A note from Nick Sturge, Engine Shed Director: Enhancing your leadership capability

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When I co-founded my previous business back in 1993, the government funded a scheme which paid for a local executive search firm to help us recruit a non-exec chair for the business. We paid the NED’s fee but the recruitment fee was paid. There’s no way that we would have a) thought of hiring a NED or b) prioritised the investment therein for our business (there were six co-founders) at that stage. It wasn’t just about it being free, but that government were endorsing the concept of a NED, that made us take notice.

So, we hired our non-exec chairman, and over the years it became clear that it was one of the best things we ever did. He brought discipline to board meetings and quietly built structure, objectivity, and the right amount of process into the business – so when we listed on the stock exchange three years later, it was a relatively smooth process. While the pros and cons of being a listed company are the topic for another article, this process, and the way we were led as a board, was a real eye opener for me, and has informed my work since.

When you start a business from scratch, you have what you have in terms of skills and experience of running a business. Whether you are on your own or a team, understanding your role as a director, as well as being the owner/investor in your own business, AND being the executive, AND being the person doing the work (writing software, designing a product, whatever), board governance and developing your own board skills rarely take priority.

There can be no argument that leadership is the key to success (however defined) of an organisation, but how many businesses properly invest in their own leadership? The board of an organisation – be that made up of directors or trustees – needs to have the right competencies and experiences to be able to effectively and efficiently lead and ensure both performance and conformance.

I have talked about this topic at length before, but the reason for bringing it up again is that we have been doing some work in this area to try to develop the collective capability of the local economy in this respect.

How, you might ask? Well firstly, we run a regular workshop, within the SETsquared Bristol Centre, on building your first board to encourage early stage businesses to understand their role as director, and how they can complement their own skills with a non-executive board. I’m running one later this month – but it’s full up.

At an ecosystem level, we are starting to map the resources in the region that support this agenda. We’re capturing it here and encourage you to look at that list and contribute what you know. We will soon host a roundtable bringing together some experts in this space to explore where we can enhance the collective capacity and capability, and then hopefully nudge others to fill any gaps that are identified.

I maintain that if we get leadership right in public, private, and third sector organisations, inclusive economic prosperity becomes far, far more probable. We all have a role to play in that – and we’ll all benefit.