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Learning Curve

Five entrepreneurs share a key internal element of their success.

Greg Fisher

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LearningCurve

I recently took a group of MBA students on what we called an Entrepreneurial Exploration Journey across Joburg. It was a day-long outing during which we visited five entrepreneurs, across five different industries and at five different stages of their businesses growth cycle. Our mission: to uncover some of the secrets of growing a successful business.

We met Allon Raiz of business incubator Raizcorp, Ryan Falkenberg from learning solutions company Hi-Performance Learning, Jason Lurie of Moyo fame, Urban Ocean property developer Alfonso Botha, and Ciko Thomas of BMW dealership Joburg City Auto. The insights that emerged were incredibly valuable, with the key learning comprising just three factors: passion, action and ability to adapt. These are excellent signposts for future entrepreneurs to drive towards, and current entrepreneurs can use them to ensure they are on track.

1. Passion. The people we visited are motivated by something more powerful than materialism or the drive to create wealth – they are deeply passionate about what they are creating. They have connected with something that drives them from deep within. It is this passion that enables them to overcome the challenges and obstacles they have encountered. Each of these entrepreneurs has taken the time and effort to truly understand themselves; this has given them the ability to seize business opportunities they find truly meaningful and important. They are living a dream and this fuels them on a daily basis. Allon Raiz spoke of his experience as more of a spiritual journey than a business one. When he brings new entrepreneurs into his profitable, private business incubator, he invests a significant amount of time getting them to engage in self-awareness exercises. This ensures they are on the right track, and that they are doing something they are deeply passionate about.

To grow a business in a sustainable way, you need to understand yourself and do something you are passionate about. If you are already in business, take time out to ensure you are involved in something that is meaningful to you, that stimulates you. If not, refocus and find something that excites you.

2. Action. It has been said that entrepreneurship is 10% idea and 90% execution. Certainly, the entrepreneurs we visited had a propensity to just “do it” as opposed to “thinking about it” or “talking about it” for too long. As a current or prospective business owner you have to realise that you will probably never have all the information or insight you need to make a fully informed decision. There comes a time when you need to take action and learn from the consequences as you go along. For a business owner this can be a powerful educational experience. Even if you make a wrong decision you will glean lessons that teach you more than you would learn through an MBA or other university degree. Jason Lurie was a development economics lecturer when he had the idea to open Moyo. In no way was he the right person to start the business: he did not have start-up experience, the restaurant industry was mature and over-traded and, on the surface, the Moyo concept did not seem to be any different from existing African restaurants. Yet the key to his success has been his inclination to just try things, to experiment and to take action.

3. Ability to adapt. Leaders of large, established corporations tend to put a great deal of emphasis on one-, three- and five-year plans. The business owners we spoke to are more concerned about what’s happening now. They live in the moment; their focus is on adapting to the current environment and responding to immediately evident opportunities rather than trying to predict where they will be in three years’ time. They allow their strategy to take shape as they go along. Ryan Falkenberg of Hi-Performance Learning says explicitly that he does not believe in business plans. He says he spends more time on developing an adaptive enterprise and a flexible mindset so that he can quickly respond to emerging opportunities rather than stringing together long-term plans.

They may sound like abstract concepts, but passion, action and the ability to adapt are the keystones for success in the lives of real entrepreneurs.

Greg Fisher, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Management & Entrepreneurship Department at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. He teaches courses on Strategy, Entrepreneurship, and Turnaround Management. He has a PhD in Strategy and Entrepreneurship from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington in Seattle and an MBA from the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). He is also a visiting lecturer at GIBS.

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Leading

3 Signs You Are Your Own Worst Business Enemy

It’s hard to be objective about ourselves but if we really pay attention our colleagues will reflect how we are perceived and what it means for the business.

John Boitnott

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Sometimes, it’s hard to get out of your own way.

Entrepreneurs and business owners have to keep all the trains running on time, as well as figure out the next place they’d like those trains to go, metaphorically speaking. It’s a huge, complex job. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to realise that in many cases, the problem behind an underperforming company is the boss.

How do you know when it really is “just you,” though? We human beings have a notoriously difficult time being objective about our own behaviour and choices.

So, try looking for the following signs in the people and circumstances around you.

1. Your employees seem unusually tense or flat lately

Has the camaraderie vanished? Is the workplace one big collection of really bad moods, most of the time?

Of course, the boss’s mood can infect the entire office. As the leader of your team, you set the example and the atmosphere, and your employees follow your lead.

Getting along with others, both inside and outside your company, is imperative for success. If your employees and customers sense a negative change, then it’s worth examining your behaviour. These signs could be symptoms that you’re becoming a toxic boss.

To address this, first make sure you’re acting with integrity and in accordance with your personal values. Next, make an effort to demonstrate empathy with your employees. You don’t have to agree with every single point they make to do this. Respect their boundaries and try to see the issue from their perspective.

Finally, make sure you listen deeply. Employers who simply command and demand compliance find themselves stuck with the “toxic” label all too quickly. Instead, be curious about your employees’ perspectives and problems. Ask open-ended questions to get them to tell you more, and listen to what they say.

2. You feel deeply frustrated with your employees

employee

Are you feeling unusually impatient around new workers? Do you find yourself snapping at experienced workers over small annoyances or accidents?

If so, there could be some deeper issues at play.

Insisting on perfection, or even just on competence in an unreasonable amount of time can eventually sour your entire workforce and drive away valuable employees. You’ll have a hard time attracting and retaining talent if you create an awkward, uncomfortable or outright hostile environment.

Instead, try practicing a “talk-down” method on yourself. When you feel your impatience or annoyance growing, mentally talk yourself down from these emotions to a state of greater calm. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • On a scale of one to 100, how bad is this, really?
  • What’s the worst that can happen here, realistically speaking?
  • If that happened, how would we respond?
  • Is this more important than my relationship with my employees? Or my reputation?

In most cases, reflecting on these questions helps you keep small issues in check. You’ll also want to give some thought, however, to whether there’s a bigger issue just beneath the surface. Using smaller problems as a diversion from the bigger ones provides an effective distraction from tackling life’s larger challenges, but doesn’t do much to help us solve underlying issues.

3. Minor projects are infinitely refined and “perfected” but your company hasn’t come up with a strong new idea in ages

One of the most common ways entrepreneurs become their own worst enemies is by focusing too heavily on things that don’t deserve so much attention. For whatever reason – be it fear of failure, fear of success, or something else altogether – people fall into the habit of spending too much time perfecting existing projects when they should be thinking about what’s next.

Not giving yourself enough time to create and innovate is one of the biggest ways to become your own worst business enemy. Your primary job as the business owner is to create that overarching vision for your company, and then work with your team to figure out how to achieve that vision. If you’re not even allowing yourself the time to do so, you’re fighting an uphill battle without reinforcements. After all, no one else can really do this kind of work for you.

To combat this tendency, try keeping a log of your time for two weeks. Track your time in fifteen minute increments to help figure out where you’re spending the majority of your attention and energy. Then carve out uninterrupted “CEO time,” and schedule it as if it’s a firm appointment you cannot reschedule or miss. Give yourself at least three hours a week to work on new ideas for your company.

Takeaways

It’s hard to be objective about our own behaviour and surroundings. Instead, use your colleagues, employees, and environment as a mirror to reflect back to you the reality of how you are perceived and the ways that perception is impacting your business. Then take the appropriate action to mitigate those challenges.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Why Elon Musk’s Vision Should Change Your Business

If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, there’s no sitting on the fence, its one or the other.

Craig Johnston

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It’s about the big picture

Elon Musk is the kind of guy who probably divides the room wherever he goes; in the same way that people either prefer Superman or Batman, soccer or rugby, maybe summer or winter. There’s no sitting on the fence. It’s one or the other. You either like Elon Musk or you don’t. But this article is not about him, its about you and how you are leading your business.

Love him or hate him, I don’t believe any business leader can get away from the fact that Elon Musk, possibly more than any other contemporary entrepreneur, is going to have an influence over your business. And if he doesn’t, he should, not as an individual as much as an archetype.

In the early 2000s another famous South African born entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth was the first South African to become a space tourist. We were all proud, and asked ourselves what we would do if we had billions of Rands… how would you spend it? Mark’s rigorous preparation and orbit in space riveted the nation, from coffee break conversations to television documentaries and Grade 5 school projects. Everyone was talking about it. Mark’s trip was ultimately the fulfilment of one man’s personal ambition, a dream long-held and finally fulfilled.

Related: What Elon Musk Can Teach You About Getting Funding for Your Start-up

Aligning the planets

Elon Musk seems to be a different kind of dreamer. He does not only dream for himself, he dreams for humanity and that is rare. It is also why I think that his vision is something that every business leader should take note of. Look at any Start-up:101 Pitch Deck and you’ll likely see Guy Kawasaki’s famous 10, 20, 30 format and the first slide trying to answer the question, “What problem are you solving?”

Imagine setting yourself the problem of transitioning humanity into becoming a “multi-planetary species”, as Musk famously declared in a 2017 TED interview, and if that’s not enough, you are also working to revolutionise transport and save the environment through clean energy. In my view, Elon Musk (flawed as he may be) represents, two essential qualities that are absolutely indispensable for leaders and businesses of the future: Hope and Vision.

The lever that Musk has chosen to crank open the future, restore hope and unlock his vision, is technology. Misunderstood and much maligned, technology; like Musk, also instantly divides a room.

Technophiles on the one side, technophobes on the other and you must choose. You cannot half use technology, you either opt in or you opt out. The only choice is whether you will use technology responsibly or not. This is no small question and something that many business leaders (including Musk) have shown some commitment to by adding their support to organisations such as the Future of Life Institute.

Ships are not built to stay in the harbour

Technology is agnostic, it is neither good or bad. It’s influence lies in how you choose to use it. With so much talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and how it is going to impact our lives and, in a business context, the lives of our employees it seems prudent that, as leaders, we establish a clear vision for technology in our businesses with due cognisance of how it is likely to impact our staff and our customers alike.

A business that integrates machine learning and AI into its business management system, for example, may in future have unprecedented access to information, provide intuitive robotic support 24/7, and the power to influence behaviour. This goes beyond ‘old-school’ marketing and advertising, heading into untested waters.

While we should rightly rely on our policy makers and legislators to put regulatory frameworks in place to guide how we use technology, as business leaders we should already be taking the first steps towards developing a technology-use policy in our businesses.

Related: Elon Musk’s Formula For Successfully Growing Companies Faster

Like Musk, our aim should be to bring hope and share a vision. A hope that, even with the threat of diminishing resources in our businesses, we are up to the task of conceiving novel and exciting alternatives that, even if it looks different than in the past, are able to meet the needs of our people. And a vision, not just to increase shareholder value or to be the leaders in our field, but something aspirational.

A commitment to lift eyes and hearts with a big vision, maybe not for interplanetary travel, but at least to let your Enterprise boldly go where it has not gone before, not as a tourist, but as the captain of your ship. Because if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, there’s no sitting on the fence, its one or the other.

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6 Ways To Lead In The Multi-leader Economy

Why business leaders today compete for mindshare among their employees, and how they can lead.

Don Packett

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I recently attended an event where a CEO delivered the company’s annual results and outlined its future strategy. He closed the talk with some inspirational content to get the team excited about the year ahead.

While I listened to this business leader speak, I also had my eye on the audience. While the content was relevant and inspiring, the narrative and delivery was off. This was evident in the audience, who seemed disengaged – most had their faces in their phones. These employees, who should be inspired by their leader, were simply biding their time, waiting for the next speaker.

Was it because they’re generally rude, disengaged people? Not at all. In fact, they were a phenomenally switched-on crowd when we presented to them. So why weren’t they listening intently to the proverbial captain of the ship?

Leadership competition hotting up

I believe it’s because leaders today are competing for the attention of those they lead. People are exposed to hundreds of potential leaders in their daily lives, and that number grows daily as the internet brings a whole host of outside influence into reach.

While many of these influencers are not tasked with leading, per se, great leaders seldom have to force a following. They naturally build one through an innate ability. They achieve this by delivering inspiring and engaging content on a regular basis via platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, podcasts or TED.com.

And it’s not just inspirational visionaries like Jobs or Branson who people listen to today. Anyone with a strong message can self-publish to spark debate, inspire or influence.

Related: 21 Tanks: Don Packett and Richard Mulholland

Understand the new dynamic

will-smith

Accordingly, whenever a leader steps up to deliver something relevant to their team, they need to be aware that in the past 24 hours their audience has probably watched people like Simon Sinek, Mel Robbins or Will Smith deliver a message that could spark a different way of thinking.

If you’re a business leader and have not considered the possibility that your team is also being influenced and, often, led by a host of other leaders, then you’re in for a tough time. The reality is that leaders now face fierce competition, and as the head of an organisation you need to take charge and own that space.

Here’s how you can take the lead in leadership:

1. Maintain face-to-face engagements

This is still the best way to work, especially when talking about important matters. I have a standing one-hour meeting with my team every three weeks. I open this session with a 10-15 minute talk on a specific topic I feel is important. The remaining time is used for open discussion. These sessions have been incredibly powerful, because it’s an opportunity for everyone to have their say, share their views and contribute to growing the business and the team, together.

2. Write narrative that catalyses conversation

This pertains to the content of your engagements. This needs to be something that’s not only on your agenda, but also on your employees’ agenda. People need both answers and guidance, but when leaders and teams can work on both aspects together, magic happens.

3. Deliver with conviction

Leaders often throw out a concern, hoping that it gets resolved. You can’t do that. Leaders need to stand up and deliver with passion to galvanise their teams. Sure, be part of the conversation, and ensure that your team knows how important it this, but understand that it’s more than just a conversation.

4. Get them to challenge you

The proverbial ‘open door policy’ requires employees to walk up to the door. Our regular team session offers me the opportunity to ask everyone, collectively, about their thoughts on a subject. I’m basically standing at the open door and asking them to come in, and not just randomly, but to discuss something pertinent.

Related: Rich Mulholland Reveals His Secrets To Success And How He Plans To Stay There

5. Make the changes required

After listening to your team, take action. Due to the influence of social media, society today is plagued by “ask-holes” – people who ask for advice or ideas, but never action them. Leaders need to listen and take action. Not that you should do everything you team asks, of course, but listening is the first step to understanding, and action needs to follow.

6. Rinse, repeat

Effective leadership is not an annual speaking engagement. It requires constant work to keep teams focused on the business. The biggest failure in most businesses is a lack of communication, which is something leaders need to constantly work on.

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