The importance of developing effective corporate leaders in small businesses cannot be underestimated. A recent study from international research and consulting firm ISR has found a direct link between effective leadership and commercial performance, discovering a sales increase of over 10% in organisations where leaders received a high rating from staff. As a recruiter for small and medium sized enterprises in the accountancy and finance sectors, we are often asked to seek out potential leaders for our clients, and there are certain qualities that we always look for.

Clarity is of undoubted importance. Letting people know what is expected of them leaves no margin for misunderstanding. Decisiveness is also a key value – a leader who sticks to their decisions will gain people’s confidence.

We always look for a sense of vision in potential leaders. They must be able to look at the bigger picture and identify the problems of tomorrow today. This must not, however, impair their ability to adapt and encourage others to embrace change that will be positive for the business.

In terms of the softer skills that are integral to a leadership role, a sense of approachability is essential. An open door policy will allow staff to see a leader as a member of the team, and as such they must be sensitive to the team’s needs and expectations. Leading by example is vital here – so never delegate a task to a colleague that you would be not be prepared do yourself.

Once a leader is established, he or she should always be on the look out for an heir apparent. Simply hoping that the right person will be available for promotion when a vacancy arises is not sufficient; good succession management will develop a pool of skill sets to fill particular positions. A logical progression path can then be defined for each target position. This can be more of a challenge for small and medium sized businesses, but if anything it is more important than in many larger firms, as a leader must make the most of their limited resources.

An effective succession plan for a small business should revolve around delegation – an art in itself. This will provide staff with experience that is crucial in developing their careers, as well as offering job satisfaction and ongoing challenge. The three key steps to delegation are commonly thought to be briefing staff on their assignment, monitoring their progress, and offering evaluation and feedback to ensure everyone learns from the experience. Leaders should also let staff have the glory when their actions are successful – that can be even tougher!

In conclusion, leading people in a small business is much more than just learning a set of skills. Effective leadership involves understanding your team, knowing how staff will respond most positively to being led and recognising how to inspire them. Good leadership is never a perfect science – it’s an art!