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The Psychology of Success

What makes a leader great? Is there such a thing as a ’born leader‘? Can you learn to be a great leader from books or university courses?

Monique Verduyn

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Jim Collins, US academic and author of the book Good to Great, put together a team of business students to identify the best-performing listed American companies between 1975 and 2000. He set out to discover why companies like Kimberly Clark and Phillip Morris were such great performers. One area he focused on was leadership.

He found that in general, top-performing CEOs were not rock stars but honest, down-to-earth types who had come up through the business over a long period of time. He also found that great leaders employ great people to work with them. They are big questioners. Using what is known as the Socratic method, they ask questions rather than presuming they know the answers. In so doing, they arrive at a better understanding of problems and this results in better answers or solutions.

However, while they encourage healthy and even aggressive debates to encourage broad thinking, they eventually arrive at a decision and expect their teams to fall in line. There also seems to be a common commitment to articulating and identifying a simple plan for building a great company.

Over time, extensive leadership literature has outlined the top qualities that business leaders must have to be great:

1. Motivational skills
A great leader should be able to command a room and inspire a team to perform at their best.

2. Ability to take risks
A great leader has an entrepreneurial spirit and is not afraid to take risks to advance the business and improve revenues.

3. Ability to take the initiative
Initiative is important in business as it continually pushes people to work harder, learn more, and perform better.

4. Competitive spirit
The desire to do better than the competition can prove vital to your success.

5. Knowledge
Thorough knowledge of the business world, as well as of technology, economics, politics, history, and other matters, is important for business leaders.

6. Solid communication skills
Business leaders must be able to communicate effectively in writing and orally to ensure the highest levels of efficiency.

7. Amiability
Great business leaders have great personalities. Their colleagues and subordinates like them, respect them and enjoy working with them.

8. Ambition
The most successful business leaders have ambition. They have lofty goals and do whatever it takes to achieve them.

9. Reliability
Great business leaders are steadfast. They can be counted on to get the job done and always make a positive contribution.

10. Personal and professional integrity
Successful business people conduct themselves in a respectable manner and always act ethically, fairly and responsibly.

Social intelligence impacts leadership

Research shows that leadership requires social intelligence, a set of interpersonal competencies built on specific neural circuits that inspire others to be effective.

Emotional intelligence occupies a prominent space in the leadership literature and in coaching practices. But in the past few years, according to US psychologists Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, research in the field of social neuroscience – the study of what happens in the brain while people interact – reveals new truths about what makes a good leader.

The discovery is that certain things leaders do – such as exhibiting empathy and becoming attuned to others’ moods – affect both their own brain chemistry and that of their followers. A more relationship-based construct for assessing leadership is social intelligence, which they define as a set of interpersonal competencies built on specific neural circuits that inspire others to be effective.

Related: How to Be Yourself for a Living

Encouraging positive feelings

Goleman and Boyatzis believe that great leaders are those whose behaviour powerfully leverages the system of brain interconnectedness. If they are correct, it follows that a potent way of becoming a better leader is to develop a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.

Shared experience

Perhaps the most stunning recent discovery in behavioural neuroscience is the identification of mirror neurons in the brain. When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons reproduce those emotions. Collectively, these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience.

Mirror neurons have particular importance in organisations because leaders’ emotions and actions prompt followers to mirror those feelings and deeds. If leaders hope to get the best out of their people, they should continue to be demanding but in ways that foster a positive mood in their teams.

Traditional incentive systems are simply not enough to get the best performance from followers. Goleman and Boyatzis give an example of what works: there’s a subset of mirror neurons whose job is to detect other people’s smiles and laughter, prompting smiles and laughter in return.

A boss who is self-controlled and humourless will rarely engage those neurons in his team members, but a boss who laughs and sets an easygoing tone puts those neurons to work, triggering spontaneous laughter and getting his team to bond in the process. A bonded group is one that performs well. Being in a good mood also helps people take in information effectively and respond nimbly and creatively. In other words, they say, laughter is serious business.

An experiment in potential and possibilities

Is greatness about talent or hard work? A remarkable experiment sets out to prove it’s about deliberate practice.

The Dan Plan, which began in April 2010, is a project in transformation. Through 10 000 hours of ‘deliberate practice’, Dan, a 30-year-old commercial photographer from Oregon in the US with no previous experience as a competitive athlete, plans on becoming a professional golfer. But the plan isn’t about golf: through this process, Dan hopes to prove that it’s never too late to start a new pursuit in life.

Related: Dream It-Believe It

The theory behind the plan

Talent has little to do with success. According to research conducted by Dr K Anders Ericsson, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, “Elite performers engage in ‘deliberate practice’ – an effortful activity designed to improve target performance.” Dr Ericsson’s studies, made popular through Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, have found that in order to excel in a field, roughly 10 000 hours of “stretching yourself beyond what you can currently do” is required.

The story thus far

At last count, Dan had practiced 2 500 hours of golf. Logging in 30-plus hours a week he will hit the 10 000 hour milestone by October 2016. Through his journey Dan hopes to inspire others to start exploring the possibilities life affords them. It’s not easy, but Dan believes that if he inspires even one person to quit their day job and find happiness in their own plan, then the Dan Plan is a success.

To find out more, visit www.thedanplan.com

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Ongoing Learning

Why Reading Is The Most Important Tool In Your Arsenal

Every great entrepreneur reads — voraciously. If you’re serious about success, it’s time to jump on their bandwagon.

Allon Raiz

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I hated reading as a kid. I hated reading as a teenager. I even hated reading in my early 20s. And then came In Search of Excellence by Robert H Waterman Jr and Tom Peters, which I was given as a birthday present in 1985. It sat on my shelf unread for seven years. In 1992, at the age of 25, I pulled the book off the shelf and began to read… and I’ve never stopped.

The irony is that In Search of Excellence has since been largely debunked, with the lessons it taught regarded by some as fraudulent. Regardless, I found this reading experience incredibly helpful as I tried to apply the book’s lessons in my first entrepreneurial endeavour, the New York Sausage Factory.

I am fascinated by the correlation between successful entrepreneurs and their obsession with reading. Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms. Self-made millionaire and author, Steve Siebold, has interviewed over 1 200 of the world’s wealthiest people and says one of the first things you’ll notice in a wealthy person’s home is an extensive library of books.

All the entrepreneurs I mentor personally are now required to go on a strict diet of one business-related book every two weeks. Any who fail to comply very quickly land up as one of my ex-mentees.

So why is reading so important for entrepreneurs?

1. Opens your mind to new concepts

We are the sum of all our experiences. Books open us up to the experiences of others, too, and show us — conceptually — how they have overcome some of the problems they’ve encountered. This can broaden your arsenal of tools to manage the future. An example of this was when I read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber. This book completely reshaped my respect for documenting processes; something that permeates Raizcorp today.

2. Reinforces old concepts

We all know how lonely the entrepreneurship journey can be. When reading about how others have overcome obstacles or used a certain ‘formula’ as part of their strategy, it is very affirming when you discover that you are using the same ‘formula’ and it encourages you to continue pursuing that strategy. For example, one of the rules at Raizcorp is that we don’t do training only, and we don’t engage with anyone before they have passed our selection process. Very often, there has been a temptation to relax the rules for the lure of a big contract. It can become a lonely space in your mind when wrestling with that decision. But, when you read about other successful entrepreneurs who have stuck to their principles despite a commercial sacrifice and still succeeded, it encourages you to remain true to your own.

Related: Why You Should Be Reading More Fiction And Watching Less News

3. Apply what works for you right now

The saying that the master appears when the student is ready is particularly applicable to reading a book. You can read the same book at two different periods on your entrepreneurial journey and take away completely different lessons. A healthy way to read any book is not to believe it, but to use it as information that may become applicable to your particular situation. Every entrepreneur’s journey is different and every context is different, so it’s important for you to filter and discern the most important information for you to use or adapt.

4. Cheap learning curve

It’s said that nothing teaches you like experience. The only problem with this is that experience generally costs you money or pain. By reading other people’s experiences and thoughts through their books, you can identify different patterns that are replicated time and again. There is a strong probability these lessons will apply to you, too, and I would always err on the side of this ‘wisdom’. If you’ve read 20 books that all reinforce the importance of spending more time on selecting your team, you would be wise to devise a strong selection process even if you haven’t had an issue with this previously.

5. Great way to connect

Recently, I was sitting on an overseas flight and noticed the person next to me was reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I had also read the book and loved it. I used the common experience to open up a conversation that subsequently led to a deal. Even if I haven’t read the book someone is reading, my genuine curiosity about whether the book is valuable or not can be a way of connecting with a random stranger. If they are reading a business book, it’s highly probable they are in business themselves, which increases my chances of widening my business network.

Pulling it all together

Reading books is not for everyone but, with apps such as Audible and a pair of earphones, nowadays you can have someone read to you. I never travel in my car or on a plane without an audiobook playing away. I find myself pausing the book and allowing my mind to wander as I reflect on and synthesise what I’ve just heard with a view to how it could be applied to my own business. Every book I have read has provided useable nuggets that have been instrumental in driving my business forward, and I believe they can do the same for you.

“Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms.”

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Company Posts

A Business Lens For Learning And Development

This is a lens that Prof Ulrich has been challenging Human Resources to wear for years, and the lens that has seen him become an inspirational thought leader for those who dedicate their lives to the learning and development of people in the workplace.

Wits Plus

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In his 1998 Harvard Business Review article, Professor Dave Ulrich controversially called the business Human Resource function “ineffective, incompetent, and costly”, as well as “value sapping”.  A few months earlier, in a Human Resource Management journal article, he accused HR professionals of being fearful of quantitative, measureable results and lacking knowledge or experience with empirical assessments. Prof Ulrich probably wasn’t exactly the most popular voice in HR circles back then.

Two decades later, however, this outspoken University of Michigan professor was ranked as the No. 1 Management Educator and Guru by BusinessWeek, as well as the most influential thinker of the decade by HR Magazine!

Related: “Free” Online Courses Versus Interactive Classroom Courses

The Wits Plus Organisational Learning and Development short course drew much inspiration from Prof Ulrich’s views. As an important partner and role-player in the Human Resource camp, Organisational Learning and Development must guard against being ineffective, incompetent, costly, value sapping and fearful of quantitative, measureable results. In fact, with the increasing investment that companies are making in the learning and development of their people, L&D needs to provide business with quantitative, measureable results that prove their effectiveness, competence and the value they add to the organisation.

It’s a tricky situation for L&D practitioners. For years we’ve been reporting on activities: showing how effectively we’ve identified needs; the great L&D solutions we’ve found to meet learning needs; how many people have completed our learning and development programmes; and how well people experience and rate our interventions. Business remained unimpressed by our “warm and fuzzy” reporting, instead demanding facts and figures that demonstrate a clear return on the generous investment made in the learning and development of their people.

As predicted by Prof Ulrich two decades ago, Organisational Learning and Development need to earn the respect of business leadership and their spot at the boardroom table by talking numbers and proving their value. While a host of courses are available to teach L&D practitioners how to be effective facilitators, assessors, moderators, skills development facilitators or instructional designers, few opportunities exist for L&D people to upskill themselves on thinking business, partnering effectively with leadership, and proving in black and white how they add value.

Related: Become A Lifelong Learner

The Wits Plus Organisational Learning and Development short course has been tailored to provide the L&D professional with foundational knowledge about the L&D landscape, legal compliance, and how to identify and address learning needs. The course then delves into hard business reality – strategy, budgets, analysis, reporting and partnering with leadership. The focus is on objectives and results; Quantitative, measureable results that offer proof of the value L&D adds to the organisation.

It is not impossible to show the numerical, factual impact of Learning and Development on business success. It simply requires Organisational L&D practitioners to look at their function with a different lens – the same business efficiency and performance lens worn by organisational leadership at the boardroom table.

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The Power Of Life-Long Learning with University of Pretoria

True success starts with how much you’re willing to do to achieve it. If you’re hungry to learn and develop, partnering with University of Pretoria can make the business world your oyster.

University of Pretoria

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Professor Melodi Botha is an associate professor and researcher at the Department of Business Management in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the University of Pretoria. She is the Programme Lead for the MPhil degree in Entrepreneurship.

Her research focuses on training, educating and supporting entrepreneurs at different stages of preparing, starting and managing a business.

Why is it important for entrepreneurs to focus on personal development and education, even after they are no longer a start-up?

Research in South Africa has revealed that 80% of SMEs fail within the first two years of starting a business. So, if an entrepreneur makes it beyond this stage, it’s worth investing time, money and effort to make sure that they succeed by seeking entrepreneurial education, training and development to improve their business offerings.

New competitors are constantly entering the market and established entrepreneurs should make sure that they maintain their competitive advantage by educating themselves in areas such as the most current trends in their industries, changes in the market, offering more and better innovative products and services, staying close to their target market to determine the most effective marketing strategies and providing a stronger value proposition.

For established entrepreneurs, there is also the risk of growing too fast or not being able to manage their growth.

These entrepreneurs should then educate themselves on the most effective growth strategies suited for their business. Personal development is crucial, as entrepreneurs progress through the entrepreneurial process because they learn as they go.

Related: Enhance Your Entrepreneurial Flair With An Online Postgraduate Diploma From The University Of Pretoria

An example is when established entrepreneurs conduct a personality profile to determine how to cognitively adapt to their current entrepreneurial environment. Weaknesses or areas of improvement, such as poor financial planning for example, are highlighted and entrepreneurs can then work on these areas.

What advice would you offer entrepreneurs who stop researching due to time restrictions?

Time is a problem for all entrepreneurs; there is never enough of it. It’s a matter of how effectively you use your time and how you plan the activities that should happen within a specific time period.

A big problem with entrepreneurs is also a lack of delegation, as they want to be involved in every area of the business. Entrepreneurs need to determine which activities can be delegated to an employee or partner and focus on the core skills that they are competent in and which help the business to grow.

What skills should entrepreneurs be developing while they are starting and then managing a business?

We recently conducted research on the skills that entrepreneurs need as they progress through the various stages of the entrepreneurial process. We identified two sets of skills, namely functional competencies and enterprising competencies.

The findings further revealed that established entrepreneurs viewed functional competencies such as marketing, financial, operational, legal, human resource, networking, technical, communcation and planning skills as important skills to have during the established stage.

Both start-up and established entrepreneurs viewed enterprising competencies such as creativity, innovation, role model interpretation, opportunity recognition, risk taking, need for achievement and the ability to gather and control resources as important during both stages.

More specifically, financial and legal skills should receive more attention when starting a business. In a similar study, we found that potential entrepreneurs should focus on opportunity recognition, opportunity assessment and creative problem solving during the potential entrepreneur stage.

Related: Top Inspiring Speakers Give Entrepreneurship Insights On World Speech Day

At the same time, start-up entrepreneurs should focus on opportunity recognition, building networks and resilience, while established entrepreneurs should focus on risk management/mitigation, building and using networks as well as resilience.

Are there any tips and tricks you can offer to people who want to study, but still need the time to run their businesses?

Studying or learning should be a life-long journey that should not necessarly have an expiry date. I am talking about gaining life skills and developing entrepreneurial abilities through everyday learning. Most professional qualifications require continued professional education and I see no reason why entrepreneurs should not adopt the same approach.

Therefore, my first tip would be to plan to study. It should be part of a daily routine to study or learn more about an area where weaknesses arise. Many univeristies offer short courses such as three-day programmes in different speciality areas, which you can attend and not be away from your business for too long.

In early stages of formal tertiary education, my advice would be to focus on your studies first and thereafter focus on the business. This does not mean that you don’t have to start planning and aquiring resources while still studying. For example, our second year students, studying towards a BCom in Entrepreneurship, prepare their own feasiblity studies and compile business plans as part of the curricula.

What startling facts and figures has your research revealed that many entrepreneurs don’t realise?

In a recent study we determined that many potential entrepreneurs (students) show a strong entrepreneurial intention to start a business in future but rarely go over into action and the rate of actual start-ups, in South Africa, remains low.

This is also the case for entrepreneurship education graduates. However, prior entrepreneurial exposure, such as having entrepreneurial parents or entrepreneurial role models during the course of their studies, increased the start-up rate.

Related: Deon Herbst Of Enterprises University Of Pretoria On The Importance Of Ongoing Learning

Another interesting study we conducted on women entrepreneurs revealed that women are in desperate need of entrepeneurial training and education. The Women Entrepreneurship Programme (WEP) at the Univeristy of Pretoria measured 180 women who completed the programme.

These women were measured on their skills level before the programme, directly after the programme, six months after the programme and ten years after the programme took place.

They were measured on eight different levels and the WEP proved to be effective in not only transferring entrepreneurial and business skills to women, but also improving their business performance indicators (turnover, employees, sales and profit). Some of the women (35%) started multiple businesses six months after they attended the WEP.

Ten years after the programme, the results of the study confirmed that these women’s businesses made a significant difference in their communities and the economy of South Africa as a whole.

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