aim and their business starts to grow? How does this affect one’s leadership style?
Entrepreneurs can suffer from tunnel vision just as much as any other kind of business leader, often getting caught up in the issues of moving the business forward and not giving themselves time to reflect on wider issues. Indeed, entrepreneurs or former corporate managers who join an SME in a senior position often do so because they enjoy a less-structured environment.
However, building a business also builds complexity. To avoid becoming entangled in red tape or clashing with stakeholders, an independent entrepreneur will need to learn several new skills in order to successfully work with other parties:

  • Active listening – In order to influence a wide network of contacts, you’ll need to hear beyond the facts and appreciate the underlying motives of stakeholders. If you understand the priorities and feelings of individuals – such as employee concerns – you’ll be better placed to prioritise your responses.
  • Process design – Take time to consider how every part of your business should operate ideally. Business owners can often run straight into project-management-mode, which can limit their view of the business because of the focus on pre-defined outcomes. A business may need several models running alongside each other, so foster the ability to review and revise across the company.
  • Build in reflection time – Make sure you take time out of the business to think about how it’s progressing. Entrepreneurs and leaders can sometimes be activity-driven people. But such restlessness can lead to missed opportunities, unless time is taken away from the business. Talking to a business-coach, or briefly switching off work laptops and smartphones are proven ways of carrying out reflection time. The key is to find the method that works for you.
  • Adopt a collaborative mindset – Don’t just focus on deals and transactions. Put yourself in the shoes of others within your business and cultivate a willingness to work alongside them. It’s no longer just about you.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK