Business leaders love to say they’re all-knowing. Its macho, rewarded and even expected that when you reach a certain level of leadership in business you must have the tools and knowledge to navigate all the challenges that come your way.
I have come to learn that this is just fallacious ego talk. Nobody was born a business leader. We all learn the skills and acquire the competencies and attributes required to succeed at a certain level in business. We all LEARN.
Confession: The past two years have been particularly difficult for me. I have had to pivot my business three times. I have entered into new partnerships, tested them, tested market assumptions and exited the relationships and markets that don’t deliver value.
I have had to hire, fire and hire talent more suitable for the destination I was taking the business to, not the place from which we come. I have been investing a substantial portion of my personal wealth in the future growth of the business.
The literature written about the visionary CEO or leader that took the risks in the face of overwhelming opposition and evidence that they would fail makes for gripping reading. However (and take it from me), living the reality of it is a vivid, testing, messy and scary thing.
Be daring enough to sail passed the edge of your world
There was a time not so long ago when man held the conventional wisdom that the world was flat and that if you dared sail the horizon of the oceans you would fall off the edge of the earth.
Changing direction in your business, pursuing a new strategy, testing new markets, growing your product mix or simply starting a thesis of the business and then testing it is just as scary as pre-historic man daring to sail the oceans in an attempt to prove there was no end to the earth. So to grow your business and develop yourself beyond your competence requires a willingness to test your knowledge, unlearn old knowledge, embrace new thinking and repeat this cycle consistently to stay ahead of the curve of change.
For entrepreneurs, the end of the earth is markets we know exist, clients we know buy what we sell and the traditional competitors against whom we know how to compete. Our knowledge (things we know to be completely true) is what impedes us in the quest of perpetual knowledge acquisition.
Conventional wisdom is conventional because it is universally accepted. That is what makes it dangerous: The comfort of knowing that what we know is accepted by everyone.
Navigating through uncharted oceans
Perhaps the hardest thing about navigating blue oceans is that there simply is no certainty. Neither you, your skills nor your intellect are certain about your fortunes. What you know for sure is that the way things were is no longer how things are.
What is certain is that remaining still, whilst an attractive proposition, is too dangerous. The possibility of being left behind by evolving markets, disruptive newcomers and demanding customers is all too real.
Perhaps my most important class session over the past two years has been moving from manager to leader. I have migrated from managing director, involved in the daily operational decisions of the various functions of the firm, to CEO, setting the strategy, hiring a competent skilled team of professionals and keeping the firm enthused about the prospects of the future.
I still find myself meddling in the tasks and functions that the various MDs are driving and my justification is that I was MD of the business through its organic growth into new markets, new opportunities and new territories for a decade, so it is difficult to unlearn this.
If you want to walk a growth path, you have to be able to ask — and answer — these three key questions:
- Why is it so hard to make the shift?
- Why is it so hard to allow yourself the room to develop and grow?
- Why is there such pressure from society to be the perfect business leader all the time?
1. How to make the perfect decision
Much of the literature about leaders that have built great businesses and delivered superior shareholder returns portrays them as cloud-bearing halo-wielding messiahs.
The storyline usually involves a courageous and visionary leader who saw things that others didn’t, pursued them and achieved them.
Words such as guru, genius or, the one most en-vogue in contemporary business literature, maverick are used to define them.
Keep Second Guessing Yourself
The stories usually describe a series of events that follow a smooth straight line. And that’s the lie. You live in the day-to-day mirage of constantly evaluating and re-evaluating whether or not you’ve made the right call. You are constantly questioning yourself.
Sleep becomes an expensive commodity that you can barely afford in the midst of restlessness and uncertainty. At a financial level you are under pressure to be prudent with your runway, to maximise the resource of currency. But worst of these you are constantly scrutinised by the hardest to ignore: Your own shadow. Fighting a battle between the man you are and the man you want to be.
I have come to accept that there is no such thing as the perfect decision. Only a decision made perfect. The truth is that leaders make more poor decisions than they do good ones. However the gains from one good decision outweigh the losses from many poor decisions. So I am learning to forgive myself.
I am learning that it doesn’t have to be perfect, only good enough. I am learning that ‘perfect is the enemy of good enough.’
2. How to have perfect timing
This is by far the trickiest consideration in the life of a growing business leader: When should you do something? The answer is almost always ‘yesterday’.
When the market is growing and the business is growing you tend to want things done perfectly yesterday. However you soon come to realise that few things are as demotivating to your people as unrealistic expectations dogmatically applied through a system of performance pressure. If you’re anything like me, you manage the detail and performance management routinely.
You drive your people hard on the matrix that they have to deliver and then expect that they are nimble and agile enough to learn the best ways to do those things daily. You want the strategy to be implemented at the end of the strategy meeting.
You want the product to be launched at the end of the meeting about the product launch. You want the debtors to be reduced and your working capital cycle within your parameters before the
end of the meeting with your finance team.
You want it all. You want it perfect. You want it yesterday.
Learn with your team
I have come to learn that just as I am having to learn to work anew so too are my people. Expecting that they are going to drive the perfect P&Ls is fallacious and frankly, demotivating.
Learning is a not a weakness. Literature of business leaders of the modern day needs to tell the truth. The truth is that:
- None of us know with certainty what will work.
- Testing is the only way to know what doesn’t work.
- Failure is part of the process of success.
- Learning is more powerful than knowing.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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
My 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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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