Why small business owners need to become leaders

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Why small business owners need to become leaders

Getting formal credit for small business leadership skills can be difficult - but there is a better way.

Small business owners and managers are asked to wear many hats – as a senior person in a resource-constrained organisation they can often lead sales, marketing, customer service and many other functions.

No wonder, as shown in a recent survey by Westpac and Deloitte, that they struggle to complete paperwork, wrangle red tape and manage ever-rising costs.

To succeed and grow, small business managers, therefore, need to be at the top of their game. They need critical thinking and problem-solving skills to find new ways of growing their businesses. Digital literacy skills can also help, by giving them access to efficient online sales and marketing channels.

Leaders with teams need to be good at leading people and motivating them to share more of the workload.

However, many small business managers never receive formal training in any of these areas. They develop leadership skills on the job, sometimes through trial and error. Even if they attain those skills at a high level, their informal experience is not recognised if they look for jobs in larger or more complex organisations.

Barriers to study

Being so stretched, it’s no surprise many small business managers don’t pursue formal leadership qualifications – especially beyond the diploma or certificate level.

Master’s leadership degrees are often unaffordable: an MBA can cost tens of thousands of dollars and places huge demands on students’ time. Traditional master’s courses often follow rigid semester timetables, which might clash with small businesses peak sales period. For a manager who is already struggling to stay afloat, that commitment can be hard to sustain.

Even those who feel they can study can be put off by courses that can’t be taken online or don’t recognise skills by awarding course credits for workplace experience. So, a retailer with a decade of experience managing a sales team might not get recognition for experience in their degree. As similar to the owner of a construction company who may not get credit for the many years they’ve spent solving business problems.

Another problem is that educators often focus on generic skills, rather than using students’ business achievements and knowledge as the basis for learning.

An easier path

Given all these issues, business managers should be forgiven for swearing off postgraduate study.

As an alternative way forward, new models for postgraduate degrees that address the needs of small business managers have appeared.

For example, Deakin University offers a fast-tracked Master of Leadership degree. The university assesses and credits students’ existing skills in 10 areas, including problem solving, critical thinking and communication. It also claims that it’s possible to complete the course in 12 months while working full-time.

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