11 May Rotman Leadership Reflections (Lead from the Trenches)

university of Toronto
Rotman Executive Program

As part of my ongoing research into the science and art of leadership, I attended a week-long course presented by the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto.

The session was informative, if somewhat grueling, but I found that a great deal of the wisdom and knowledge being imparted applied only to large organizations: those with a many hundreds of employees and with a distinct department dedicated to managing human resources.

The session allowed me to develop or confirm some of the ideas I have about leadership of a smaller-sized company:

5 keys to Small & Medium Size Business Management:

  1. To be a leader you need a vision. Knowing you need a vision is not the same as identifying and maintaining that vision. A leader needs to know how to create a vision as well as know what it is once it is created. This requires a combination of vigilance, hands-on work, and the practical awareness of what a company stands for. I feel that the identification of a vision might be possible by oneself, but would probably be even more successful if brought together with the help both of mentors and the company team members.
  2. A leader needs to be humble, in the sense of not being a narcissist; but a leader cannot be humble like a monk. Instead it’s a type of humility that reinforces the willingness to continually learn, yet that still maintains confidence. Marcus Buckingham, author of The One Thing You Need to Know: …About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, has stated that “To be a great leader, you must find what’s universal, and capitalize on it,” but in opposition to some leadership theories that exalt being humble and quietly powerful, he says having vision isn’t enough. You have to believe that you are the best person to see that vision out, and that requires ego.

    “Great leaders must have the confidence that they are worthy trailblazers and can find the answers along the way.” www.businessinsider.com

  3. You can make a leader better but you can’t make a leader. A certain level of assertiveness, outcome orientation, optimism and ego needs to be present. These qualities alone do not make you a good leader, but this is a necessary starting point.
  4. Greater emphasis must be placed on organisational health and how teams actually need to work, since a leader can only inspire and empower once the team is high functioning.
  5. Engagement. Most companies are not like Google, an organization that attracts the type of people who are happy working 80 hours a week. A challenge to small business remains: how do you create employee engagement, get work done and keep it all in a 40 to 44 hour work week, and still make enough profit to allow for growth and company continuation? This is a real leadership challenge.

As always, the study of leadership is a long and winding road, and will never truly end. Although some timeless truths exist, the quickly-changing demographic landscape, in terms of both employees and customers will require constant review.

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