Leadership Development in SMEs
University of Exeter
International Council for Small Business Conference
Despite the continued increase in government (and other) investment in leadership and management development, evidence indicates that the majority of this provision continues to be supply-led and fails to meet the needs of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The current paper reports the outcomes of a two-phase investigation into leadership development in SMEs in the South West of England which attempted to address this issue by devising an educational and support programme matched specifically to the requirements of SME leaders. Phase One aimed to establish the demand for leadership development in SMEs in the Region by identifying the current challenges facing such organisations. Data was collected by means of face-to-face interviews with 20 SME leaders and was supported by interviews with leadership experts/practitioners. The research identified four principle areas of concern: strategic, human resource, leadership, and other (location, legislation, support and advice, etc.), which were explored further at a half-day forum to determine how this could be used to develop an educational programme. Phase Two used the outcomes of this research to develop a leadership development programme for SME leaders. This comprised a number of different elements to be compared and contrasted, including: facilitated workshops, formal topic sessions, a short course, company consultancies, and an Internet forum. As in Phase One, the programme finished with a discussion forum to explore the outcomes and next steps. Evaluation of the programme revealed a demand for leadership development amongst SME leaders in the Region, but that this is primarily for practical input and peer discussion in a flexible, informal environment. A number of lessons were identified and presented as recommendations for future leadership and management development initiatives, including: session content, timing, recruitment and marketing, networking, funding, delivery, and use of Internet/email. The paper will conclude with a brief overview of how this research has contributed towards the establishment of further leadership development initiatives in the Region.