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 >>>

Avoid energy sappers – surround yourself with energisers

03/07/2015

There are two groups of people that you will come across in your quest to grow your business – one group will provide inspiration, the other will drain you of energy and make you question your very being. These groups involve:

Energisers – These are the people that view life as one big opportunity. They are motivated individuals who set ambitious goals and constantly look out for the next big thing. They are people on a mission. Their positive outlook on life is built up on clarity of thought and a desire to genuinely make a difference. They are warm and welcoming to others and they refrain from judging what people do and don’t do. Energisers create a positive environment and their positive mindset is genuinely borne out of a sense to do good. These individuals have a sound reputation because they deliver on what they say they will do and their sense of direction is clear to everyone they come into contact with. Energisers can make the unthinkable a reality.

Sappers – These are the individuals who view life as one big problem. Such people have no sense of personal clarity and their lack of vision makes them quick to judge others that have. They are envious of other people’s success and in the worst case, organisational saboteurs. Sappers are to be avoided at all cost as they can quite easily suppress the desires and motivations of ambitious people. All too often in organisations we experience the work of “sappers” – their behaviour manifests itself as gossip, rumour mongering – they become the architects of bad feeling and their negativity brings an unhealthy atmosphere of discontent. Success is difficult enough without having to deal with such people

It is vital that your desire for success is only communicated to those with a genuine heart felt interest in your success. Energisers should form the most significant part of your own personal network. Whilst energisers are positive in their outlook, they are also pragmatic and can view situations and opportunities with ruthless simplicity. They will tell you how they see it, however this will be communicated with candour and respect – be sure to associate with these individuals.

Energisers are the mental stimulants we need to keep going, they become the booster we so dearly need in tough times. Energy sappers are the disease that eats away at our internal motivation and dreams.

You must become an energiser, because in turn you will attract others, this magnetic effect starts to create a group of people that think in the same way. With sufficient critical mass these individuals start to make massive change within our communities. The Impressionist movement in Paris in the early 1800’s and Motown in the 1950’s both came about by groups of Energisers – energetic individuals with a passion to do something big – Energisers spark off each other, they debate and enthuse. They are the pioneers that work out new possibilities that deliver ground breaking ideas – they help us grow our businesses!

Energisers can change the world, make sure that you are surrounded by them!


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!


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.


The high growth entrepreneurial mindset

05/03/2015

I am a great believer that successful high growth entrepreneurs embrace the right mindset for success. My second book Success Factor – Master the Secret of a Winning Mindset outlines my thoughts on the secret sauce of the way they think – here they are:

1. Define your personal intentions and align them to the things you love doing. With this sense of purpose and clarity you can then begin the journey to achieving what you desire from your life, business or profession. Remember alignment must be achieved between personal and professional intentions – they cannot work in isolation.

2. Prepare yourself for the journey by creating the right mental conditions. Resilience and mental toughness are directly related to your sense of purpose. If you give up after the first hurdle then your purpose is not strong enough! It wont be easy! Be careful about what you think about! That’s what you will get.

3. Personal responsibility for your actions means that you will make choices and not sacrifices. Belief in yourself is a key part of the way to think – if you don’t believe in yourself then no one will! When things go wrong don’t fall to victim mentality as this gives rise to a whole series of self defeating internal discussions – become the master of your own destiny.

4. Taking action must quickly follow all the thinking. Success is down to 20% thinking and 80% doing. Strategies emerge when we take action – strategy comes alive in the execution – it is this action that creates serendipity – people will often talk about getting lucky! Success Factor believes that luck is the product of intense activity and personal clarity! We then start to walk the path of our destiny.

5. Embrace the spirit of cooperation and working with a team ethos. Going it alone can be a tiresome and difficult journey. Caring and working with others can be the catalyst for us reaching our destination. Finding those who can support our shortcomings and plug the gap in our performance, can make things happen smoother and quicker.

6. Learning to lead ourselves before we lead others is vital. Once self-leadership has been mastered the leadership of other can commence. This means we must foster an environment that create the conditions for success to flourish, we coach those we are supporting, we communicate with impact and we ensure those under our leadership conform to the rules.

7. Playing by the rules is an essential part of long-term sustainable success – we must observe the value of humility and operating by a set of values that show caring for others and our environment. Practicing the philosophy of giving before we receive warm the hearts of others and is visible representation of the fact that we live a life of integrity – our reputation is often all we have to trade.

8. Engaging with others and building win – win relationships is a vital step to success. By embracing a mindset that life is truly a pitch we begin to recognise that competition means that we have to sell to get what we want – this could be our skill and expertise, qualifications, talents or products and services. By active listening and marrying carefully our proposition to what others want – we start to build relationships.

9. A creative mindset helps us to truly stand out from the crowd. Creative capital is often viewed as the ultimate source of competitive advantage because it unlocks our imagination – drives innovative thought and delivers remarkable differentiated results. Keeping a fresh mind and outlook enables us to remain ahead of the game and become memorable to those we need to influence.

10. Going the extra mile by doing things others wont do will get you remembered. Life has become extremely competitive which means there are far more applicants than jobs, more suppliers than contracts, less places on popular courses. The only way to get the edge is by digging deep and going one step further than others.

 


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.


Scale up companies – The cost of growth

03/12/2014

The scaling of companies is a topic I have been interested in for some years. More specifically why don’t more entrepreneurs go for more ambitious growth? 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. Taking entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley the home of scale ups, motivating founders to raise the bar through coaching and creating communities of like-minded business people have all featured in my quest to create more of them. My experience tells me that those who decide to have a go recognise there are two principle costs to growth. These costs are presented in two forms. Firstly, the emotional cost to the individuals involved, this usually manifests in self imposed pressure and the uncertainty that demands resilience and mental toughness to keep going when the inevitable road blocks are presented.

Growth Staircase

The second cost is money hemorrhaging from the till – this is the investment. Pivotal to building infrastructure and embedding the platforms companies of scale require. Within a scale up business costs can rack up very quickly – recruiting new talent, cost 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, sounds like a statement of the obvious, however as Sherlock Holmes said – There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.’

Coming to terms with the two principle costs of growth is the very reason why the majority of the 500,000 of last year’s new start up’s will never go on to employ one person never mind 10. It’s also why over 99% of UK firms employ less than 50 people. Busting through the natural ceilings of growth requires entrepreneurs to pass the alignment test – once head, heart and wallet are in sync then growth can at least have the chance to happen. Without it, business as usual prevails. So often it’s the financial cost of growth that holds individuals back – once you can get over it in your mind and accept the facts, only then can you move on. This is a hiatus that many entrepreneurs reach – very few get through it.

The UK needs more companies of scale; it’s these businesses that bring about the added value to the economy – innovation, graduate jobs, links to HE and hopefully international trade. Lets give ambitious individuals the trusted advice they deserve. It’s only with a good team around you that you can move forward in an aligned fashion.


8 Essential ingredients of a high growth mindset

23/10/2014

The issue of what constitutes a high growth entrepreneurial mindset is one that has fascinated me for years. We saw in yesterday’s press that 50% of new start ups fail within five years, a recent report from leading accountants MazarsHow to be a stand out SME – showed that very few SMEs grow beyond the micro stage (10 staff). Across Europe, 92% of companies have fewer than 10 employees. Surely not all of these entrepreneurs fail to have a business model that lacks the potential to scale – there must be other issues that lead to what is almost a shopkeeper mentality. My frustration is that I see day in day out companies with massive potential, however the founders often fail to recognise that, with more motivation, much greater value could be created for themselves stakeholders and their family’s. So what holds them back? It’s their pedestrian mindset – If they only had more fire in their belly!

Whilst I would never encourage a business owner to go for growth, if they genuinely did not want it, my experience is that many do want to achieve more – I would say its more than 70% do. My conclusion is the wrong state of mind holds too many entrepreneurs back from greater thingstheir mindset is not tuned into the reality of what it takes to grow. Having a great business idea and tight control over key functions and processes is only part of the success equation. It’s also about having a high performing mental attitude. Mindset is a hugely complex area with many constituent parts. Here is my simple view on the top 8 ingredients that deliver a high growth, high performance mindset:

Desire and intention – every action flows from genuine desire and personal intention. I want to grow my business is easy to say but hard to do. Desire is observed when entrepreneurs practice the 20% thinking and 80% doing rule. Growth entrepreneurs talk about what they have done not what they are going to do. Strong personal intentions create a performance culture mindset and go the extra mile mentality.

Sell, Sell, Sell – every successful entrepreneur knows that without a sale, there is no business, period. Thomas Edison, said I don’t invent anything I can’t sell, how true. I am constantly amazed at how many businesses are started on the basis of an idea with no attention paid to customers or does anyone want to buy this? Selling is not a dirty word; great entrepreneurs are great sales people – get comfortable with it!

Mental resilience – an ability to cope with the random nature of business supported by an ability to get back up when the chips are down is one of the most defining traits of a winner’s mindset.

Self-awareness –there is no way one person can do it all, winners create an effective team and call on the support of others. The inability of a founder/entrepreneur to recognise their own failings will inevitably lead to slow growth. Better decisions are made when entrepreneurs actively encourage trusted team members to contribute and to input to debate. Accelerated growth only happens when the founder starts to let go of parts of the business.

Creativity – the invisible force that drives innovation and ultimately creates a fantastic culture – it also underpins a positive memorable customer experience. Great entrepreneurs have an ability to embrace ambiguity, they are curious, they experiment with new ideas, and they take action. New sales ultimately result.

Self- belief – If you believe you can, you can, if you believe you cant then you’re correct. A belief in ones ability is a good starting point for any growth entrepreneur. Growing a business can be very tough, along the ways critics emerge who drain enthusiasm and energy. Successful entrepreneurs have an ability to close off to negative energy. Very often in a growth business such negativity emerges from the market place and scarily from staff. BYC – Believe You Can.

Clarity – don’t be surprised if you don’t end up at your destination if you don’t know where you are going. Successful entrepreneurs have a vision of what they want to achieve in the marketplace – revenue, profit, market and customers and business model.

Higher purpose – a desire to change a market place, solve a burning issue or address an unfulfilled need is a massive motivator for many entrepreneurs. Higher purpose provides a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Without a reason, business becomes mundane, passion disappears and people disengage. Personal and business performance suffers. A clearly defined higher purpose and reason instills a desire to serve.

There are many other components but being aware of the above is a great starting point. Create foundations for growth by getting your head.