SME Toolkit: Learning to lead is the driver for growth

Leadership is not always the first concern when launching a new business, but it’s something that needs to be learned. So says Michael Hill, managing director of Blackburn based Optima Control Solutions which provides industrial automation solutions.

1 Michael Hill

He says: “In 1995, myself and Dr Adrian West formed Optima Control Solutions. Within nine years it had grown to a staff of nine with a £950,000 turnover. Interested observers saw a well-run company with great potential; a view somewhat at odds with our struggle to get past the £1m marker.”

Despite doing all they thought necessary, growth eluded the business. “Adrian and I were doing the marketing, doing the accounts, doing the sales and doing the engineering,” says Michael.

“However, those hands-on activities turned out to be precisely the reason Optima wasn’t growing. From a frustrated position, a year-long engagement on a leadership management course provided a detailed understanding of the workings and drivers for SME businesses.

"We had the realisation that a business won’t simply find its own way along the growth path; it must be led.

"For an owner-manager it is a profound professional change to step out of the familiar hands-on comfort zone, to one of reshaping the company and employing and managing people to deliver the company’s services with the requisite quality. It was probably our riskiest embarkation since starting the business but the development of new personal disciplines is essential.

"A growing business, its employees, customers and suppliers need to perceive vision, direction, guidance and control. Clarity, competence and integrity are essential - an SME business leader must have confidence. And then the business leaders’ focus changes from working in the business, to working on it.” This article is part of our regular magazine feature ‘SME Toolkit’. Click here to subscribe.