Personal and business growth starts with the way you think

20/10/2015

Our mind is constantly in dialogue with itself about what it is observing in the outside world. These internal discussions stimulate a whole raft of feelings and emotions some positive and others negative. As part of our conditioning for success and growth, it is vital that we listen very carefully to what we are saying to ourselves as this commentary can have a powerful effect on the shaping of our life and the business we run.

The debates can influence our outlook, what we want and what we believe – the perceptions that result from what we are thinking ultimately builds the framework for how we perceive the world – for many of us this perception is reality. Used correctly we can use mind discussions to give us exactly what we want, it will catalyse your route to success. However, if used the wrong way our dreams and aspirations can be seriously sabotaged by negative self talk. Think on!

Watch your thoughts; they become words.

Watch your words; they become actions.

Watch your actions; they become habits.

Watch your habits; they become character.

Watch your character; it becomes your destiny

Sustained periods of failure can lead to a decay of our internal motivation, incidents or experiences that resulted in humiliation, anger, disappointment, fear, hurt or injury can trigger a whole series of inner discussions that result in negativity. Moving into the winning zone means that you must be acutely aware of the words and thoughts that swirl around in your mind – you can quickly rewire your thought patterns by simply ignoring any negative self talk such as “I will never achieve”, “I just cant do it”. You must replace these with more positive words.

Some simple and easy steps can be embedded within your daily routine to ensure you eliminate the negative self talk that all too often stunts our personal (and ultimately, business) growth and hinders the progression to achieving our goals:

  1. Take time every morning to clear the mind of negative experiences that the day before held. Telling yourself that today will be better gets us off to a good start.
  2. Be constantly and consciously aware of what you are saying to yourself
  3. Stop judging what you see as being right or wrong, just accept it for what it is – by doing this you use far less emotional energy.
  4. Eliminate phrases such as I can’t – replace them with I can or I will

Internal self talk has a great influence on the outcome of your success, make it a habit to keep using positive phrases of thought – over time you will become more positive and the peaks and trough in your moods will flatten out – you will become energised by positive thoughts and you will attract circumstances and situations that match your frame of thought.

Personal and business growth starts with the way you think.


John Leach founded business coaching and training company Winning Pitch ten years ago this month. View more articles like this, and sign up for future events or tools & techniques here >>>

Get connected – Be part of a success community

23/09/2015

In whatever arena you want to succeed you must identify and ultimately become part of the community where individuals with common interests share and connect with each other. In these communities you will meet like-minded people whose experiences, thoughts and attitudes could be of massive contribution to your own success. The entrepreneurial world has seen a dramatic increase in the number of business networking groups in recent year’s, these have acted as a source of personal and business development for ambitious people who want to progress their enterprise. These groups encourage networking and interaction – not only do they stimulate business activity, they also act as a portal of real life experiences, these can help in times when:

  • Difficult decisions have to be made
  • You really don’t know how to address a particular challenge
  • You are unsure as to which direction to take
  • You are exploring growth options
  • You have hit a ceiling in our growth staircase
  • You need to break out of our comfort zones

Being part of a community can teach us that ‘everything is possible’, they help to extend our comfort zones and believe that life holds far more than the status quo. The Quaker slogan ‘live adventurously’ is one we should all embrace.

How involved are you with the community relevant to your situation? How visible are you in it? Do you participate? Personal success for you will improve significantly when you get involved with your community of interest; it will give you the opportunity to:

  • Mix with individuals who have similar aspirations
  • Build personal relationships that can be vital to you in times of need
  • Share your wisdom with them
  • Exchange contacts that offer mutual benefit

Don’t be a passive observer in your community network, be an active part and ‘giver’ – this will come back to repay you many times over. Be vocal, let your thoughts be known and immerse yourself in what is going on. In today’s rapidly expanding wireless environment these communities can be virtual as well as physical. The exponential rise in online communities created through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter provide alternative routes to getting involved – don’t ignore the opportunities these tools give you to accessing the “Connectors”. These are the people who open doors in the quest for success; they will emerge from your community.

It is vital that you get hooked in as being an active contributor, and you will over time build a GCC – “Golden Circle of Connectors” – people whose opinions and inputs you both trust and respect, most of all they help you to make things happen.

Get connected and start to build links with those communities that will help you to move forward!


Growth wish entrepreneurs should train with the best

08/09/2015

If you want to excel in your professional life and get the most out of your business, work with those people who will take you to new limits. Training with these individuals will extend your comfort zone, teach you new skills and more importantly, allow you to gain insight into how they think. Many businesses fail to grow because their founders get stuck in a rut of the same old, day after day. Only when they immerse themselves with a group of high performers do they appreciate what is possible. High performers think in a different way, they have a mind-set that is conducive to grasping opportunities and ruthless execution to make things happen.

Defining who you believe to be the best in your field of work provides a benchmark for raising your own performance. Do away with any feeing of personal pride or sense of undermining your own capability and explore how you can spend time with those you identify as best in class.

High performing organisations consciously create conditions that get the best to push each other to new levels of performance. If you want to achieve greater success then align yourself to those who consistently out perform the rest. Be open in your approach to these people and ask them – Please can you help? Or please can I ask your advice? By asking in this way you are delivering a compliment and acknowledging their expertise and achievement mind-set. More often than not people will help. Your aim should be to:

  • Shadow them on meetings and in their day to day activities
  • Ask for some time to share their thoughts on why they constantly outperform
  • Seek insight on how they think and what drives them
  • Enquire what motivates them and what they read
  • Try to find win-win ways of working
  • Work out how your expertise can be of value to a high performer
  • Seek out strategic partnerships

By training with the best you set intentions and expectations that lift your mind-set to new levels of attainment. Individuals you train with are different to mentors – they are the sparring partners that you work with to develop and grow your skills on a real time basis – they are pivotal to moving your business to a higher level. If the person you want to work with views you as a potential threat, the relationship will not work. Be honourable about your intentions and by no means use it to gain insights that would be of disservice to them – be clear, be up front – if a conflict of interest presents itself then walk away.

John Leach, CEO Winning Pitch

For more leadership and entrepreneurial advice, visit: winning-pitch.co.uk/for-business-leaders/


Stop talking and start doing

10/07/2015

Allocating time to thinking and doing, in the right proportions, will significantly increase your chances of achieving business and personal growth. However, you must give due consideration to the quality of your thoughts as crisp and clear thinking will drive your plans in the right direction. Spending time thinking how to achieve your goals in stressful conditions creates chaotic thought patterns. This frame of mind adds no value and delivers minimal contribution to business success. You must make provision for Quality Thinking Time (QTT) – space to ponder without interference or distraction. A hectic life style resulting from trying to balance work, family, relationships and career can make QTT a challenging task.

Remember, it is vital for you to avoid over thinking situations, circumstances and options as this will lead to inertia. It will stop you from taking action. A maximum of 20% of your time should be allocated to gaining clarity of thought. The remaining 80% should then be devoted to doing. Individuals that fail to realise their goals can be sometimes be guilty of spending too much time thinking about what they are going to do and never getting on with it. Avoid pontificating about your desires and needs, be sure to get on with it when you have decided just exactly what it is you are going to do. Positive progress is only made when doing follows thinking, Dreams and visions will remain at home in the mind if you don’t push ourselves towards implementation. Failure to move on in business is often down to not grasping the nettle, however when we do the right things a personal momentum builds which manifests into positive outcomes. Think less, do more!

Thoughts + Doing = Results

The difference between success and failure is often down to whether action has been taken or not. The final thoughts are from Christopher Columbus:-

“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his or her chosen destination”


Ambition and hard work – the foundations of success

02/06/2015

Putting in the minimum amount of effort to a task to achieve a satisfactory result is a behaviour associated with people that have little or no ambition. Successful individuals take nothing for granted. They realise that through hard work and loyal commitment to their goals they may from time to time have to put in extra hours or do things that may feel punishing to either their mind or body – quite often both. The reality is that very few people are willing to push themselves physically and emotionally to over deliver. This maybe work a weekend to complete an important project, staying late at the office to help colleagues complete a critical bid or a teacher spending more with a pupil struggling to grasp a learning point. Going the extra mile to please others is an extremely admiral behaviour, you become respected by your peer group and the opportunities for personal progression is enhanced because others become engaged by your level of commitment.

You will place yourself well ahead of the competition when you do more than what was expected of you. It is also extremely rewarding both professionally and personally. The mindset of going the extra mile helps when:

  • You don’t want to let someone down
  • You want to influence a customer or stakeholder
  • You have an ambition to achieve
  • Someone needs your help
  • You see an opportunity others have missed
  • Potential has not been realised

Think deeply about what you want to achieve and accept that by conditioning your mind to embrace the philosophy of doing more you will become evermore successful purely by outperforming others. This mental programming becomes an integral part of your behaviour and winning becomes a habit.

Working long hours does not always mean you are working smart, however if you are setting up a business and trying to get it moving in the right direction – there is often no short cuts – a long shift is vital. Ambition comes in two forms…stated and genuine. Many individuals talk about what they are going to do, I am inspired by those who talk about what they have done.

Growing a business requires genuine gritty hard graft, courage and luck. Its surprising how luckier you become when you put in more hours.


The North West Fund – Inspire Magazine

07/05/2015

An interview for The North West Fund Inspire Magazine Issue Ten 2015

What would you say has been the greatest achievement for the business?

The strapline to our logo and brand is ‘everything is possible’ and we strongly practice what we preach. The first manifestation of this belief was in 2008 when we secured a £10M contract against international competition to deliver one of Europe’s largest business support contracts. Over three years we helped over 1,000 high growth small and medium sized businesses. At the time we were less than £1M turnover and only 3 years old.

What has been the biggest challenge for you, in building the business?

The challenges in running a business are wide ranging and come in many different forms. The ability to scale has probably been the most daunting for us. It almost feels that we reached ceilings at different points of our journey – these related to breaking the employee barriers of 10, 25, 50 and 100. As we have grown up so has the need to bring in a new breed of managers and leaders, particularly those who can support the inevitable challenges that ambition brings with it. Identifying, recruiting and retaining great talent I suppose has been the biggest challenge.

How did you hear about The North West Fund and what was it that made you apply for funding?

I heard about the North West Fund through a seminar I attend. I felt the fund offered many advantages over more conventional and traditional funding routes. I was particularly attracted to the mix of debt and equity funding made available through Enterprise Ventures. The mezzanine loan was very appealing as it did away with the pressures of personal guarantees required by the high street banks. Just as important as the funding was the expertise that came with the money. We needed higher-level management support as well as funding – this made the North West Fund our preferred funding option.

How is your business changing/growing as a result of receiving funding?

The business has continued to grow at levels we had predicted, without the funding it would have been almost impossible to develop new markets and attract new staff. Testament to our growth is recent research published by market intelligence specialists Plimsoll, its shows that in our market place of 1000 active companies, Winning Pitch was the 6th fastest growing company in 2014. Without help from the North West Fund this would not been achieved.

Are there areas of the business you would like to grow/develop further?

Winning Pitch will continue to grow in adjacent market sectors the most important at the moment being skills. Also high on our agenda for the coming financial year is, developing overseas markets, particular in those economies where there is a desire to improve economic wellbeing through enterprise and entrepreneurial activity. We see promising prospects in emerging and growing international economies.

Having worked with thousands of companies which are looking to grow, do you have any tips for The Fund’s future applicants?

Great companies in my view are the ones who balance innovation and entrepreneurial flair with good housekeeping and discipline. At the heart of entrepreneurial flair is customer centric behavior, trying new things and making sure the customer’s expectations are always exceeded. This needs to be supported with strong management, a firm grip on finances, regular management meetings all wrapped up in a performance culture which ensures the things that matter get done and get measured. Being able to demonstrate a great management team with a well thought through plan with clarity is paramount.


High growth companies actively pursue “customer lock in” strategies

21/04/2015

Ambitious high growth entrepreneurs should spend at least 3 days of their official working week living in the customer’s world. Viewing the market place from the desk is extremely dangerous, being immersed within your industry and the needs of your customers provides real-time market intelligence. This helps to tailor propositions specifically to the wants and needs of your market place; it also supports new product and service development. Gazelle companies create a massive gap between them and their competitors because they deploy innovation and imagination to problems, this inspires and very often leads to development and evolution of propositions that the customer didn’t even know they wanted! They occupy uncontested space. Others will soon start to copy and replicate – your job is to stay one step ahead of the game.

High growth businesses we have studied stay close to their key stakeholders. More specifically, they spend time:

  • Looking at the factors that impact their customer’s performance – this provides opportunities to provide new solutions
  • Understanding their customers strategy – this facilitates a partnership working model
  • Looking at how they can help improve efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance performance.

Getting close to the market helps to drive what I term “customer lock in” – that phase of the supplier/customer relationship were there is a true partnership, mutual respect and a genuine win-win. Moving to lock in can absorb an enormous amount of time effort and energy, however the rewards can be big. It also makes it very difficult for competitors to move in and occupy your space. Being embedded means any new entrant would have to untangle lots of relationships, systems and processes to get a foothold.

A word of caution – never take relationships for granted and be aware of performance vs. KPIs. Customer complacency represents a real danger zone for businesses. Lock in delivers true competitive advantage.

 


Business growth needs great leadership

09/04/2015

Growth is what everyone is talking about at the moment. Whether its public sector policy makers or entrepreneurs, we all need growth. Easy to say but do we truly understand the implications of going for for it! Growth requires a vision; a sense of purpose, a plan, resilience, mental toughness, teamwork and a whole lot more. Whether you are trying to grow a business or turn around a failing school someone has to build a picture of what the future success looks like then execute a plan that gets everyone on board for the journey.

My own particular passion is around driving the entrepreneurial growth of UK plc. More specifically, encouraging individuals who have got what it takes to pursue their ambition of being their own boss. This extends to supporting existing entrepreneurs to think bigger and truly maximize the potential of their business. As Adam Smith the Scottish philosopher and economist quoted in his book The Wealth of Nations back in 1776 –

“we are a nation of shop keepers”.

Well not much has changed, the economy relies so heavily on the very small business, it amazes me that well over 90% of companies in the UK employ less than 50 people, very few ever get past employing more than 25 people – so why is this? The reasons are wide ranging but all too often the stresses and strains that come with growth are just one step too far for most people. Taking financial risks and the associated personal, professional and commercial challenges, which the journey inevitably brings, results in the pursuit of a more pedestrian voyage.

There is much debate at the moment about a special group of businesses commonly referred to as gazelles. These are fast moving businesses that exhibit sustained levels of growth over a three-year period – they achieve growth rates above 20% per annum and their contribution to the economy is phenomenal. Independent research conducted by Nesta shows that 6% of ambitious innovative businesses over the coming years will deliver 50% of new jobs. So the answer is, we need more of them. Game changing leadership lies at the heart of driving more gazelles and therefore improved growth, individuals who can create a culture that enthuses and motivates others to perform and deliver.

There are many schools of thought on what great leadership look like, however my own insights, (derived from the great fortune of being immersed in a world of successful entrepreneurs) would lead me to conclude that there are ten essential ingredients, most notably, leaders who drive growth:

  1. Have an ability to embrace and drive change to the benefit of all stakeholders
  2. Personally very driven with aligned personal and professional intentions
  3. Are future focused and have clarity of what needs to be achieved
  4. Operate by the philosophy of success is down to 20% thinking and 80% doing – progression involves iteration and this builds momentum
  5. Communicate their purpose and values with passion both internally and externally
  6. Build a team ethos with roles and responsibilities of all clearly mapped out and monitored
  7. Ruthlessly guard their reputation and have a moral compass which ensures all decisions are made with best intentions
  8. Performance management and key performance indicators (KPI’s) are embedded throughout their organisation – they know if they are on track
  9. Have a mindset aligned to success, this is supported by an innovative positive mental attitude that delivers the edge
  10. Leaders are readers, they commit to personal development and usually have a mentor who helps locate personal blind spots…very self aware, knowing very clearly their strengths and weaknesses!

Leadership and growth are inextricably linked; lets hope the business stars of tomorrow will emerge over the coming months. A new generation of go getting individuals who will drive innovation, wealth creation, exports and jobs. They are the hero’s of the economy.


Discipline must run in parallel with Innovation

31/03/2015

High growth companies are disproportionately innovative to those that are not, and whilst I believe creativity is the ultimate source of competitive advantage, I must caveat my views. The importance of embedding a culture to allow free thinking that stimulates new ideas is well documented. However, without control you end up with pet projects, loads of possibilities and hundreds of potential initiatives that absorb time, energy and resource. Large companies have processes to deal with their ideas pipeline, but in smaller high growth businesses the danger is that there is too much innovation and entrepreneurship and not enough control and discipline.

Commercial problems potentially loom when there is too much lateral thinking and lack of order. Jim Collins in Good to Great uses a very powerful phrase – “Disciplined Entrepreneurship”. This embraces the notion of balance – innovative thinking and behaviours being guided within a framework of performance measures and KPI’s.

Too much Discipline – then a disconnection with customers, markets and new possibilities takes place

Too much Entrepreneurial flair – nothing gets done because everyone is bouncing off the walls with great ideas

Successful high growth companies tend to have a disciplined approach to new idea generation and implementation – a form of commercial filter. I often wonder how much smaller high growth companies can teach large corporates about innovative thinking and entrepreneurship. The reverse is also important – how can big companies help ambitious founders embed better housekeeping within their organisation? Feels like a powerful learning forum!


John Leach – An interview with Carter Corson

16/03/2015

John Leach, Chief Executive, Winning Pitch, describes how it is always important for entrepreneurs to consider the emotional as well as financial costs to growth.

Click here to the article and more from Carter Corson

In your work you talk about “profitable, sustainable high growth”. What does sustainable refer to?

One of the key things around growth is that it all starts at the top. When we talk about high-growth businesses and organisations, what we’re referring to are those that can sustain 20% growth each year. This level of growth usually pivots around an individual who has a high degree of energy and wants to take the business to places where other entrepreneurs don’t want to go.

It begins with a mind-set driven by a genuine intention and ambition toward growth. There are many individuals who state that they want to grow but there’s a lack of genuine commitment. There are many people who talk about growth who are actually hallucinating rather than visioning.

Sustainable growth starts with genuine, sustainable intent that is actually followed through with strong execution. Sustainable intent translates into building the right team, working out the business model, financing it in a feasible and taking calculated risks.

There is a common misconception that entrepreneurs are nutcases who play the lottery with the family jewels. In fact, successful entrepreneurs are very much about assessing risk rather than taking risk. This gives them clarity in deciding what mitigating actions are required to avoid doing something calamitous.

When we talk about entrepreneurship, do you think that we sometimes over-focus on the individual? Can we lose sight of how while individuals may be the driving force behind a company, it takes a team to build it?

It does indeed start with the individual. The founders who grow their businesses into something quite special are the ones who have a high degree of self-awareness. However, it is important to think about the DNA of a great team, which I call the Thinkers, Doers, Sellers and Controllers. When you first set up, the founder is all of those things but they typically have a natural orientation to one or two of them. Successful entrepreneurs build a finely tuned engine that has an even mix of all four. Self-awareness is such an important part of the growth equation. You can’t do it all yourself – the minute you try to, you have a serious problem. You really need to build a team around you that is significantly better than you in lots of different areas.

Often, entrepreneurs can suffer from an imposture syndrome. They end up sitting in the board room thinking “everyone in here is smarter than me”. In reality, they have got themselves that far by being clever enough to have the right people around them. That is such an important part of the mix. .

In the UK there are 4.8 million businesses. There are only 36,000 that employ over 50 people. Why? Because it is so difficult. To grow beyond 50 you have to really be good at managing and building, which means recruiting while retaining the right talent. When they have 25 or more people, many entrepreneurs give up, sell up or they choose to downsize. Ultimately, sustaining profitable growth is a leadership challenge and this is a big problem for the UK plc. It comes back to the issue of recognising what skills needs to fit around the top table and who needs to sit in the right seat.

In a recent report, the problem of ‘leadership capability’ was cited as the second most important reason for the failure of UK businesses to scale up…

Absolutely. What you do when you start-up on your kitchen table is very different to when you are running a business of 150+ people. You have to develop and change.

I explain it as the Mind-set Staircase. Your mind has to make various transactions across the staircase where you go from being a founder, to a social worker once you have more employees. Then you assume the role of a strategic manager once you have other layers in there that are dealing with the numerous aspects of managing a business. That is one of the main reasons people don’t grow. Entrepreneurs say “the more people I employ, the harder it gets”.

Again, finding the right talent to sit in the right seat is crucial. I am a non-exec on four fast-growing businesses. In each of these, the first challenge to address is the people/talent issue. Often we find we have the wrong people, so invariably we start to look at the team. In most instances it has grown and has a product and a market, but the team running it is not fit for purchase. In many instances, we work on team dynamics – getting the right people doing the right jobs while building a culture that is conducive to innovation and success. That is one of the hardest things to do in business.

For entrepreneurs, what do you see as the emotional costs to growth?

Growth is more than just a series of spreadsheets showing financial projections. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made that impact on people around the entrepreneurial team – family, kids, wives and husbands. When making an executive decision, very often there is a difficult conversation going on back at home: “I need £200,000. I am going to re-mortgage the house.” “What does that mean for us?”

These are emotional decisions and they start to weigh heavy. There is often not only a financial cost to growth, but very often there is a medical cost. I see so many health-related complaints with ambitious people – anxiety, high blood pressure and ulcers. We never read about this but within my own networks, I see the impact that running a business actually has. It ends up running your life. This means you have to be mentally resilient, being capable of switching off and or to cope with uncertainty. Because we are British, we don’t talk about these things.