Celebrating the people behind British small businesses

Leadership – the icing on the cake

By Dorothea Stuart, Toastmasters International

If you are running a small business or thinking of starting one you have a lot to think about.  You’ll know from experience that it’s very easy to get fully occupied by managing day-to-day activity.  However, for your business to thrive long-term you need to demonstrate leadership consistently right from the start.

Recipes for leadership are everywhere.  In his Harvard Extension School article, The Paradox of Leadership, Michael Shinagel points out that there are 15,000 leadership books in print right now and a continuous production line of new articles.  The positive news is that he believes there is no one right way to be a leader that suits all situations.  Different sectors need different leaders.

How can you find the leadership recipe that will work for you and your unique business?

SME leaders need C-A-K-E-S

Starting a new business requires some creativity. It’s good to know that you can take essential ingredients, blend them to your own requirements and become the successful leader you need to be.

My favourite acronym is CAKES – Creating your culture; Adjusting to the environment; Knowledge-building; Explaining your business vision; Seeking relationships.

Creating your business culture 

Your business needs an emotional heart to which employees, customers and other stakeholders can relate. Your values play a key role in creating a culture that will attract people to work with you and to develop the business over time. Culture is one aspect of your business that should remain constant from start up to mature company.  In his excellent i-lab lecture entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Michael Skok develops this theme. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMIa3XhQpnk]


Tap into what’s going on in society/ politics/economics/ your industry. You need to understand the wider context in which you are operating so you can be flexible in your tactics to achieve your goals. This includes knowing what your competitors are doing.   Of course it is also important to listen and to be responsive to your customers and suppliers.  You will learn huge amounts from them.

Knowledge building

Keep learning. Build your knowledge both personally and in your company as a whole. This means remaining curious and asking questions. Some will be answered via research. And always remember that employees are very often a knowledgeable resource.  With change in technology alone it has to be true that “If you blink, you sink”.

As a business leader you need to know yourself. Be honest about your skills. What are you good at? Where do you need support? Do you need a mentor or coach to challenge you and to provide a sounding board for your ideas?  Leaders need the humility to know that they depend on a great team and networks of other people.

Explaining your vision

It is essential to explain your vision, not just once but on a regular basis. People need to know what your business is about. Work on the soundbites which encapsulate what makes it special and exciting.  As a business leader you are the face of your business. You need to sell your vision to get yourself and your business known at every opportunity so be sure you message is consistent in person, on social media and in your promotional material.

Your employees need both to understand the vision intellectually and to connect with it emotionally. This way they make the most of the important role they play in achieving it.

Seeking and solidifying key relationships

To be an effective leader you need to create strong, long-term relationships.  If you want employees and colleagues to trust you, you need to know them and for them to know you.  The same principle applies to customer and supplier relationships.  The idea of a distant, impersonal leader will not work in the modern world.   In his studies of authentic leadership Bill George talks about “connected relationships”. This doesn’t mean being everyone’s best friend but rather being genuine and open so that people get a true sense of who you are and what you stand for.

To add the icing…

As I see it, the icing on the cake is truly appreciating that no two businesses are the same. You can take these ingredients and use your creativity to decide how you combine them and develop the leadership you need for your business.


About the author

Dorothea Stuart is a Distinguished Toastmaster and a member of Toastmasters International – a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 345,000 in more than 15,900 clubs in 142 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members. To find your local club: www.toastmasters.org  Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.