Case studies, fact sheets and interviews offering hints, tips, and inspiration to help your business grow. 

From 7 May 2024, the North East Growth Hub is a project of the North East Combined Authority. We may still refer to "the North East Local Enterprise Partnership" (or "the North East LEP") in some of our older articles. 

In conversation with Steven Rawlingson, Group CEO at Samuel Knight International, about leadership development

Samuel Knight International provides professional recruitment services and project manpower solutions to the global energy and rail sectors. Its clients include GE, Siemens and Alstom. Headquartered in Newcastle upon Tyne, the company has scaled into a £26m business with 70 employees and offices in Bristol, London and Chicago.

What is leadership development, and can it be learnt?

Leadership development is the process that helps expand the capacity of individuals to perform in leadership roles within organisations.

Leadership roles are those that facilitate the execution of an organisation's strategy through building alignment, winning mindshare, and growing the capabilities of others.

Yes, leadership skills can be learnt through situational leadership training programmes.

Why is it important for businesses to invest in leadership development?

Leadership development boosts employee engagement, increases an organisation's ability to deal with gaps in the talent pipeline, and reduces the headaches and costs associated with turnover. Great leaders attract, hire, and inspire great people.

What skills make a good leader?

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • The ability to share clear messages and make complex ideas easy to understand for everyone
  • Strategic thinking skills
  • Creativity
  • The ability to inspire and convince others
  • Flexibility.

What role has leadership development played in the growth of Samuel Knight International?

Samuel Knight International has an excellent leadership team that has been instrumental in the success of the group. As CEO, it was high on my agenda to invest early in the development of inspiring consultants who were emerging as leaders of the business.

Those individuals are now Managing Directors of the group of companies, and collectively we are working towards the same objectives and goals we share as a management team. Without our leadership team we wouldn’t be where we are today.

As CEO, why do you think it’s important to continually invest in your own professional development?

I’m a great believer in, ‘to grow the business you must first grow the leader’.  As CEO, I constantly look at different development programmes I could enroll in, and I’m constantly learning something new about being a CEO every year. I can’t see that changing any time soon.

In 2023 I’m looking to start a distant learning MBA.

What leadership courses or programmes have you taken part in that you would recommend to others? Why were they beneficial?

I was inspired by the leadership program I did through the Entrepreneurs’ Forum with Ian Kinnery a few years back; I would highly recommended it. I also completed a Diploma in Leadership many moons ago which helped in my personal development and aspirations of becoming a CEO of my own business.

What other activity has helped you become an effective leader?

Leaders read. I read a new book at least once a month. If you’re not learning, you’re standing still or going backwards.

Why is effective leadership so important in growing a business?

Effective leaders are important for business growth because they create confidence among employees and encourage a professional and positive environment. In an enterprise setting, leaders act as the catalysts that make all other business aspects work in tandem and in harmony across the organisation.

How is leadership different from being a good manager?

The main difference between leaders and managers is that leaders have people follow them while managers have people who work for them. A successful business owner needs to be both a strong leader and manager so teams get on board and work towards the same vision of success.

You were recently named Scale Up Entrepreneur of the Year by the Entrepreneurs' Forum. How has your commitment to investing in leadership development helped you in your career?

I can honestly say that if I hadn’t invested heavily in myself as a young, up and coming leader over the last 20 years of my career, I would not be where I am today leading Samuel Knight International.

What advice would you give to other business owners interested in developing their leadership skills?

Always keep learning and don’t fall into the category of ‘you think you know everything now you’re a business owner’, because trust me you don’t!

You don’t know what you don’t know.

There will be challenges you’ll face as you scale and grow the business, but you’ll see a path through if you invest in yourself. As I said before, to grow the business you must first grow the leader.

What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve been given?

Two sayings have stuck with me throughout my career.

  1. “If you could get all the people in an organisation rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”
  2. Go with your GUT. If it feels right JDI (just do it). Don’t procrastinate. Take risks and push yourself to be the best you can.

Find more information about leadership development on the Leadership Toolkit.