What are the qualities of successful leaders in turbulent times?

The SME Partnership programme has worked with over 300 businesses over the past few years which has provided some great insights into modern leadership.

The programme meets and works with a diverse range of business leaders, all striving to take their companies to the next stage of growth. What is most striking about these individuals is how very different they all are. No two leaders are the same, be it personality types, leadership styles or background.

There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to leadership. All the companies we work with have significant growth potential, yet the people who lead them are not so easily categorised. It is refreshing to see how varied our cohort is. They come from different backgrounds, have different experiences and demonstrate different styles of leadership. What they have in common is a set of attributes or traits which allow them to get the very best out of themselves and their teams. They all have a determination to drive their business forward, a mindset which is willing to embrace new ways of working or new opportunities, and an open mind and willingness to learn.

Dispelling leadership myths

When we think of a business leader, we often envisage a stereotypical alpha male who is larger than life in terms of personality and who exudes confidence and charisma. Yet in our experience, there are many leaders who simply don’t fit that stereotypical criteria. They might not have a particular profile and although they are motivated and driven, they are far from blinkered.

We often think of leaders as being self-assured and single minded, which can be true of both alphas and atypical alphas. What is perhaps one of the most common traits we see, is that successful leaders see strength in collaboration. They know that they don’t have all the answers and that what worked last year won’t necessarily work tomorrow. They constantly question their own strategies and are always open to new ideas.

The leaders we work with join the programme precisely because they don’t have all the answers. They have an open mindset and are eager to learn and adapt. They spend their time challenging themselves as well as those around them, seeking advice and exploring new ways of thinking.

Breaking the mould

So, we need to challenge stereotypes and recognise that leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They won’t necessarily have an MBA, a domineering personality and a plush office. They may have come from a non-business background, taken the reins of the family business, or built something up from scratch. They may be quietly spoken, have a self-deprecating sense of humour and spend most of their time with their sleeves rolled up motivating people on the factory floor.

Leaders aren’t churned out on a conveyor belt. All of our cohorts, in one way or another, have broken the mould.

Core strengths, strong leaders

They may not share personality traits, but they do have common attributes. They are all committed to business transformation and recognise that delivering growth depends on extending their horizons. They have a learning mindset and are willing to flex with the changing needs of their business.

The combination of vision, aspiration, being open minded and having a willingness to learn is powerful. When you combine that with industry expertise and knowledge, you begin to see why many of the businesses we’ve worked with are successful.

Strong leaders come in all shapes and sizes but there are definitely some common themes.

Top 10 common characteristics of successful leaders

A learning mindset – Open to new ideas and willing to explore new avenues.

Adaptability – Willingness to flex strategies and processes as the market changes.

Self-awareness – Understand how to build on strengths and address weaknesses.

Strong communication skills – The ability to listen as well as command an audience.

People person – Ability and desire to motivate, inspire and develop staff.

Empathy – Understanding of other peoples’ circumstances, challenges and points of view.

Strong values – A clear sense of what is right and wrong.

Collaborator – Determination to form partnerships with a range of stakeholders to boost performance.

Resilience – Ability to sustain drive during tough times and think creatively to bounce back from setbacks.

Respect – Valuing all stakeholders, respecting their opinions and valuing their input.

If you are running your own SME in the Black Country, Birmingham or Solihull and you recognise some or all of these traits in yourself and you want to move your company forward, then get in touch.

The SME Partnership programme is open to all types of leaders and the more diverse our cohort, the greater the range of skills and experiences there are to tap into. Join us on the journey and take your business to another level.

Our next programme starts soon, and its fully funded for eligible business.