The first Future 50 partner workshop of 2022 saw Turning Factor deliver a virtual leadership session for members and partners.

Hosted by Turning Factor CEO Kathryn Horton and managing director James Howells, the workshop challenged attendees to identify what makes a great business leader – and conversely, what doesn’t.

Stefan Alexander, director of British Mouldings, said successful leadership hinges on a solid understanding of the finances. “The most common thing I see with failing companies is that they don't pay any attention to the figures,” he explained. “They run the business on the bank balance without regular management information to help them make informed decisions – or they won’t know key financials like their breakeven point and margins. As a result, they may over-invest or overtrade.”

John Parnell, managing director of GLO – Generate Leads Online, highlighted the importance of delegation. “One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader is not giving enough responsibility to employees,” said Mr Parnell. “It means that you are effectively the business – so if something happens to you, the business will fail.”

This was echoed by Mat Waters, partner at Lovewell Blake, who said businesses must have a contingency plan in place. “If you're incapacitated for two weeks, what effect would that have on the business?” he commented. “Who else knows what needs to be done? Who is able to pay the staff? If the entire business is invested in one person, you've got a very large weak link.”

Mr Waters also said business leaders must be ready to adapt and embrace change. “A lot of businesses will be very focused on doing what they're comfortable with,” he explained. “But what your client wants now isn’t going to be what they want in five years’ time.”

“Once you fall behind, you're only ever going to fall further behind – so you need to be proactive rather than reactive,” he added. “That might involve reskilling certain members of staff, or finding other means to meet client demand.”

Jennifer Leeder, legal director at Birketts, explained that in-depth market knowledge is a critical part of business success. “You need to listen to your customers, do your market research and understand who your competitors are,” she said. “If you go in thinking you’ve got an amazing USP without doing your research, you may not know that someone else is doing the same thing just down the road – and possibly undercutting you.”

But the biggest mistake a founder can make is not recognising or rewarding their team, Ms Leeder added. “You've got to pay at a level that’s commensurate with your team’s skills,” she said. “Of course, that can be tricky in the early stages of a business – so it’s then about finding other ways to engage them.”

For Paul Suggitt, managing director of Norfolk Football, total dedication to a business is what makes the difference between a successful and unsuccessful leader. “A business definitely doesn’t grow as quickly if you don’t give it the attention it deserves,” he said.

Mr Suggitt added that business owners must be able to build and retain a database of client information. “That’s your whole business, really,” he added. “Creating that database, making sure it's backed up, saved and regularly monitored.”

Ultimately, the destiny of a business lies in the hands of those leading it, concluded James Howells, managing director at Turning Factor. “If the business fails, it's not the bank, it's not the marketing. It's actually down to us as leaders,” he said. “But if the business is successful, that's also down to us.”