School’s in: Why investing in leadership skills is so crucial for new start-ups

It’s been five months since I registered Cake Communications at Companies House, but it feels like yesterday. Since starting out on the rollercoaster journey that is running a new start-up, I’ve been caught up in a seemingly never-ending whirlwind of meetings, pitching, proposal writing – not to mention all the dreaded ADMIN. 
I’m lucky enough to have an experienced business partner who takes care of all of our financial affairs, which frees me up to concentrate on developing the business, targeting new clients, running the operational side and on our overarching vision. 
When it comes to building successful enterprises, I know the difference good leaders make to an organisation. From experience of working with both inspirational and weak leaders I was determined from the outset to fall into the former camp. And so it was a no-brainer from the moment I decided to create a new business to invest in my leadership skills.
Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. My business of communication – or getting client’s messages to the people that matter – was born in a period of major uncertainty. In an ever-changing communications landscape, with the fragmentation of information channels, the decline of traditional media and explosion of digital, the ability to adapt, reposition in the market and identify future demands and opportunities is clearly crucial for our survival. 
During my career to date, I’ve seen business leaders get so bogged down in delivery that they don’t invest in their own skills, and the resulting negative impact this can have on people around them, and ultimately the potential for business growth. I’ve also worked for leaders that had me hanging on their every word and motivated me to succeed in a shared goal that I bought into. Knowing the leadership style I personally aspire to, I decided to study for a leadership qualification. 
Everybody told me I was crazy but that’s usually the way to make me even more determined to do something (so thanks to all those people!). I knew I needed as much value from my limited study time as possible and that a theoretical-based course would be of limited use at my stage of trading, so opted for the 20 Twenty programme run by the Cardiff School of Management at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
The 20 Twenty programme is a 10-month journey delivered through workshops, action learning groups, master-classes, mentoring and coaching.
The overarching aim is to get participants to develop a three-year growth strategy for their business. This is what made the programme stand out from other leadership development programmes for me – it provides sustainable results with tangible benefits (that’s the idea anyway!).
So far, I have enjoyed every second of the programme. Taking time out from the day to day craziness to meet likeminded business owners serious about growing their businesses and adapting to change has been fascinating and thought-provoking. 
From sharing experiences and group problem-solving to recognising our own strengths and weaknesses as leaders and how to work with these, it’s been the best business decision I’ve made yet. 
I’ve learnt so much – from coaching skills to new approaches to challenging situations – in a short time and and know there’s a world of learning to come. Winning a speed networking challenge was also a highlight, but no surprise given my line of work I suppose. 
The part I love the most is meeting entrepreneurs who after 20 years or more of running their ‘babies’ have decided to take the plunge and reinvest in their own capabilities. These people are living proof that it’s never too late to go back to school and admit that you don’t know what you don’t know. Because, in the words of John F Kennedy, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”.

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