How one accidental business leader learnt to successfully guide her company
Some people have visions of leadership from childhood. Others have leadership unexpectedly thrust upon them. If your business has outgrown the initial ambition, you need to hire a team – and learn to lead it effectively.
Change your perspective
Little Soap Company started as a kitchen-table business selling at farmers’ markets. When demand for its handmade, natural and organic soap bars soared, the opportunity to become a high street brand was clear.
CEO Emma Heathcote-James knew the way to achieve her dream of making natural soaps accessible for all was to scale up and get her products into UK retailers. The transformation from one-woman band to business leader was fraught with challenges.
“You are responsible not only for your products and customers and the vision and shape of your business, but your team who look to you for motivation, engagement and leadership. I realised that if I was to fulfil my dream of being a household brand, a feature in homes around the country, I would need a strong team around me,” Emma said.
As Emma expanded the business and grew the team, her interpretation of the concept of leadership was challenged, forcing her to change her perspective completely.
“One of the things that struck me was my view of leadership. I was thinking about it in the wrong way. My team was not there to help me. They are trusted, talented individuals, competent in their roles, and it is for me to help and support them so they can do the best job. This turnaround in my perspective of leadership was pivotal to how I now approach people management,” she said.
“I would urge any business owner who wants to improve their leadership and bring out the very best performance in their team to take the time to invest in training. It was worth every minute of my time."
Emma Heathcote-James, CEO, Little Soap Company
Follow other leaders
Leadership is a skill that you can learn and develop. For Emma, taking advice from other business leaders and attending courses has helped to hone her skills.
Like many business leaders, Emma didn’t think she could spare time to attend leadership courses and felt guilty at the thought of being away from the business. However, upon attending, she discovered how essential learning new leadership skills was for progression.
“It’s impossible to know it all as a business leader. But by accessing fantastic mentors and other leaders, you realise that the solutions are out there – which you may never have discovered on your own,” Emma said.
During one event, Emma visited a Rolls-Royce site and realised that even large, respected and high-profile companies are constantly looking at processes and operations to become more efficient and productive.
“Much of what I learnt was able to be implemented in my business, with great results. For example, after one course I reviewed our finance practice, bringing in a commercial accountant and changing how we format our monthly management accounts,” Emma said.
Due to her new view of leadership and improved understanding, Emma feels more confident and empowered to trust her team. She no longer has guilt about taking time to review the business and invest in her own learning and development.
“I would urge any business owner who wants to improve their leadership and bring out the very best performance in their team to take the time to invest in training. It was worth every minute of my time,” she said.
location: South West (England)
business size: 10-49 People
business type: Manufacturing
Top three takeaways
Business leaders are responsible for helping the team to reach its full potential – not the other way around.
Leadership is a skill that you can learn and develop. Taking advice from other business leaders and attending courses will hone your skills.
Don't feel guilty if you need to take time out of the business to learn leadership skills. Learning is key to progression and is never a waste of time.