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Supportive AND Demanding: 4 Ways Great Leaders Can Be Both – Simultaneously

When you build the kind of relationships that make your employees want to deliver for you, it makes the ‘tough talks’ a little bit easier.

Tony Delmercado




When people have heart attacks, it’s important that they recognise that what’s failed is an organ (or organs) in their body. They weren’t the reason for the failure.

Along the same lines, a screw-up by your team members doesn’t necessarily mean that they are at fault but rather that their work output is.

In other words, criticism shouldn’t be taken personally. And, if as the leader, you can instill this mentality as a core cultural value at your company, poor performers may start thinking, “Hey, I need to improve; this guy (or gal) doesn’t hate me – he (or she) is just trying to run a business.”

Angela Duckworth, author of the bestselling Grit, wrote about this in a recent article in theWashington Post. Duckworth said that bosses must be as supportive as they are challenging in order to prove that they genuinely want people to succeed. She wrote that she believes talent takes you only so far: that how you react to setbacks is the real predictor of future success.

Ducksworth further likened leadership to parenting: You have to challenge the people whose development you’re responsible for while at the same time supporting their progress.

Related: Leadership: Total Commitment To The Purpose Of The Business

So, rather than telling employees that their results aren’t up to par and that you’re disappointed in their performance, be a supportive leader. Approach team members’ failures with positivity and encouragement. What’s key is letting them know that you believe they can do better.

Staying supportive while holding people accountable

“Soft on people, hard on results.” To me, this mantra, which I first heard many years ago, is another way of saying that managers are responsible for the well-being and growth of their teams.

Employees who are held accountable for meeting performance goals are more than twice as likely to be engaged at work, according to research by Gallup. Yet only about 20 percent of those surveyed said that their managers had even talked to them about how to reach their goals. What’s more, only 30 percent strongly believed that being involved in setting goals or that receiving feedback would motivate them to do better work.

When it comes to building teams, employee development must align with your organisation’s goals. While results are the driving force behind any business, people are fallible. Keeping this in mind as a leader will help you build more valuable relationships with your employees, which helps them see you not only as the person controlling their income stream, but also someone they trust to help. The key is to be demanding and supportive at the same time.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement survey, the most engaged employees cite their relationships with leadership as the reason they stay engaged. The key to building that engagement is to offer support for as long as possible; when it’s time to be demanding, make your demands very clear.

Here are three ways to do that.

1. How do you spell love? T.I.M.E

time-managementLeadership IQ found that people who spend just six hours per week in direct contact with leadership are more inspired, motivated, engaged and innovative. Time is, indeed, the big equaliser, and there’s no substitute for it. Get to know your teammates on a personal level: Where are they going on vacation? What sports do their kids play? Engaging with people where it matters lets them know that you see them as more than workhorses.

Kuty Shalev, founder and CEO of Clevertech, believes personal ambition is the key to a teammate’s value. In Clevertech’s “Dream Goals” workshop, which helps longtime employees discover their real purpose, participants aren’t asked generic, nebulous questions, but instead questions about the places and activities on their bucket lists and their visions of the future.

Related: 20 Quotes On Coping With Change From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

For Shalev, helping employees clarify their deepest desires  goes a long way toward his gaining their trust.

In my own experience, when you truly connect with people, they believe you have their backs. If this is not the case, and you call out their failures in front of everyone, they’re going to adopt a posture of self-defense; all of your candor and transparent communication will go right out the window. Instead, you should be building rapport privately and publicly, but saving the criticism for private conversations.

2. Move people up or out

This is another old-school sales expression that shaped my management style. People are always moving in one of two directions: They’re getting better, or they’re working themselves out of a job. Both are OK.

Cultivating an autonomous and independent meritocracy allows those who are ambitious and entrepreneurial to rise. These people will also admit when they’ve messed up, and ask for help. If your open-door policy is legit, your relationship with them will be more productive and collaborative. Those who aren’t ambitious require a lot more direction and tend to self-select out.

Bob Glazer, founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners has written on his company’s blog that he supports his company’s high expectations and goals for employees through a mix of encouragement and training. He’s said he understands how keeping people on who aren’t a good fit can damage perceptions among their teammates.

Early on, for example, he ended up having to let go of two high-performing contractors because, while clients loved them, these employees didn’t take a team-based approach to deadlines or communication.

If an employee of yours exhibits behaviour that doesn’t align with your values or can’t keep up with the evolving nature of his or her role, you too should consider terminating this person. Let people know that you care, but also that everyone tows a fair share of the load.

Don’t let things spiral just because you have a strong relationship with someone. If you make your expected results known, your A-team will deliver. Everyone else must move up or out.

Related: 17 Most Important Performance Management Decisions Leaders Will Need To Make

3. Keep development and discipline separate

Remember: If you’re the boss, people are already scared of you. Don’t give them reason to be by delivering mixed messages. When it’s really time for a disciplinary talk, make it clear that you’re discussing consequences, not just room for improvement.

Early on, we encouraged improvement by telling our employees to work on certain things. Our message aimed to be developmental, but people mistook these directives for discipline and thought they had strikes against them.

So, we, the company leaders, were the ones who changed.

We now have “island talks” that focus on consequences and discipline. Everyone knows the rule: Three island talks, and you’re fired. Employees will ask whether any given conversation is an island talk, and we will clarify whether that’s the case – or whether our conversation is just focused on development.

When you build the kind of relationships that make your employees want to deliver for you, it makes the tough talks a little bit easier. Employees won’t approach those conversations with fear but with openness. It’s a fine line to walk between supporting and demanding, but you’ve got to find it if you want your company to grow.

This article was originally posted here on

Tony Delmercado is the founder of, and the COO at Hawke Media.


What A Grade 1 Sticker Business Taught Me About Business

It’s the very fundamentals that are frequently overlooked amid ambition and “blue sky thinking” – yet, these remain the most crucial element of any business.

Grant Field




When I was a kid, my father believed that instead of getting pocket money, my brothers and I should learn how to make money. Stickers were the school craze when I was in Grade 1, and we wanted a collection for ourselves, so Dad said if we wanted to buy the stickers, we needed to make the money. So, logically, we started a sticker trading business. Dad gave us the start-up money and took us through the basics of business.

We had a cash float for purchases, and learnt about cost price, mark-up and selling price – very basic accounting. We kept recycling that money, making extra and using it to buy more stickers. Then we worked out that if we increased the mark-up, we’d make a bigger profit – so why not make the mark-up as big as possible? The obvious happened. Our prices were too high, and we lost customers.

Valuable business lesson learnt, we came back down to a mark-up that other kids were willing to pay for.

More lessons to learn

Then people came to us and asked if they could take a sticker today and pay us tomorrow. We saw no reason not to trust them. Guess what? They didn’t pay us back. We had bad debt on our hands. When we sold out of stickers, we had cash-flow issues and couldn’t buy more stock. Dad was there to help us out, though, so we received another capital injection to get back off the ground. And this time, if we did extend credit, we loaded it for the privilege of “buy now, pay later” – another lesson learnt.

We ran a proper ledger for the business, tracking our inventory, sales and profit. Even if our “bank” account was a piggy bank, we had a clear record of what was going on. When I look back on it, none of what I learnt was irrelevant.

Today, I run a leading financial services company with billions of rand running through our bank accounts. Even though the finances of the business are run on a much larger scale, the principles of business – those basic principles that we learnt trading stickers – still power our company. And when I see entrepreneurial ventures failing, or when friends come to me for advice because their business is struggling, it’s almost always because they haven’t got these basics right.

Related: Successful SA Entreps Share Their Most Valuable Business Advice Ever Received


One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that if you don’t fully understand how the money is being made, walk away. Whether you are dealing with stickers or financial services, the business principles should be straightforward: money coming in, money going out, and profitability.

Every day, I look at an Excel statement of my company’s forty bank accounts. Every day, I look at the cashflow, and unusual big-ticket items get a note so I know what’s going on. It’s just like that Grade 1 business, only on a bigger scale.

Entrepreneur, thwarted

Once the other kids saw the success of our sticker business, they started to want to get in on the action, so they came to market with their own competing products. At first, we were able to innovate as the competition squeezed our margins and started to impact on our profits. Eventually, the whole situation got completely out of hand and the school banned sticker trading for profit.

While I didn’t become a sticker magnate, the lessons I learnt in Grade 1 remain central to every business I am involved with – get the basics right.

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How To Handle A Director Who Always Says No

Diverse opinions on a board is a good thing — but is it boosting your business, or hindering growth and decisions?

Carl Bates




Do you have that director on your board who always says ‘no’? Regardless of what the issue is, regardless of the context, who raises it or whether or not it is indeed a good idea, their response is either a simple ‘no’ or an elongated perspective on why they disagree? It can even feel at times that they are actively working against the company and against the board. Although they obviously do not see it that way.

Experienced directors will have multiple war stories related to this subject. Aspiring directors should be aware of how to approach these situations when they arise and how to avoid becoming the subject of such stories.

Develop a culture of trust, candour and professionalism

A board’s conduct must be characterised by trust, respect, candour, professionalism, accountability, diligence and commitment. It is the board’s collective responsibility to build this culture and to engage with one another in a productive and effective way.

Dissent should be welcomed when it is constructive and engaging. The idea of being the ‘devil’s advocate’ for the sake of it however, is not the best way to approach this. Dissent should be based on a real belief that the issue has not been fully debated or creates a real challenge for the company going forward.

If you have a director who genuinely believes a different path is right for the company, hear them out and engage in the discussion. In my experience, this often opens up an issue or changes a detail that when taken as part of the whole, improves the decision-making outcome for the board and the company.

Related: Contributing In The Boardroom

Remove the politics from the boardroom

At the heart of this issue is often politics. Politics between directors, who are also shareholders or executives. Politics between the ‘new guard’ and the ‘old.’ Regardless of the genesis, politics really do not have a place in the boardroom and directors who engage in it should be called out by the chairman or another senior director.

In local government I have heard stories of councillors who always vote ‘no,’ so that whenever something goes wrong, they can say “I told you so,” and show the public why they should be re-elected. But that is indeed politics. The boardroom is a very different space. It is private and discussions should be confidential.

Board rotation, a simple solution

While the removal of an errant director should never just be left to resolve itself, there is a simple solution that can support the easy removal of the most difficult directors. The challenge is that it requires forward planning prior to the appointment of any new director.

Directors should only ever be appointed for a predefined term, with automatic rotation at the end of that term. This does not stop you from reappointing a director for a further period. It is, however, always easier to ask someone to consider a further term than it is to tell them that their time has come and they should resign from the board.

Having a predefined term for a director essentially ensures an automatic resignation period. A simple rotation policy for directors is not just good governance, it is a practical step you can take to provide a way out of a sticky relationship.

Ultimately the board as a whole must address issues that detract from the board fulfilling its function as and when they arise. A rotation policy might provide an effective backstop. A high-performance board is one that will tackle the issue head-on.

Read next: How Diversity Drives Board Performance

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The Power Pose: Using Body Language To Lead

Use the way you move and stand and interact with others to become a better entrepreneur and leader.

Howard Feldman




In 2012, the power pose became a global sensation. A Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy hit a staggering 46 million views and became the second most popular Ted Talk in history. The premise was simple – hold a powerful pose and it will not only affect the way you behave but it will even change your body chemistry. Since the talk, the power pose has met with heavy criticism and been labelled as nothing more than pseudoscience. Fortunately for believers, they were proven right. Amy Cuddy released further research this year and it fundamentally proves that this bold stance works exactly how she said it did back in 2012.

The power pose isn’t something that you’d adopt in a meeting or around the office but the science behind it shows how important it is to pay attention to your body language as it can fundamentally change how you are perceived.

Notice how you are noticed

People spend a lot of time reading one another’s body language and the way a person stands or holds their hands or moves can influence how others see them. It’s very natural to judge someone else’s posture, but what about the way they are judging yours? Few people look at how their body language is affecting the way people engage with them.

Related: [Quiz] How Good Are You At Reading Others In Business?

So, what are you supposed to do?

Fake it until you make it

Want to know how can you adapt to become a better leader? You can fake it.

The power pose isn’t the only way to change your mood. Research has shown that whether you laugh naturally or put on a smile and make yourself laugh, your body still releases the same levels of serotonin.

Whether you are really laughing or just pretending to laugh doesn’t matter – they both have the same impact on your demeanour.

Change how others see you

Think about the pose that every athlete adopts when they win a race or achieve something that’s been physically taxing. They hold their hands outstretched in the air. Even blind athletes hold the same pose. It’s big, it’s bold and it’s a physical manifestation of success.

Now consider the defensive pose. The tight hunched shoulders or inward curve of the spine. These poses immediately make a person look nervous, afraid and lacking in confidence. Like the porcupine curling in on itself for protection.

The same ideas apply to daily business life. While the power pose and the athlete pose are not necessarily a team activity, ensuring that you hold your body upright and with confidence means that you’re conveying an attitude of strength. You come across as confident and capable and positive. You are ready to take on anything and overcome the odds.

By contrast, if you are hunched and withdrawn, you come across as nervous and lacking in confidence and these are not the qualities you want associated with you as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Related: (Slideshow) 5 TED Talks That May Change Your Perspective on Life

Body language for entrepreneurs

  • Shake hands like a hero. The way you shake hands with someone is very significant in terms of establishing equality. Be even, be firm but don’t pull people towards you or turn their hands under your own. This makes them feel like you are trying to establish dominance.
  • Create an atmosphere of openness. Maintain eye contact, say hello to people with warmth while holding a strong posture. A warm and open greeting is essential to establishing trust.
  • Do the power pose for two minutes before any meeting or interview. This will get those chemicals stirring and make you feel confident and in charge.

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