In 2007, at the tender age of 25, I made the leap from a background in strategy consulting, corporate management, and SME management, to starting a business. Driven by a passion to solve the unemployment crisis in South Africa, I launched Edge Growth to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses fast.
In 2008, we built our corporate advisory business, to help large South African corporations grow their suppliers. In 2009, I handed that over to start building our second business unit, an SME investment business. We raised capital from a bank and started a fund to provide risk capital to high-growth businesses.
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Trying to grow through the financial crisis
The timing was awful, coinciding with the global financial crisis and recession of 2008 to 2010. All banks were under immense pressure and that pressure translated directly into highly stressed executives placing immense pressure on us.
At one point, we were given an ultimatum to achieve totally unrealistic targets or we’d be fired (resulting in our business being shut down). The pressure was unbelievable. I felt like I was gripped in a bear hug, inside a pressure cooker, at the bottom of the ocean. I was sleeping two to three hours a night and was chronically hyper-anxious.
Could you be the problem in your business?
Increasingly, I realised my team hated working with me. The pressure was breaking down trust and we were constantly in conflict. Team performance took a dive, and good people left. Slowly I had to confront the reality that it was me. It was my fault. I was the problem. It’s not easy realising the biggest problem in your own business is you.
The level of leadership required under the circumstances had outgrown me. I had become the main constraint to our business.
Nearly a decade later, with a few honorary degrees from the school of business building (plus a litany of battle scars) under my belt, it’s become obvious to me that the experience was inevitable. Building a business is tough, full stop. But I was also building a fund for the first time and building a business for the first time. I was an executive with zero support structures (unlike in corporate settings) for the first time. I was figuring things out along the way and frankly, at the age of 30, I had a lot to figure out.
You need more skills to experience prolonged growth
The problem is that 18-hour work days don’t give you much room or time to think about yourself, your business or where you need to improve and develop. Growing rapidly under those circumstances, it was inevitable that I’d discover the ceiling of my business management ability was too low. I’ve since learnt that this is true of almost all entrepreneurs scaling a business fast, for the first time.
Over the years, I’ve seen the same pattern playing out in most of the fast growing businesses we invest in or advise: The business outgrows the leadership and the CEO or top two to three people become the biggest constraint in the business.
It was through my own painful experience — and that of other CEOs I walked the road with — that I learnt the painful lesson, what got you here, won’t get you there.
Keep upskilling yourself to continue your business’ growth
The skills and disciplines that made you successful up until now and created your current opportunities, are insufficient to make you successful in those opportunities. As a business grows, the skills required to run that business change, and get increasingly difficult to build.
Most entrepreneurs don’t have the skills to run a larger, more complex organisation beyond a 20 to 50-person headcount. These businesses take a lot of time and effort to build, and the owners are so trapped in the hyper-pressure vortex of day-to-day business that they do nothing about gearing up their own management capabilities to match the needs of a scaled business.
Soon enough, the business ‘gets stuck’ in No Man’s Land, constantly repeating a chaotic fight for survival, because its complexity is just too much for the level of managerial competence.
Seeing this pattern play out painfully in business after business has convinced me that the single biggest constraint to economic growth and job creation in South Africa is this issue: CEOs in fast growing businesses becoming outgrown by their successful businesses.
I’m so passionate about this issue I’ve launched a new business to solve this problem. It’s called The 10X Entrepreneur. Our mission is to help founders 10X themselves and their teams, so that they can 10X their businesses.
4 Key tips to scaling a company
If you’re scaling a company for the first time, here are my key tips:
- Study business scaling. Jim Collins and Jack Welch books are great. An MBA is useful, but they are woefully inadequate for the job of scaling a business from the ground up. Know the specific journey of scaling a business: The crises, transitions, and what it means for your job as a leader.
- Focus on your skills. Implement an accelerated personal growth system to build your Scale-Up CEO skills – See Are You (Realistically) Ready To Scale Your Business
- (Carefully) add competent executives to your senior team. Building critical mass of executive management competence radically accelerates your own growth as a competent entrepreneurial executive. Make sure they are the rare breed that thrive at building from the ground up, not just running organisations that are already built with procedures in place.
- Make the building of great management systems a primary priority. Learn by doing. But get the help of consultants. Learn from gurus in a quasi-one-on-one coaching relationship and attend business bootcamps.
Digital Leadership: Amplified & Magnified
Leadership is not changing. But it is being amplified and magnified through the use of digital media. Here’s how to use it to become a better leader.
What does leadership look like in the digital age?
Fundamentally, leadership stays the same. The objective of leadership remains to paint a compelling vision of the future and to then rally others around creating it.
However, the visibility of leadership has changed thanks to the internet and social media.
Leaders should embrace the tools that come with this change because it allows them to communicate their vision more consistently, to truly lead from the front, and to be more human.
As a leader, you have the opportunity to consistently show up and communicate your vision and dedication to your followers. Digital has made this easy for you. All you need to do is simply choose the channel of communication that best suits your style and strengths.
Prefer writing? Jot down a weekly email or tweet that inspires or informs those around you.
Prefer talking? Record a quick video on your phone.
Great leaders understand the importance of communication.
How awesome that a leader’s voice can now extend beyond the boardroom and the annual letter to shareholders.
Truly lead from the front
Apart from the words that you use to communicate there is another intrinsic benefit to this consistent act. Your people see your commitment. The words you write become less important than the act of consistently showing up.
For the past few years I have written a daily email that goes out to over 17,000 subscribers. I often hear that the thing that inspires readers the most is not the words but the consistent action. You cannot fake it when you are leading with visibility.
One thing that has always been true is that leaders need to lead by example. Never has it been truer than in a world where our actions are amplified and then magnified. It comes down to this. As leader, you cannot say one thing and do another. You shouldn’t have to.
If you are leading authentically then your actions and your words will live in perfect harmony. And the life that people see on Instagram will not clash with what they see in the boardroom.
An obscured leader cannot lead from the front. Leaders need to be visible.
I often speak to incredible leaders who are afraid of embracing the digital era. Specifically, they fear “showcasing” themselves on social media. They do not want to come across as promotional, narcissistic, or flawed.
However, the opposite usually happens. When people get to see the other side of you they connect on a deeper level. You become human. And as a leader, this is a good thing to be.
Does this mean you should splash your entire life across the digital ecosystem?
You still need to be selective. But it is ok to let people in to your world.
As a leader, you can make a profound impact that reverberates beyond the walls of your company. An impact that affects your employees, your customers, and even those watching you from the sidelines.
Digital media shines a spotlight on your leadership. Embrace it.
Leadership Hustle: A Modern View On Leadership
‘Leadership hustle’ refers to the concept of analysing with great care what needs to be done as a Leader.
“Actually, caring about the other person is the leverage in any conversation.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
Have a clear Vision. Do what you love. Now, go and do what is necessary to make your glorious Vision a reality. Sounds so simple! Sounds so cliché. Not so much……
It takes a lot of ‘hustle’ and serious staying power to fully unleash your inherent Leadership potential and to overcome several obstacles that appear on your path. Several opinions and definitions exist in terms of what Leadership really is. Within a modern context, considering factors such as generational gaps, differences in upbringing and schooling, political interference, technological advances, and market disruptions I will define leadership as:
“Continuously applying the required and adaptive skill set, to unite a diverse group of people in committed and sustained effort, with the aim to attain a collective Vision that they sincerely aspire to.
In reflecting on this statement concepts such as self-development, emotional intelligence, honing your craft, wisdom, building a sustainable culture of success, a high level of motivation and several other factors are cast under the spotlight.
‘Leadership hustle’ refers to the concept of analysing with great care what needs to be done as a Leader, then carefully deciding how it needs to be done, be willing to ‘pivot’ when things are not working, create a sustainable motivating climate, and then persevere with an extreme high level of commitment until your team realises your collective vision. If you are a true Leader this ‘hustle’ never stops. A critical part of your work as a Leader is to coach and create more Leaders in order to ensure a sustainable future for your business.
The ‘last trump’ has blown on supposed Leaders whom only use bonusses or disciplinary action as leverage to entice their team members to perform. People, generally speaking, want to feel that they are cared for and that they are working together to attain something higher than themselves.
A twenty-eight-year-old friend of mine recently stated that: “It is so not cool to Lead”. He was giving a voice to his perception of power hungry and self-serving leaders whom do not care for others. There are always individuals whose actions are not exemplary. Well, let me tell everyone of something that is very cool – First-hand experience of an individual or team that have unleashed their potential and now are masters of their craft and you had something to do with it as their leader/a leader.
As the abovementioned Gary Vaynerchuk quote alludes to – “Actually caring for the other person is the leverage in any conversation.” Leaders must sincerely care for their team members, if not they are just ‘ bosses’ that suck every ounce of energy out of their team members in order to be enriched.
The Author has heard a number of entrepreneurs complain that they have lost their businesses by caring too much for their employees and doing too much for them at the dire cost of their businesses and themselves in person. Their situations became untenable as according to them their team members performance did not even remotely match the effort of the entrepreneurs.
In part many challenges similar to the above example arise as a result of a transactional style of Leadership – “I do for you and you do for me”. Naturally even if no lip service is paid to the concept , there is, in most cases part of the Leader/Entrepreneurs’ consciousness that does expect something in return.
For the purposes of this article the concept of ‘Leadership Hustle’ moves in the opposite direction of a transactional style of Leadership, instead it fosters a collective consciousness and culture where the team jointly as servants of a higher vision do everything because they want to out of love for the cause as opposed to being forced to.
Related: Servant Leadership – Will You Serve?
This puts a demand on the team Leader to hire ‘the right people’ that are committed to the cause from the start. Easier said than done? Most certainly! The Leader would have to Hustle up! We as Leaders will have to be committed enough to learn through several mistakes until the most optimal HR model is created that serves our Vision. We would have to continuously and urgently refine our team selection, training processes, and positive feedback loops until we find the solution that offers us the best change to collectively attain our aspiring Vision.
The ‘People before profit culture’ strikes fear in the hearts of most Leaders and rightfully so. What if I focus so much on caring for people that our profits decrease dramatically?! Allow me to rephrase the statement –
‘The right people (doing the right things) before profit culture’ will ensure more profits in the long run than you could ever have foretold.
‘Leadership hustle’ does not mean I foreclose on all methods of control as a Leader, stop managing, and only Lead. ‘Hustle’ means that we as Leaders must put more focus on Leadership than management controls which in turn would make the daily management of our teams easier because as a result of the focus on Leadership we will generally deal with a more inspired, motivated, and engaged workforce.
Seeing Leadership as an ever-evolving journey of learning and adapting rather than a single event would save the reader an unmeasurable amount of frustration and failures. Whether we appreciate change or not it is being enforced upon us by, in part, the millennial generations’ general traits of being more entrepreneurial, being very inquisitive and challenging, and basically living online.
It will serve Leaders well to rather gain wisdom in terms of the varying needs of different generations within a single workforce as opposed to judging a certain generation to be more effective at work than the other. Caring for people means caring for all, and part of caring is being interested enough to understand them better.
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The author was in the audience when Cliff Hazell, an agile coach at Spotify, delivered a guest speech at the 2016 African Lean management conference. During the Q&A session Cliff was asked how we should best engage the “millennial segment” of our workforce as Spotify is well known for its very modern, integrated, and very successful culture.
The first part of Cliffs’ answer was, at least to me, simple yet profound – “First of all you could start by stopping to call them Millennials!”
People in general are progressively starting to abhor labelling and a judgemental attitude. It has served Spotify very well to rather focus on utilizing their generally younger workforces’ entrepreneurial thinking and inquisitiveness to gain traction towards the companies collective Vision as opposed to an attitude of labelling and judging.
A paradigm shift that forms part of ‘the Leadership hustle ‘is to rather have non- judgemental Learning discussions than the traditional performance appraisals. To sum up this modern approach to Leadership we are asked to continuously learn and improve our skills and be flexible in our application of skills. In order to create sustainable success as Leaders we have to have an improved grasp on the generational differences within our teams. We have to develop the skill to utilize the strong points of each generation and person within our teams to gain traction to ultimately actualizing our collective Vision.
We have to be more and more inspiring Leaders as opposed to being ‘control freaks’, that is if we sincerely aim to create a ‘HIGH TECH-HIGH TOUCH (People orientated) environment for our teams.
GO FORTH AND HUSTLE!!!
How Marius Meyer Is Defining What Excellent Leadership Really Means
In search of an enthusiastic advocate for Leadership standards in South-Africa look no further than Marius Meyer, CEO of the South African Board of Peoples’ Practices.
In search of an enthusiastic advocate for Leadership standards in South-Africa look no further than Marius Meyer. Marius and his team along with all South-Africans face a complex, diverse and fast paced environment wherein a higher demand is placed on the general Leadership standards and skill levels of companies, organisations, entrepreneurs and the workforce at large.
As the CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) he has identified this challenge related to the Leadership paradigm within South Africa as a priority. As a result of the absence of a Leadership standard there tends to be a lack of clarity on how Leadership can be defined and more importantly how Leadership principles can be effectively applied within diverse business sectors.
The drive for profit can unfortunately lead to the neglect of the “people’s element” of organisations and businesses which ultimately can lead to severe sustainability problems. Growing in the wisdom that a business ecosystem comprises out of generational, philosophical, industry, and a plethora of other differences our Leaders must be highly skilled and their style must be flexible in order to make their teams successful.
Defining a Leadership Standard
Through the application of a Leadership standard the aim of the SA Board for People Practices is to create consensus on what excellent Leadership means. A logical yet challenging next step is to empower Leaders on all levels to acquire the skills necessary to Lead their team members towards a sustainable and successful future.
Marius believes that the traditional “top-down” structure of enforcing company values must be replaced with a culture of co-creating values. These values must then be embedded within the company culture to create a climate where all team members sincerely feel that they want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
The CEO of the SABPP alluded to the fact that the traditional norms of work have changed dramatically. The average “Millennial“ will work for between 15-20 different companies in his or her lifetime. Technology has enabled us to connect the dots between continents and therefore the location of work has become less important in general. Therefore, it is a core function of Leaders to adapt to our ever-changing work environment rapidly.
Marius’ personal values enables him to adapt to the vicissitudes of the environment within which he plies his trade are:
- Professionalism – In his view this means to cultivate an environment of very good people skills, knowledge levels of your profession, and to act with respect.
- Innovation – Foster a high level of awareness of how renewed ways of doing things can improve the effectiveness of your team and organisation.
- Ethics – Always act in the best interest of your company and clients in an honest way, using your principles and values as a compass.
- Competence – Always develop yourself. Keep up with the changes and demands of your industry.
- Excellence – Even if it is just a simple e-mail to a client hold yourself to the highest standard of execution of every task.
Wise Words From Marius Meyer
He had the following wisdom to share with all aspiring South-African Leaders:
Start thinking big, we tend to think too small. A critical element of “thinking big” is to expand your network. In the realisation of the fact that nobody became successful purely by themselves the aspiring Leader must be willing to ask for mentorship and always consider his mentors advice carefully before he acts.
If mentorship takes the form of a low paid internship be willing to start at the bottom in order to grow. Build your confidence by constantly venturing outside of your “comfort zone” and by constructively applying the lessons that you learn through making honest mistakes. Build your basic management acumen by closely observing other excellent managers that produce positive results.
It is only possible to improve the general standard of Leadership in South-Africa if we stand together as leaders, entrepreneurs and workforce. The South African Leadership Standard will be launched on 26 October in Kyalami, Johannesburg. For more information, visit www.sabpp.co.za or follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1
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