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Leadership development

Leadership development in small business

Leadership is key for business. The ability to effectively influence your staff to reach your business goals is vital for the success of your business. Developing leaders with relevant leadership skills is a complex challenge in Asia. It should be a priority for all aspects of your business.

Different aspects of leadership styles and skills, traits to qualities are taught in business schools and practised in the real world. Good and bad leadership case studies abound; strategic, visionary and inspirational leadership. Leadership development doesn’t always work out. So how do you get ‘Leadership’ right in your organisation?


Context is key

A study by McKinsey & Co. found that ‘a good leader in one situation does not necessarily perform well in another.’ In the earliest stages of planning a leadership initiative, companies should ask themselves a simple question: what, precisely, is this programme for?  Then set your goals; cost reduction, sales maximisation or even happiness in the workplace.

You will need a ‘leadership toolkit’ to manage the volatile SME markets of SE Asia. Flexibility and pragmatism are essential. There is no one single way to develop good leadership.


Senior Management Buy-In

To make a leadership development programme effective in your business, you need to take charge. Don’t take your hands off it. Any strategic leadership development efforts must be supported by an executive team, with authority, who monitors progress, give feedback and make revisions. Executives should be engaged in the early formation of design needs. This engagement process serves the purpose of tapping into executives for roles in programme delivery to further link the leadership content to the business.


Investing in the wrong people at the wrong time

We have all experienced employees who join our organisation for a while, get what they want, then leave. Filling up time on their CVs and other selfish strategies generally don’t provide value addition for your business. Developing every employee with a deep learning experience is also not possible. Identifying leaders who will provide the greatest value for realising your business goals in the current period. This will prime your company to maximise its leadership development strategy.



Essential leadership behaviour is good decision making. One successful SME in Singapore decided to build a multiyear leadership programme. A programme that accelerated the personal development paths of four mid-level leaders. It also ensured that projects were delivered on time and budget.

One business-unit leader got her team to commit to developing new orders with a key client. After this, she started working on a new contract that encompassed several of the company’s business lines by providing better coaching for subordinates. The result was advanced negotiations on several new opportunities involving two different business lines.

The ability to push training participants to reflect, while also giving them real work experiences to apply new approaches and develop their skills is a valuable combination in emerging markets.


Measuring Results

Making your employees feel good, by sending them on expensive Executive Education programmes need to be followed up with evidence to quantify the value of their investment. Try to monitor the business impact, especially when training and development are tied to key projects such as business development. Useful metrics might include cost savings or an increase in sales of new products if the programme focused on the skills to build a new-product strategy.

In an SME with multiple business units, try identifying the revenue increases attributable to your leadership development programme by comparing one group that has received the training with another that hasn’t yet.

Your role as an SME leader should involve avoiding the most common mistakes in leadership development and increasing the probability of success by matching specific leadership skills and traits to the current context to make improvements over time.

Don’t let your leadership development fail. Being aware of some of the obstacles that will prevent your costly leadership development efforts from succeeding adds value to your business.

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