Developing Leaders in Small Firms


One of the key aims of the Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEEL) at the Management School is to engage with and assist small businesses.   The Centre was made one of the flagship providers of the LEAD (leadership, enterprise and development) framework by the North West Regional Development Agency (NWDA) and through this framework CEEL developed a LEAD programme which assisted owner managers running small businesses across Merseyside.

Applying the Research

The focus of the LEAD programme was on developing attendees’ leadership and managerial skills, with the overall aim of boosting their businesses performance. The Director of CEEL, Prof. Ossie Jones designed the programme and ensured that the content was embedded with original research from within the Centre including his own research which examined the nature of knowledge creation and learning.  This research was part of a three year project known as the Evolution of Business Knowledge which examined Northwest SMEs (of varying size and sector) and how the businesses were able to ‘learn’ in order to grow. Key findings of this research were that:

  • formal and informal networks are important sources of new knowledge;
  • learning is situated and context specific;
  • social learning requires high-levels of trust between participants;
  • periods of reflection are essential to embed new knowledge;
  • changing attitudes and behaviours require longitudinal interventions.

There was a deliberate strategy by Ossie to use insights from various strands of the Centre’s research when designing the LEAD programme, including in the following ways:

  • The two day informal opening event was designed around the mutual sharing of knowledge and information to build trust between participants.  This meant that barriers based on institutional norms were overcome and established a strategic approach to learning which encouraged trust to build between participants.   
  • The LEAD participants were required to work in action learning sets for the duration of the programme to share knowledge and experience, as well as building trust between participants.
  • The programme encouraged owner-managers to adopt appropriate leadership skills to promote organisational learning as a basis for improving firm performance including turnover and profit. For example, participants were expected to explain to their action-learning sets how they improved communications about their objectives for the firm with all their employees and to demonstrate that they had delegated some operational responsibility providing more time to consider the firm’s overall direction.
  • LEAD also included three reflection days during the 10-month programme which were designed to ensure the participants embedded the changes into their organisational routines. 

Making a Difference 

  • The turnover of those attending the programme improved by, on average, 21%.
  • Over 99% of those enrolled completed the 10-month programme. This level of commitment from the small firm community demonstrates that the programme was directly relevant to their business needs.
  • The research-informed programme changed the focus from individual learning to organisational learning by developing the appropriate mechanisms for knowledge creation and sharing within each small business.