SME Leader or Manager. Ten things you need to know about leadership

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Over the weekend I was going through an old portable disk drive from my time in the corporate world. I came across a letter I wrote to my new management team, just after the company had undergone a major restructure. I had to completely restructure my management team and this included a number of redundancies.

As you can imagine this was a challenging time. Once the decision had been made I had to deal with the exiting of three of the team and, arguably more importantly, how to re-inspire those left and create a team that was willing to take on more responsibility. I realised that setting a new tone for the team was important so I wrote a letter to each of them with the ‘rules of the game’ for our new management team.


I discussed the contents with each of them individually before bringing the whole team together to agree them.


I’ve attached the letter for you to take a look at. I’ve changed the wording a bit, mainly in line with some of the changes I have made in how I see the world after eight years of coaching smaller businesses, but there is nothing fundamentally different.


As you read it think about your own management team (and for that matter yourself). How well do they / you live up to the ideas expressed in this letter?


I’m nearly ready to launch my management and leadership development program for people in management roles in small businesses (email me for details) and this is beginning to feel like a manifesto for the course. Here’s the letter.


‘Dear …………………….


Congratulations on your promotion. You have demonstrated that you have the right combination of hunger and potential to take a place in the management team. My job is to support you so that you can do your very best in this job.


Your job description and objectives set out what you are responsible for and the targets we have agreed. This letter is to do with how you behave as a member of the leadership team These are the ten commandments that I expect my managers to follow.


There will be times when you are out of your comfort zone and you will make mistakes as you learn to lead. No one is waiting for you to fail so they can take your scalp. However, if you follow these rules and seek guidance when you are not sure, you will avoid many of the commonly made mistakes. I developed these over my own career and they have served me well. I hope they do the same for you as well.


1: Know yourself. I recruited you for a reason. You aren’t just on this team for the stuff that you know. Focus on who you are at your best and how you can use your strengths. Be aware of and work on of the things you are not good at but do not let them define you, or your contribution. You must take ownership of what happens in your team and for the results you obtain.

I’m not looking for some idealised perfect leader. I’ll take ‘who you truly are’ over ‘who you are trying to be’ every time but you will not be permitted to engage in blame or excuses.


2: Live with uncertainty – This company and the market we serve are in a constant state of change and uncertainty. This is the way it is. Don’t invest time wishing it was different or attending to the things you cannot control or influence. Instead, invest your time focused on where you can make a difference. Understand what is going on, what it means for your team and plan to support them to make adjustments when needed.


3: Connection not conflict – You are not just the manager of your team. You are a member of my team and part of the much bigger company team. Your team cannot function without the support and work of others in this company. Build positive relationships with everyone. We are not at war with others in the company, we are all doing what we can to serve customers and grow profits. Make your case and argue with passion, but show respect and empathy for others. Sometimes decisions will go against what you might personally want or. That’s business for you. Once a decision is made get behind it and implement it.


4: Transaction to trend – You are not paid to deal with day to day orders and queries. That is your teams job. I expect you to know what is happening, and why, within your team. Specifically, I want you to understand how good or bad things are (ratios), how we are doing against targets and milestones (variances) and whether we are improving or deteriorating (trend).


5: Be change – You job is to find ways to do things faster, better and more economically. Managers keep things running but leaders drive change. You should be constantly driving improvements within your team, cross functionally and company wide. Sometimes you will be the initiator and driver of these changes. Sometimes you will be responding to change within the company. Change is good and you should embrace it positively.


6: Be a time lord – As a leader you will have discretion over how you use your time. I will not be giving you a daily list of tasks. You must take control of how you use your time and give priority to the actions that will underpin your targets and deliver best value to the company. Your legacy will be the things you achieved, not the fires that you fought.


7: Empty your bag – You are called upon to create and evaluate ideas, make decisions, take actions and have conversations. Some of these will be easy and some will be challenging. Tough shit. You are a leader and you required to deal with all situations in a timely and decisive manner. You must not avoid, delay or defer anything because it is difficult.


8: Learn the whole machine – The things you do will have an impact on the whole company. Just knowing how your bit of the machine works is not good enough. If you can’t tell me

  • the full range of products we sell
  • the types of customers we seek
  • how we find them and sell to them
  • how the product gets created and delivered
  • how we build a relationship with our customers
  • the profit margins we make
  • how cash flows in and out of the company

and how you impact them, then you are not well enough informed. You aren’t expected to have an MBA but you are expected to understand how this company does what it does. This knowledge equips you to make good commercial decisions and to know who to engage with in the company.


9:  Your team, your problem  –You are responsible for recruiting, training and developing everyone in your team. Their performance is your problem, not theirs. When someone is performing well it is your job to ensure they know that. When someone is not performing it is your job to understand why and to deal with by training, coaching or removing the poor performer. There is no room for passengers in the company and you must decide who is ‘on’ or ‘off’ the bus.


10: Systemise routine – Company wide standards must be consistently upheld. You are responsible for ensuring your follow company processes and policies. If something doesn’t work fix it in a way that prevents it going wrong again, even when that means engaging other teams and departments in the solution. If there is no process it is your job to create one.

Good Luck’

Take a look at the details of  Sleeping Tiger’s NEW SME Leadership Development Programme here. There are only ten places available for Supervisors, Managers or Junior Directors of SME businesses. Take a look at the details and if it looks like it is of interest to you as you grow your company you can book a 15 minute session with me to discuss it.