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 >>>

Ultimate competitive advantage – Self Improvement for entrepreneurs

23/06/2015

Personal development is the ultimate source of competitive advantage. When you stop learning you run the risk of your business becoming stagnant. Growing a business is one continuous learning journey and every new experience presents itself as an opportunity to acquire more knowledge. Entrepreneurial high achievers I have worked with are lifetime learners combining both formal and informal means of absorbing new information. What is your strategy for learning? Do you have a personal development plan? Are you open to the advice and guidance of the wisdom of others?

The growth of a business takes many twists and turns and growth comes in chapters, each one presenting its own challenges – you need to be prepared. 

Openly speak to mentors, your peer group and trusted colleagues and ask them how they think you can improve. What could you do better? Rate yourself out of 10 in each of these areas:

  1. I have clear business and personal goals, they are pursued with a passion

  2. I am resilient and deal effectively with setbacks when they arise

  3. I take ownership for the decisions I make but I listen carefully to the views of people I trust

  4. I am motivated and just get on with it – success is down to me

  5. I am a strong and effective leader (myself and others)

  6. I work well with others and take a collaborative approach to business

  7.  I am innovative and take a creative approach to business

  8. I am a respected individual within my market

  9. I am an effective connector and communicator

  10. I always aim to excel at what I do

By answering these questions honestly you start to build a picture of where your self-development needs to focus. Drill down into the specifics of each of your answer and define very clearly what things you are going to change. Identify the resources that you will need to move you on. Explore courses, new reading material, self-study or one to one coaching to address the shortfalls. Everyone has a preferred learning style, find one that suits you. However there is lots of wisdom in the Confucius philosophy of:

  • I hear and I forget
  • I see and I remember
  • I do and I understand

The minute you think you know it all – complacency sets in and you could quite well be entering into dangerous territory.

You will not advance or achieve your business goals if you don’t commit to constantly learning.


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.


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!


A decade of supporting high growth businesses

11/03/2015

This year marks Winning Pitch’s tenth anniversary of being in business. The very reason I founded our organisation was to provide the tools to create, build and support individuals get the most from themselves and their companies. To achieve our mission it was imperative that Winning Pitch demonstrated an authenticity that could never be challenged, in other words we practiced what we preach. Ten years on, I am very proud to announce that we have worked with some 6,000 companies. Those we have supported over the past two years have grown 4 times the rate of GDP, the average change achieved in net worth, following Winning Pitch help is 335.5%, their balance sheet value has also increased by more than £181.96m. Impact on local economies is so satisfying to observe, Winning Pitch assistance has delivered approximately 5,000 new jobs. As a business we have reached revenues in excess of £10M and over 100 full time employees across the North and rest of UK. These impacts are testament to our core beliefs of authenticity, trusted adviser and an ability to deliver.

There is no finishing line in business and complacency is a danger zone that every entrepreneur should avoid entering into. After a decade of passionately supporting the entrepreneurial business, we ourselves have moved up a gear in terms of our growth plans and ambitions. Helped by a £2.5M investment last year, I am delighted to announce a new look Winning Pitch – one that’s aims to deepen even further our profile and brand in the SME growth space. Growth SMEs are going to be even more important to local, regional and national economies over the next decade; they are the job generators, the source of innovation, graduate jobs and foreign earnings. I want Winning Pitch to be at the heart of making these businesses succeed – with clarity of vision, superior propositions, strong leadership and teams, an ability to live in the customers world as well good housekeeping and financial strategy and control, everything is possible.

I want to carry on supporting individuals to grow and helping the next generation of stars to accelerate their performance and win. More specifically, we want to give more attention to those companies that can scale their operation. These are the businesses with global potential, they become bedrocks of local economies by delivering jobs, this in turn helps communities to prosper and thrive. We will be placing increased emphasis on this unique set of companies, whose business support needs are more sophisticated and complex to deliver.

I look forward to another ten years of innovation and obsessive focus on unlocking entrepreneurial ambition. We will continue to build and expand the Winning Pitch entrepreneurial community by giving courageous individuals the trusted guidance they need to achieve both profitable growth and a business they can be proud of.


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.


Spinouts – Scaling Up

26/01/2015

This blog was written for Spinouts UK Quarterly Journal 2015. You can join their distribution list by emailing research@ycf.co.uk

Most spinout companies from universities have the ambition to be companies of scale. If they are to win significant investment at an early stage, they will need to demonstrate that they have a ‘road map’ to enable them to establish a strong position in their chosen market.

However, this ‘road map’ passes through different stages, each of which places different demands on the company founders. Initially, the spinout founders will be immensely relieved to have completed the spinout process itself, with the knotty issues of IP ownership, and the relationship of the academic founders with the university. The next stage is generally one of spending (on prototypes, clinical trials, and other proofs of technology) rather than selling. As a very broad generalisation, academics in spinout companies are more comfortable with the ongoing research and development (which is in many ways similar to their academic work) than in market analysis, recruitment and team building, or the management of premises, financial records, and all the other administrative tasks which are essential to get a startup company on its feet.

The next stage is growth. For all young companies, whether spinouts or not, there are natural barriers to growth. Winning Pitch identifies the most important of these as the emotional cost and the financial cost.

The emotional cost to the individuals involved is usually manifested in self imposed pressure, and in the uncertainty that demands resilience and mental toughness to keep going when the inevitable road blocks are presented.

A scale up company is defined as one that grows its employee or turnover at a rate of 20 per cent per annum over a three-year period, and the financial costs of doing this can rack up very quickly – the cost of recruiting new talent, and of raising finance, professional fees, new premises, IT infrastructure and administrative costs can shoot through the roof. Costs must be controlled and the execution of a growth plan needs to be effectively choreographed – clear roles need to be defined, people need to be accountable for delivering on their tasks. Very rarely can growth be achieved without impacting on profitability.

This is why the majority of the 500,000 of last year’s new startups will never go on to employ one person never mind 10, and also why over 99% of UK firms employ fewer than 50 people. Very often it’s the financial cost of growth that holds individuals back.

What does this mean for academics spinning out a new company from a university?

The main point to recognise is that no one entrepreneur can build a business alone – it takes a team, combining the different skills needed to grow the business. The second point to recognise is that as the team grows, different leadership challenges emerge as the culture of the business evolves. At Winning Pitch we refer to the ‘growth staircase’, with different challenges as the number of staff increases. When the company reaches 7-12 people, the entrepreneur has become an ‘entrepreneurial social worker’. At 25 or more people, the business culture becomes ‘the team vs. the mob’. With 50 or more staff, the business needs to evolve towards a corporate culture, where processes need to be standardised and continually improved, with less scope for individual innovation. Individuals who can take a company through all these stages are rare indeed, and academic entrepreneurs do well to realise that at some stage in the company’s development, the business will be best served if the reins are handed over to others with practical experience of running a large and growing company.


The importance of mindset change in personal and business growth

07/01/2015

The start of the year brings for many of us the desire to set new goals and ambitions, make resolutions and take on new challenges. Going to the gym, losing weight, less alcohol and for many a clear intention to accelerate our careers and do better. It is common for entrepreneurs to set a new vision and aim higher and achieve bigger and better things for their business.

What happens in most cases, whether it’s a personal or business goal, the fizz and excitement tends to die away and by the end of February, it’s back to business as usual – wading through the treacle of another year! Despondency sets in and many just accept their lot. Why does this happen? I believe that it’s down to the failure of hard wiring and embracing a mindset change. Change is one of the hardest things to accomplish and the reality is personal, lifestyle and business change does not happen if you can’t ‘proactively change your mental state’ period.

Change is both painful and challenging. A study in the US showed just how challenging establishing new habits can be, even in life or death situations. Here’s an extreme example – a study of patients who had undergone coronary heart surgery concluded that only one in nine on average adopted healthier day to day lifestyles following their medical treatment. The remainder saw the benefit of healthier living habits but they did not follow through to make it happen.

Change in mindset requires us to create new mental maps and clearly visualise just what a better future looks like. This clarity of expectation emerges only when obsessive focus is brought to new things we want to achieve, this concentrated thinking starts to shape reality. Change in my experience needs three things to happen – find and define the trigger – why do you need to change? Focus on the Things That Matter (TTM), then most important of all take small nudges towards your new destination. Execution is vital.

To support this process you must regularly ‘check in’ with yourself to ensure that you are awake and not dreaming. Only in a state of self-awareness can you decide whether you are moving forward or living in a daylight trance.


10 Ways to prepare your mind for high performance

18/12/2014

“So how do leaders shift from lower states of mind to higher states of mind and improve their effectiveness and performance?” This was a question posed on Harvard Business Review forum I contribute to; here were my thoughts and contributions to the debate

Its simple. It all starts with what you think about. We must listen very carefully to the internal conversations we have with ourselves. The key to moving from ‘downbeat’ to ‘upbeat’ is:

1. Be aware of the internal negative conversation – address it

2. Create space to think ‘fresh positive thoughts’

3. Speak to positive people who lift your spirits

4. Tune in to the things that lift your soul – sport, music, hobbies, personal passions

5. Write down your thoughts and combat negativity with a ‘+ve to do list’

6. Keep away from negative people at all costs

7. Connect with nature – walk the dog, go for a run

8. Remember most of the things we worry about don’t actually happen

9. Think in the present and get on with it, keep experimenting!

10. Die a happy death. Morbid thought, but a powerful motivator to take action now!

The way you think governs the way you behave and act. Beware of what you are thinking about.

The ability to master the mind is what differentiates ‘winners’ from ‘runners up’. The real entrepreneurial stars are the ones who manage to consistently switch into their higher state when needed – I would describe this state as being one were individuals view both opportunity and challenge within a positive and courageous mental framework.