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69. Leadership in recession for small business – John Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership

Leadership has become a major management topic in recent years, and there is a tendency to think naturally about large teams and big corporations. Having yesterday attended a workshop of the Leadership Academy at the Open University the subject of leadership and leading out of recession is top of the mind.

Small businesses usually lead the way out of recession – partly because they are more flexible and can react more quickly than large businesses – and we will be relying on them this time too. But what is leadership for a small business – and can a one-man band have leadership?

I think the answer is definitely ‘yes’.  As a business advisor, many of the start-up businesses I see come into this category, and quite often one of the biggest issues could be construed as lack of leadership. This is not because there is no-one to lead, but because they are not leading themselves!

John Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership model of three-overlapping circles – so familiar it is trademarked – looks at 3 areas of leadership focus: the task, the individual and the team. Even a one-man band is affected by two of these circles. The task includes identifying the aim and the vision for the business, developing  a plan including resources to achieve it (and many one-man bands have not effectively done any of this) and understanding and using the individual effectively (in the case of the one-man band, themselves). Again many small businesses do not understand themselves and what they are capable of. Then add the dimension of a few extra staff and the complexity is greater. And, because there are so few of them, they are often not treated as though they were part of a team.

Leadership is a complex topic and will certainly occupy a few more of these posts, but if you cannot lead yourself, you have very little chance of leading others. And the first step on leading yourself or others is to have a vision of where you are going. This is not simply the same as some objectives – it implies not just a target but also an understanding of what you bring that is special, and element of the how you are going to get, there as well as where you are aiming to get.

The how in this vision might be ethical standards and integrity or the highest pressure selling, subtle or blatant but it will represent what differentiates your business and makes you more effective for or with your clients. Have the vision clear and you have some reasonable chance of motivating yourself and your team to achieve.