One of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group recently sent me an email from Leeds City Council about their excellent Business Advice Café initiative.
In essence it helps people running businesses to get advice on an informal basis from experienced people who are able to assist.
Admittedly the majority of the people seeking help are either start-ups or small business owners and the hot topics they listed reflect their needs.
However, the whole concept made me think about what would a typical Vistage member list as the most important gaps in their knowledge or behaviour and what they would need to do to correct it.
The Advice Café members listed the following:
1. Websites and driving inward traffic
2. Valid use of Social Media
3. Accountancy and tax
4. Growth and the subsequent issues
5. Managing people
6. Training and skills
I find that list very interesting. Small businesses are definitely using online marketing simply because that is the way that the world is moving (or has already moved) and it is sensible to make sure that they are deriving the maximum advantage from their online presence.
That includes using social media to generate both interest and actual business.
I know of one case where an HR consultancy business used social media to such effect that in less than 12 months the business had generated both interest and actual order intake past break even.
The key in that case was not using an overt selling pitch but rather talking about current issues in HR and offering free (initially) advice as to how to cope with them.
This is great advice and the size of the business is irrelevant. Many larger businesses are not using social media effectively and there is little doubt that there is much improvement needed.
I would suggest that a hot topic list generated by a typical Vistage CEO would possibly look more like this:
1. Culture and values
2. Managing and recruiting people
3. Retaining good people
4. Training and skills
6. Finance for non-financial managers
7. Strategy and growth
8. Marketing, online presence including social media
Not very different but perhaps a different emphasis.
Great leaders understand that they can’t and shouldn’t even try to do everything in the business. The “leaven it to me, I’ll sort it” syndrome is often too prevalent and distracts the leader from doing what is needed and that is, leading rather than doing.
It is impossible to over emphasise the need to have great people in the top team because their talent has been spotted or they have been recruited on the same basis.
Remember that if we hire on skills we are likely to fire on attitude so again the need for dedicated, enthusiastic, committed people is paramount.
If they have the necessary skills and experience then so be it but always remember that skills can be taught; attitude and behaviour are, I believe, there by dint of nature rather than by nurture. The first five items on the list of hot topics are all related to the people around the leader and it is no coincidence that great leaders always seem to acquire great people around them.
If the leader has reached to top by a non-financial route then it is always useful to acquire some financial skills and understanding via a modicum of training.
Design of the business strategy and consequent growth are leadership functions as is the definition of the culture of the business. That is absolutely the province of the leader and having defined “how we do things around here” the leader must drive it into the business at all times.
Finally because the world has changed and is changing at an even faster pace, the whole concept of marketing, especially on-line and using social media is of primary importance.
Cover all those eight bases and leave the team to get on with the job of running the business. That is the right route for any leader.
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