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Great Managers are People Farmers

Are you a people farmer? You need to be if you want to be a great manager.

Bertie du Plessis

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If you are not a people farmer, then you are not a manager. If you are a manager you are in the people farming profession.

As a manager you might check Excel spreadsheets, monitor process and put systems in place, but that’s not the subject of your management. People is the stuff your management is made of. If you are a potato farmer, you should know potatoes. If you are pig farmer you should know pigs. A dairy farmer should understand cows. And if you are a manager, you better know people. If you don’t, poor harvests and bankruptcy lead to the final unhappy end. So, how well do you understand what makes human beings tick?

Learning to put people first

Very few entrepreneurs and SME owners I know began their ventures one bright morning, drawing the curtains aside with: “Oh, I want to work with people, what business can I start so that I can fulfil my lifelong ambition to work with people?”  No, we usually begin because we have no other option than working for ourselves – or because we have a bright idea that we believe will change the world.

In the first case, we usually fall back on a skill we have and for a very long time we must keep on practicing that skill in our SME, while doing a host of other things, invoicing, chasing debtors, marketing, managing the people we acquire along the way to help us with the work load… Managing is a struggle to create some order from the day to day chaos. Thinking about people, what they are, what makes them tick, comes as an after thought, if at all. To get people to do what we want, we mostly fall back on anecdotes, fragments of our own experience, how people treated us, what we want and don’t want. If you wanted do potato farming with such little anecdotal knowledge you would have been doomed to subsistence farming at best.

Those entrepreneurs that begin with an idea are no different from those that had to jump the ship and begin their own business. They too are not primarily interested in people and what makes them tick. It’s the idea that drives them, not the love of people. “People” is an after thought. Those business owners/managers with a formal education in business will have a smattering of “Maslow,” often the only bit of knowledge I find among them.

Of course, our book shops are awash with books on the status term for management, “leadership,” mostly purely motivational and with no real substance. It’s about as good as if you want to do potato farming believing that talking to the plants will help them grow better!

So, now what do you really think about the people and about the human race as such?

Understanding people

Let me give you four options and then you choose (these were originally prepared by Matthew Stewart in an article in Strategy + Business).

  1. Do you believe human beings are self-cantered, not innovative and lazy; left to their own devices they will do the minimum and be prone to theft?
  2. Do you believe that human beings are like machines, they don’t know what they want, and you must lead them to achieve goals through a scientifically designed system of rewards and punishments?
  3. Do you believe that all people are creative by nature, love to work and will perform to the best of their abilities – if only management would get out of the way?
  4. Human beings thrive on freedom, however, they are also power hungry and they need a system of checks and balances to prevent rogue individuals from seizing absolute power?

Let’s do a quick check.

If you chose option A: People by nature stupid? Have you given thought to the ingenuity of prisoners? Want to know about innovation, go to prisons and get wise!  Now these guys are not known for their high educational achievements, but hey, if it is in their self-interest they are on a par with top class engineers.  The operative word is of course self-interest. If it is in our own interest, we are all hugely innovative.  The question is how to harness self-interest in the workplace to bring innovation to the business.

If you chose option B: If this were true about humanity, it is inconceivable how the species could have survived for close on 200,000 years.  And if you wanted to see this fail big way, just think Stalin and Mao. That was what communists really believed. But, oh, I think you forgot about freedom. Human beings want freedom, and if you imprison them, they will use their ingenuity to sabotage you – exactly what happened in communists countries! Same holds true for business.

If you chose option C: You have read far too many syrupy books by New Age management gurus. Probably you have a whole library of Tom Peters books.  Sorry I can’t help you. We are freedom loving, ingenious when it serves our self-interest, but if management were so bad, why don’t you try and win the next soccer or rugby world cup without a management team. After all, we call an outfit without management amateurs!

If you chose option D: Pity you couldn’t travel back in time. You would have made great friends with the authors of the American Constitution, Thomas Jefferson and his friends.  Now, we are close to the truth, freedom is important, so we are optimistic about human nature, but we are also pessimists enough to understand that you can’t win the World Cup in whatever sport without a management team to nudge self-interest and group interest to converge.

Farming with people needs both pruning and fertilising!

In my next article I will look in more detail at what we can really know about human nature, the stuff our management is made of.

Bertie du Plessis founded his successful consultancy firm, MindPilot, 17 years ago. He names several of South Africa’s blue chip corporations among his client list and has taught as a lecturer and guest lecturer in six different disciplines at tertiary institutions. His fin24.com blog is the most read business blog on the 24.com domain. Visit Bertie Du Plessis's website for more information.

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Business Leadership: Leading A Culturally Diverse Business Team

The question every successful business leader needs to consider – How do we collectively experience joy and manage and/or avoid suffering as a business and as a team?

Dirk Coetsee

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As I witnessed the rain dancing against the window panes of the Mega mall in Midvalley, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia I started reflecting on how to lead a culturally diverse business team.

Thousands of Malay, Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans passed me in the hallways of this gargantuan construction and the Dalai Lamas’ wise words reminded me that at the core of it all, irrespective of what your nationality is or what your belief system is, in general:

“We all want to experience joy and avoid suffering”

A key question that every team leader should carefully consider is how do we collectively experience joy and manage and/or avoid suffering as a business and as a team?

How can we as a diverse team be united in the joys of experiencing an expanding and successful business with a wonderful and constructive culture and avoid the suffering of a failing business and the negative experience of a toxic culture?  These are of course ‘loaded’ questions because inherent within these questions are the birthing of other key challenges –

How can we as Leaders create a relatively stable and inspirational environment from within which it is easier for each individual to unlock their vast potential when vast differences in upbringing, schooling, world views, and religious beliefs exists within one team. Especially when considering the ever changing and evolving business environment within which we operate?

Fulfilling the role of a Business Leadership coach, trainer, or life coach as the situation demanded over several years I have coached, Lead, or trained Pilipino, Chinese, Malay, African, and European people. A very key learning from my experiences is that a “cross cultural and shared understanding” can be created that transcends any spoken language or any national culture.

Related: Leadership – Lead Your Team To Dizzying Heights Of Productivity And Business Success

This common language and culture has many elements but for the purpose of this article I will focus on the three key aspects:

Have a united and focused purpose

When a united and focussed purpose exists for the business team that they collectively place higher than themselves the barriers of differences in upbringing, schooling, and world views can dissolve within their shared purpose. As business leaders we cannot refer to purpose too much, even more importantly that that, we must be living, walking and talking examples of the businesses’ purpose.

Related: Leadership: The Principle Of Authenticity

To simplify the concept of purpose it can be said that purpose is the highest intent for, or the very good reason why we do what we do. That reason is or should be even more important than ourselves. When we really love what we do and sincerely so our performance is likely to be very good, on the other hand if we totally dislike the line of business that we are in or totally despise our role within an entrepreneurial venture we are likely not going to unleash our unlimited potential.

It could be argued that the sole purpose for having a business is to make a profit. Through this article I argue that that is not a strong enough reason to sustain you and make you thrive even through difficult times. The strange thing is that when you truly live your purpose with all your might and tirelessly inspire your team to do the same the money comes anyway…

 Servant heart and attitude

Rabindranath TagoreRabindranath Tagore famously said:

“I dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold service was joy.”

A servant heart is universal and transcends cultural difference, a sincere and giving smile is a beautiful language of its own that needs no translation. If that ‘servant heart and smile’ is underpinned by well-developed people and technical skills it multiplies into a potent combination of character, experience, and wisdom that has great influential power within any culture.

Related: Leadership: What Is Your Why? (Read Purpose)

Whether it is through the use of interpreters, and even if it takes great patience, even when a lot of mistakes are made, persevere until everyone in the team understands that servant leadership is the key to winning the minds and hearts of others.

When all in the team becomes aware that we were only ever meant to master ourselves and thereby become better servants to all, this heightened awareness can unlock the unlimited potential within individuals in the team.

Respect for people and their worldviews

poet RumiMy favourite poet Rumi said:

‘The wound is where the light seeps in’

Respect all as we could not understand each individuals’ pain and hardships unless we went through it ourselves. Have compassion for all as we, in general expect compassion when we go through hardships. We can only imagine what sets of beliefs we would entertain where we to grow up in a completely different culture.

Related: Leadership: Honesty Is The First Chapter In The Book Of Wisdom

My endless curiosity and determination to learn has served me well as a coach for when your interest in others is sincere they tend to ‘open up’ to you and share and thereby you fasttrack your own learning and gain insights into your co-team members worldviews which in turn greatly enhances the team dynamics.

Be authentic and acknowledge your vulnerabilities, ‘wounds’ and shortcomings and be proud of your strengths for then your team members will help you to overcome your weaknesses and learn from your strengths.

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15 Ways To Command A Conversation Like A Boss

If you’re the one talking, it’s your responsibility to make sure others are listening.

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Conversations can elicit a range of emotions. They may be daunting, or they may be dreaded. They may be awkward, or they may be monotonous. The good news is, you, as a participant in any conversation, have more control than you think about whether these emotions overtake the dialogue.

Having a successful conversation is about striking the balance between preparedness and flexibility, between explaining your thoughts clearly and knowing when to pause or check in. It’s about being upfront about your preferences and ideas while being open to adapting them based on what comes of the discussion.

A fruitful conversation stems from establishing a rapport with someone. Show them you know where they’re coming from. Clarify that you understand what they’ve said. Be respectful of their time and don’t dictate back to them how you perceive them to be thinking or feeling. Keep questions open-ended. Experiment with new conversation settings or styles. And don’t give in to the internal voices that try to convince you to defer too much or suffer in silence.

To help you get your points across and help others convey theirs, read through the following 15 tips, which expand more on the ideas above.

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Being A Born Entrepreneur Doesn’t Automatically Mean You’re A Born Leader

The person who has the vision to start a company might not be the person to grow the company.

William Harris

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More often than not, we tend to think of entrepreneurship and leadership as synonymous qualities.

Entrepreneurs are expected to break new ground, be innovative, start something new. It only stands to reason they would naturally take charge of what they’ve created and lead it.

However, it turns out that the required skills of an effective entrepreneur are almost entirely different from the required skills of an effective leader. As many CEOs of growing companies can tell you, there’s a vast difference between creating a business and growing one.

One of the primary reasons great entrepreneurs including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Henry Ford were so influential was precisely because they were both master entrepreneurs and leaders.

Related: Leadership: Honesty Is The First Chapter In The Book Of Wisdom

To successfully grow a business, an entrepreneur must learn how to become an effective leader. Here are the five leadership skills every entrepreneur must master:

Delegation

Entrepreneurs, and especially solopreneurs, who run growing businesses are eventually shocked to realise it is impossible to do everything by themselves. Most entrepreneurs are uncomfortable with the idea of delegation. They want to do everything themselves because they have a natural sense of ownership over their work. They find it difficult to believe anyone else would do what needs to be done. After all, they were the ones who built the business from scratch all by themselves.

The reality is, though, as a business grows, so does the amount of work that needs to go into running it.

Leaders understand their own time and energy are finite resources. Great leaders understand that, to be most effective in the company, they must play to their strengths and delegate their weaknesses to others who are more qualified.

Steve Jobs famously played a very small part in building the OS and designing the original Apple computers. He knew how to grow a business, so he focused on what he could do and wisely left it to Steve Wozniak and his team to execute his vision.

Communication

lone-wolfThe perk of being a lone wolf is that you know exactly what needs to be done and the right way to do it. But, that has to change when you find yourself a leader.

We all have horror stories of working for a manager who didn’t communicate instructions effectively, which inevitably leads to confusion and frustration from both parties. As a leader, you’ll need to clearly and succinctly explain everything from your vision to administrative tasks to your employees.

But, communication is not a one-way street. You need to know what to say and how to listen. Effective leaders don’t simply give orders. They accept feedback and criticism, as well.

A constant bridge of communication between a leader and an employee not only reduces inefficiencies but also leads to a healthier and more productive workplace for all.

Related: The One Leadership Trait That Will Ensure You Succeed At Anything You Do

Inspiration

Entrepreneurs seldom lack in the inspiration department. They were passionate enough to start a business themselves, but not everyone shares their enthusiasm. A key skill of any good leader is to inspire the people around them.

It’s not enough to simply tell people what their job is and expect them to do it. To get the most out of your team, you have to make them believe in your vision and feel like they’re actively making an impact in their role. This is especially important when working in a start-up.

The good news is that anyone can become an inspiring leader as long as they create a clear culture around the company’s vision, values, and beliefs.

When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO, he quickly realised the majority of his employees were no longer focused on providing customers with a positive experience. This led him to shut down 7,100 stores one day to retrain all baristas on making an espresso. This bold move not only sharpened his employees’ technical skills, but also quickly brought Starbucks’ ultimate vision back into focus.

Coaching

As an entrepreneur, you should be well aware of just how powerful a mentor can be to personal and professional growth. As a leader, if you want your employees to be as effective as possible, you need to do more than just give them orders.

Along with giving them the resources they need to do their job well, you also need to be able to help them move forward in their own careers.

This can be as simple as offering them training in skills they are interested in, giving them more responsibilities, or spending more one-on-one time with them. Leaders should be able to do more than just lead from the front; they have to be able to provide support from behind as well.

By adopting a coaching mentality, you can be assured of your employees’ loyalty to you and your vision. Plus, helping your employees achieve their full potential means they’re more likely be an asset to you and your business.

Related: How To Make Speedy Decisions As A Leader

Adaptability

It should go without saying that being innovative and adaptive is key for entrepreneurs. But, instead of only using their knack for problem-solving on market opportunities, leaders are also focused on providing solutions for problems within the company.

A large part of running a growing company is learning how to deal with internal problems like employee disputes, disorganisation, or a lack of motivation. Employees will always look to the leader to solve these issues.

When no clear-cut solutions are present, leaders need to be able to think outside the box. One surefire way to quickly lose both the respect and trust of your employees is to outsource the solution to someone else or avoid responsibility by blaming others.

Last-minute changes and mishaps happen in any business, so it’s up to the leader to adapt quickly and show everyone else the right way to handle these situations.

If entrepreneurs who have the passion and innovation to start their own businesses can develop these five skills of great leaders, they will be most effective in leading those businessess into growth and a bright future.

Read next: What Kind Of Leader Are You?

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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