Leadership and Management

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Leadership lessons: creating a harmonious SME

Leading by example is a powerful way to cultivate a harmonious workplace, as attitudes and behaviour filter down from business owners to employees. But what does this look like in practice? We speak to business leaders who inspire loyalty, productivity and harmony.

Last updated: 06 Jun 2019 6 min read

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Taking a ‘lead by example’ approach helps to build trust and respect from the team. “It sounds clichéd, but if you can stand in front of your team knowing that you’ve been there and done it, and them knowing that too, they will respect and trust your leadership,” says Matt Turner, group CEO of The Dining Club Group, which runs restaurant discount membership tastecard.

“The greatest example is me starting the business from scratch; I was prepared to risk everything and relied on hard work, determination and intuition to found and then build the tastecard business to what it is now. Nothing has a greater impact or inspires my team more than them knowing the story of the last 15 years, while of course demonstrating that the hard work always continues.”

The business encourages what Turner calls a “very open dialogue” with a variety of meetings held, where no questions are off the table. He’s open to all staff about the direction the business is taking, key challenges and major opportunities. There’s no hierarchy, either, and everyone is encouraged to have a say.


Effective communication boosts productivity, according to Grant van der Harst, managing director of road-marking company Anglo Liners. He and his senior managers hold regular one-to-ones with staff to ensure no concerns are bottled up. He takes pen and paper to write down issues or personal development goals that are raised.

“Noting down what you’ve learned from your staff during your meeting sets an example to employees to constantly write down tasks that need to be completed in the future, and to always have a written version of what’s been discussed, to refer back to,” he says.

“This also shows your employees that what they have said is being considered, building trust among staff, who can rely on you to be proactive when it comes to working on their success and any problems they’ve discussed.”

Niamh Barker, founder of luxury clothing brand The Travelwrap Company, also values an atmosphere of openness and camaraderie. She allows as much flexibility as possible for employees to meet their family demands, and encourages her small team to talk about non-work as well as professional issues.

“I look after my health and fitness and always encourage our team to do the same,” she says. “A few years ago, I would be in the office from 7am catching up on emails. Not now. I still start my day early but make sure I fit mediation or exercise in before I come into the office, and encourage others to do the same. I also strongly feel my team should disconnect from the office so they don’t receive emails to their phone or home email.

“I think of us as a flat-hierarchy senior team, sometimes all working together and challenging each other to get the best for Travelwrap. There’s a healthy mix of chatting, mischief and serious discussion. I think the openness and honesty I try to encourage is probably the key to that environment.”


Unsurprisingly, leadership is a key aspect of harmony in the workplace. Alister Esam, CEO of software-as-a-service (SaaS) company Process Bliss, which helps companies embed process within their organisation, says strong leadership is crucial for SMEs, as it impacts on staff harmony, loyalty and retention, as well as business performance.

“When I started my first company eShare, I thought I was a good leader – but in reality I really wasn’t,” Esam says. “You learn as you go along of course, but people kind of expect you to be a fully formed leader just because you’re the boss or founder, and it doesn’t really work like that. Just because an entrepreneur has a great idea or vision, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they’re a good leader.”

“As SMEs grow and begin to scale, they can run into serious problems because of poor and ineffective leadership. It’s important CEOs challenge themselves and keep learning and growing as leaders”Alister Esam, CEO, Process Bliss

He joined Vistage executive coaching, which he says helped his learning and development. “It’s not a leader’s role to check up on people to make sure they’re doing what they [should be] doing and it’s certainly not to allow chaos to reign within a business,” he says.

“It’s a leader’s role to support the business and make sure it has what it needs to be successful. People need to be empowered and to make their own decisions and to be motivated, happy and productive in their work.

“As SMEs grow and begin to scale, they can run into serious problems because of poor and ineffective leadership. This makes it all the more important that CEOs challenge themselves and ensure they keep learning and growing as leaders.”


It’s important to maintain a positive attitude, especially in tough times. “We have to remain calm-minded, tenacious and positive around the team to ensure they remain positive too,” says Kirsten Cluer, owner of Cluer HR, which provides support and advice for SMEs. “Everything is intensified in a small team, we all know what each other’s moods are, but it also means we get more time to spend sharing problems and solving issues.”

Cluer adds that being part of an SME is more than just a chore for most of her colleagues as the close-knit community within which they work makes successes special – even if it’s just hitting a month’s targets.

“It’s this sort of healthy environment where everyone’s treated equally that allows for a harmonious and successful team to prosper,” she says.

Matt Turner concurs. He believes that the benefits of a harmonious workplace are clear, as when employees are happily working together, motivation and productivity soar. “We have a rule at tastecard that we stand or fall as a team together,” he says. “We protect each other when times are tough and celebrate together when we have success.

“Don’t ever forget that the team will look to you for leadership, and the respect you get from making the difficult decisions and leading from the front is crucial,” he adds. “Always be honest and open, and, finally, always listen.”

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Leadership and Management