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.

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Entrepreneurial mindset in changing environments

19/02/2015

The journey to reaching your vision will involve a number of stages or interim goals – the key milestones that will be your targets along the way, providing a route to your dream. Each stage will represent a progression either personally or professionally – or both, depending on your vision. As your goals move on, so will the circumstances you find yourself in and the challenges you’ll face. It’s likely that decisions you have to make will become more demanding and the risks more acute. To handle this changing environment, you’ll need to progress personally, shifting your mindset to a new level at each stage.

The critical steps in growing a business or embarking on a challenging new project will place pressure on the way you think – it will push you into new areas and possibly further than you have gone before. It’s likely to stretch your abilities to the limit. So it’s important to adapt your way of thinking to be able to cope with the new risks and challenges each new situation brings. Otherwise you will find yourself frozen like a rabbit in the headlights, unable to make the necessary decisions to take you forward.

Successful entrepreneurs, for example, will tell you that growing their companies tested their capabilities to the breaking point. How comfortable will you feel if you need to give a personal guarantee to secure bank funding, or learn new skills to support the growth of your business or personal project?

To prepare yourself for the climb ahead, it pays to work out the different challenges you’ll face as you move from achieving one goal to embarking onto the next, so that you can be mentally ready to deal with them. Viewing each goal as a step towards your vision will help you to define the mindset that you need to develop to negotiate each stage successfully, allowing you to move forward with focus and clarity of thought.


Mental toughness and resilience are essential to growth

26/03/2014

Running a business, particularly a high growth one is full of ups and downs. The highs are fantastic and the feeling of jubilation when we move closer to our goals provides us with a clear sense of accomplishment. For our mind it’s a great place to be as we are motivated and energised by this sense of achievement, this creates the impetus and motivation to keep pushing forward. However the journey towards our vision very rarely proceeds along a smooth path. Invariably, obstacles will be thrown in our way, these force us to create diversions and look for alternative ways of getting to our destination.

Constantly being forced to deal with the need to explore alternative roads to our desired end point can have a wearing effect on our mindset, it can bring us to all time lows in motivation – many individuals will ask themselves what’s the point in doing this? Is it really worth it? Most of us at some point in our lives have internally deliberated these issues.

Only you can answer these questions, only you can decide whether to keep going or not. At these critical points, it can be easier to give up than to carry on – from my research into success, winners in all walks of life dig deep, maintain focus and continue with their mission, they accept that setbacks are just part of the game plan.The old adage when the going gets tough the tough get going is one you should reflect on when you experience these feelings (Billy Ocean said this in his famous song). Two vital questions you need to ask yourself if you reach this stage:

  • How much do I want it?
  • Can I cope with more setbacks?

Having mental toughness differentiates winners from losers, your sense of purpose ebbs away when you listen to negative self talk, phrases such as why am I doing this? are symptomatic of the condition, in turn it weakens the endurance of the mind  and sprit thereby resulting in I give up. Successful people I have researched have an insatiable desire and internalised motivation to succeed – you have really got to want it!


Pitching yourself through life

13/03/2014

Success involves people and organisations having to sell what they have to offer – this could be our skill, a product or service. This term frightens the life out of many as it conjures images of unethical smooth talking individuals manipulating others so as to get their own way. This is not the case, a great pitch is grounded in ethical behaviour fused to a mindset of offering real value through a passionate belief in what you have to offer. Personal and professional progression means that you will frequently be in a situation where you have to pitch for what you want. Applying for a career promotion, a place on the school board or attracting new customers fundamentally means we are in competition and there is a need to sell.

If you don’t adopt this mindset then you will struggle to get what you want out of life. When you find yourself in a situation where selling is vital, start by asking:

  • Do I understand their world?
  • What problem am I going to solve for the person I am pitching to?
  • What do I know about my audience?
  • What value do I bring?
  • What examples can I use to evidence credibility?
  • How can I bring to life the impact I make?
  • What is special about what I have to offer?

Personal progression means you must embrace the philosophy of life is a pitch. In doing this you condition yourself to delivering an effective and engaging performance to those that matter. Convincing others of the benefit of your talent, idea, product or service is an integral component to achieving your goals. Other people have an influence on whether we succeed or not. Your pitching mindset should help you to position your key messages in the following way:

  • Real and tangible
  • Deliver it with passion and meaning
  • Ruthlessly simplistic message
  • Clearly shows the difference you will make
  • Win – win outcome

Practicing your pitching skills to enhance your chances of success. It will put you in a stronger position to beat off competition.


The Entrepreneurial G-Spot

26/07/2012

So what are the ingredients of a high growth business or gazelle as they are commonly referred to? This is a question that I must be asked at least twice a week. As both a founder of several and adviser to loads I am still learning every day. As an obsessive researcher of their behavior, tactics and strategies, one conclusion is gazelles are not just the stereotypical university high technology spin –out, they are also well established organisations from mature sectors  – with fire in their belly.

So how do entrepreneurs unearth the Gazelle spot for their business? This is the point at which rapid growth ensues, new markets open up, customers display a strong desire to buy and value is created for both the founder and stakeholders. For the economy they become job generators and employers of skilled individuals. The challenge is there are only a small proportion of these businesses, nationally and globally – why? because its really hard to grow a business, get the right people on board pointing in the same direction, raise and manage finance….the list goes. This G-spot takes time to find, as one member of the High Growth Foundation® muttered the other night – it has taken me 10 years to become an overnight success – or as Malcolm Gladwell puts it 10,000 hours of effort and practice are needed to become an expert at anything.

Lots of entrepreneurs talk a good game but many fail to cope with the roller coaster ride that so often accompanies growth – the high and the lows can be quite debilitating and at times the problems just “do your head in”. Having a resilient and positive mindset able to cope with uncertainty and unforeseen challenges is an ability too few have. High growth will usually equate to high risk (that’s why banks are scared stiff of high growth entrepreneurs), embracing fear and having the courage to see through immediate and longer term challenges is a skill high growth entrepreneurs have honed.

The Entrepreneurial G-Spot is a complex framework involving an eclectic mix of business, commercial and emotional components. Put very simply it’s the fusion of a sound business model with propositions and service that carry a market place edge – disciplined doers not talkers execute the plan to achieve the vision and everyone knows their role. The active ingredient is brilliant leadership, more specifically a culture of ambition underpinned by mental toughness and an ability to cope. All too often it’s the latter that is missing, so many entrepreneurs fail to truly realise their potential, they run out of steam and to put it frankly cant be bothered with the hassle.

You’re a long time dead, get stuck in, have a go, fail fast move on, get your head in gear and unlock the potential of your business. Only practice and iteration makes perfect!


Entrepreneurial Learning

29/06/2012

I spoke at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference earlier this week. The theme was entrepreneurial learning in organisations. It was an extremely thought provoking session, that brought together fantastic academic minds on the theme of entrepreneurship.

As a keen observer of entrepreneurial learning and improvement, my view is that the UK economy will grow faster if more effective leaders are created and nurtured. Enterprise policy makers must recognise the importance of bigger thinking and greater ambition – a key component of leadership. Academic enterprise research needs to investigate in greater depth the emotional needs of entrepreneurs – the spirit and mindset. Setting up and growing a business can be extremely demanding. For entrepreneurial leaders balancing personal and commercial risk can be a debilitating experience – we must look at developing practical coping strategies to help leaders overcome the fear often associated with the stages of growth.

From my discussions with participants I was encouraged to hear that softer issues do appear to be attracting more academic interest. Topics such as developing an entrepreneurial mindset, coping, resilience, mental toughness, personal branding and faith must get on the agenda. These are all essential ingredients for leadership success. Practical tools to help entrepreneurs address these areas would be well received within the community – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Entrepreneurs are courageous individuals who cope well with the lonely rollercoaster existence, helping them to live with high pressure moments would be a well-received antidote for those wanting to make a difference. I am extremely excited about the work ISBE is undertaking.


Faith is important for entrepreneurs

26/06/2012

The life of an entrepreneur is full of ups and downs. The high’s are fantastic and the feeling of jubilation when you move closer to your intentions provides a clear sense of accomplishment – it delivers the impetus to keep pushing on. It’s a great place to be because motivation and energy helps to build an important ingredient for success – momentum.

However, we all know, building a business can likened to a roller coaster ride, the journey very rarely proceeds along a smooth path. Obstacles are just part of the game, these force us to create diversions and look for alternative ways of getting to our destination.

Constantly being forced to deal with the need to explore alternative roads to the end point can have a wearing effect on  mindset. The danger is when it stimulates negative self talk – what’s the point in doing this? Is it really worth it?  Many entrepreneurs will have at some point internally deliberated these issues. Only you can answer these questions, only you can decide whether to keep going or not.

The power of autosuggestion brought to us many years ago is a vital antidote. Autosuggestion is a psychological technique  developed by  Emile Coue in the late 19th century. It’s an important tool in conditioning our mind to achieve our goals. It can be as destructive and constructive. At the heart of autosuggestion lies conditioning ourselves, through our senses to achieve what we want.

Through observational research, I have come up with other practical tools to help at critical points where emotional support is vital for the entrepreneur. The reality is, it can be easier to give up than to carry on – winners in all walks of life dig deep, maintain focus and continue with their mission, they accept setbacks are just part of the game.  The old adage when the going gets tough the tough get going is one you should reflect on when these feelings kick in.

Mental toughness differentiates winners from losers, your sense of purpose ebbs away when you listen to negative self talk, phrases such as why am I doing this? are symptomatic of the condition, in turn it weakens the endurance of the mind thereby resulting in I give up. Successful people have an insatiable desire and internalised motivation to succeed – you have really got to want it!

Having faith in what your are trying to achieve is a vital ingredient for success. If you dont believe then dont expect others to. It’s important to condition your mind to becoming resilient. Without faith and mental toughness the reality is, winning becomes more difficult. When things are not going your way, embrace the principles of R.A.F

Rewind – and go back to your vision, picture success and hold this image in your mind. Quiet contemplation is vital to aiding this process. This activity will move you out of the negative state and refresh your mind then get you back “on purpose”

Accept – that things will not always go your way. Avoid long drawn out dissections of why things turned out the way they did. Coming runner up is sometimes a wake up call for us. Accept the position and move on otherwise negative self talk will hinder progression.

Have Faith in yourself and your ability to achieve what you want out of your business. When you develop faith, bouncing back when things go wrong is far easier. By having faith you convince your mind that anything is possible

Practice, practice and practice this philosophy and see your success improve dramatically.