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Why Growing Your Business Can Feel Like Sailing Over The Edge Of The World

Successful business leaders understand that the learning is never done.

Vusi Thembekwayo

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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.

Related: Leadership: A Potent Combination Of Strategy And Character

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

end-of-the-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.

Related: 25 Leadership Lessons From Millionaire Business Owners

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?

Related: 5 Leadership Secrets Stolen From Famous People

1. How to make the perfect decision

strive-for-progress-not-perfection-quote

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.’

Related: Your Leadership Journey Starts Now… And Go!

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.

Mr. Vusi Thembekwayo has been an Independent Non-Executive Director of at RBA Holdings Ltd. since May 14, 2013. Mr. Thembekwayo has already collected numerous accolades and awards as businessperson, entrepreneur and international public speaker. Mr. Thembekwayo completed a PDBA and a course on advanced valuation techniques with the Gordon Institute of Business Science and completed a Management Acceleration Programme (Cum Laude) with the Wits Business School. His speaking achievements include the international hit talk “The Black Sheep” which he delivered to the Top 40 CEOs in Southern Africa, addressing the Australian Houses of Parliament and speaking at the British House of Commons. To add to this, Vusi speaks in 4 of the 7 continents over 350 000 people each year.

Leading

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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Leading

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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Leading

Want To Achieve Greatness? Force Everyone Out Of Their Comfort Zones

Diverse teams are better performing teams, but only when they are inclusive.

Rob Jardine

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Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance.

Diverse teams are smarter teams. They have higher rates of innovation, error detection and creative problem solving. In environments that possess diverse stakeholders, being able to have different perspectives in the room may even enable more alignment with varied customer needs.

Being able to think from different perspectives actually lights up areas of the brain, such as the emotional centres needed for perspective taking that would previously not be activated in similar or non-diverse groups.

In a nutshell, you use more of your brain when you encourage different perspectives by including different views in the room. However, work done at the NeuroLeadership Institute has proven that this only works when diverse teams are inclusive, and this still remains a key challenge in business today.

When we consider the amount of diversity present in the modern workplace and the addition of more diverse thinking as a result of globalisation and the use of virtual work teams, it’s clear that the ability to unlock the power of diversity is just waiting to be unleashed.

Here’s how you can unlock this powerful performance driver.

The Social Brain

Despite the rich sources of diversity present in most workplaces, companies are still often unable to leverage the different perspectives available to them in driving business goals. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have enabled us to understand why. The major breakthrough has centred around the basic needs of the social brain.

We have an instinctual need to continually define whether we are within an in-group or an out-group. This is an evolutionary remnant of the brain that enabled us to strive to remain within a herd or group where we had access to social support structures, food and potential mates. If we were part of the out-group it could literally have meant life or death. We are therefore hypersensitive to feelings of exclusion as it affected our survival.

The brain is further hardwired for threat and unconsciously scans our environments for threats five times a second. This means, coupled with our life or death need for group affiliation, we are hypersensitive to finding sameness and a need for in-group inclusion.

When we heard a rustle in a bush it was safer to assume that it may be a lion than a gust of wind. It is this threat detection network that has kept us alive until today. The challenge is that society has developed faster than our brains. In times of uncertainty we often jump to what is more threatening.

Some of the ways that this plays out is when we leave someone out of an email and they begin to wonder why they were left out. The problem is that it’s easy to unconsciously exclude someone if we are not actively including. The trouble occurs when we incorrectly use physical proxies to define in-group and out-group, as this is the most readily available evidence used unconsciously by the brain.

Barriers to Inclusion

A study done between a diverse group and non-diverse group demonstrates how this plays out in the work place. Both groups completed a challenging task and were asked how they felt they did as a team after the exercise.

The effectiveness of the team and how they perceived effectiveness were both measured in the study. It’s no surprise that the diverse team did better in the completion of the problem-solving task, but what is surprising is that they felt they did not do well. In contrast, the non-diverse team did worse, but felt that they had done well.

Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance. It feels easier to work in a team where we feel at ease in sameness, but in that environment we are more prone to groupthink and are less effective.

Creating Inclusion

We can’t assume that when we place diverse teams together we will automatically reap the rewards of higher team performance. As discussed, we’re hardwired for sameness and if we’re not actively including, we may be unconsciously excluding.

If we want diversity to become a silver bullet, we need to actively make efforts to find common ground amongst disparate team members. This in turn will build team cohesion and create a sense of unity, including reminders of a shared purpose and shared goals. Many global businesses put an emphasis on a shared corporate culture that supersedes individual difference.

It’s the same mechanism that is used in science fiction films that bond individuals together against a common alien invasion. It can also be used to describe why we felt such a great sense of accomplishment during the 2010 World Cup as we banded together as a nation.

We must also make sure we uplift all team members by sharing credit widely when available and recognising performance. The last thing we can do to further inclusion is to create clarity for teams. By removing ambiguity, we allow individuals to not jump to conclusions about their membership within groups and calm their minds so they can use their mental capacity to focus on the task at hand.

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