Courage and its role in growth

11/06/2015

Fear of the unknown can have a massive impact on our ability to realise our business dreams. Virtually anyone who has succeeded in their profession, career or sport has been able to overcome their inner fears. Fear comes in many shapes and forms, it could be:

  • Fear of losing a big contract
  • Fear of being unable to provide for our family
  • Fear of speaking in public
  • Fear of providing personal guarantees to the bank to support growth
  • Fear of taking on that new overseas market
  • Fear of investing in the infrastructure needed to take the business to the next level

In many instances, fear is an emotion we create in our own mind and it often results from negative self-talk. Fear can hold us back from doing what we want to do and what we want to achieve – it acts as a barrier to personal and business progression. The emotional turmoil created by fear stunts our personal growth, creates self-limiting beliefs and leads to a lacklustre performance that will not get you your desired outcome.

By getting into the habit of confronting our fears, we release the internal brakes of the mind. This allows us to move forward with our personal intentions to create the life and career we desire. Mind conditioning is required if we are going to overcome the fears that hold us back. We must get into the habit of listening to those fears but asking ourselves – how real are they? Do away with those fears by:

  • Taking small steps to overcome those fears by forcing yourself to take action
  • Visualise the outcome you want – not the fear factor
  • Ask yourself how real is the fear?
  • Dispel the invisible audience that fear creates in the mind
  • How much do you want success? If you can’t do away with the fear, disappointment will result
  • Exhibit courage

Surrendering to fear will hold you back, don’t fall victim to it. Take positive steps to embrace fear and push through it. Once in the habit, you will never look back – almost anything becomes a possibility.

Courage is one of the most important qualities a leader needs to acquire, without out it you can’t overcome fear, you stand still and accept the status quo. In the words of Aristotle – “you will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind to honour”

Growing a business can be a scary thing to do; it generates lots of fears. Only when you get courageous can you move things forward.


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 power of escape time – the key to better decision-making

18/05/2015

Growing a business involves continuously making decisions about staff, customers, finance, suppliers, recruitment…the list is never ending. In the early days of growth, the founders have to be all things to the business; the necessity to think quickly and act fast becomes a hard-wired behavior, one that is very hard to shake off.

Start up businesses are characterised by their founders putting in long shifts – working on the tools during the day and ensuring the admin and paperwork is in order at night. Very little time to think about the strategic growth and direction, the ‘doing’ becomes an all-encompassing characteristic of being self employed. Working ‘in the business’ rather than ‘on the business’ becomes the norm. Here lies the dilemma for the ambitious individual who wants to take their business to the next level – how do I find time to think?

My experience shows that those entrepreneurs who make time to get rid of the interference of the day to day and tune into what really matters are the ones who make better decisions and ultimately build better businesses. The challenge is not feeling guilty about taking time to:

  • Step back and think things through
  • Consult with a mentor or adviser to work through a particular challenge
  • Recharge the brains battery
  • Operate at arms length from the business for a short while (energy management)

More often than not entrepreneurs are guilt-ridden if they take any time to pause for thought. That compelling feeling to be first in and last out of the office leaves a massive void in the need for strategic clarity. Neither time nor energy management benefit from such an approach to growing a business. The years of needing to be hands on creates the illusion of being productive and the macho image of the 24/7 life makes us feel good – this firefighting approach to the daily grind often delivers no strategic added value whatsoever.

As your company gets bigger so does the complexity of the decision-making. You cant run a growing business with the exact same mindset of that of a start up. Whilst the need to be innovative and nimble should never leave the culture of a business, escape time becomes the critical success factor for high quality decision-making. A winning business needs the leaders to get the right mix of thinking and doing. Escape time (whatever that means to you) becomes such an important part of the entrepreneur’s personal growth. Without it you become a busy fool – don’t be surprised if you can’t see the wood for the trees. Breakthroughs and inspired new ideas only come during periods of calm, and calm only happens during times of escape.

winning-pitch.co.uk


Academic achievement must go hand in hand with an entrepreneurial mindset

30/04/2015

The next three months will see universities churning out thousands of very proud new graduates – BA Hons, BSc’s the lot. A great education with brains packed full of new learning, knowledge and facts. But why do so many fail to find a job? How many of these bright new graduates have had their prospects limited by the conditioning of the external environment? These young adults have been supported in life skills and getting their head in shape for the next stage of their life. How many walk away with a personal growth plan that defines very clearly how to move their life on and make the best of their three years spent at university? How many have thought creatively about next steps… charity work, setting up their own business, free lancing using specialist skills they have acquired?

My view, is that we have some of the best academic institutions in the world and we create some of the finest talent, but so many never realise their potential and end up in jobs that fall way below their true capability – futures that lack direction, bouncing around from one job to another. It’s no use having a long list of qualifications if you don’t put them to best use. More effort and energy should be put into developing the creative and entrepreneurial mindsets that drive ambition and ultimately greater achievement. If you cant find a job why not create your own and set up in business? We need to see more graduate entrepreneurship.

I speak from experience, I left university in 1986 with a degree in Chemistry – great technical skills, but struggled having conversations, making presentations and generally selling myself to potential employers – no skills for life. I am not sure much has changed to be honest – I had to work it out for myself. We need to equip this next generation with a more rounded experience thereby allowing them to combine great academic qualifications with a mindset conducive to achievement and releasing personal potential. We must remember that we get what we think about. The universities are a rich seam of next generation entrepreneurs, work is needed to getting them started.

Are the cap and gown, the photograph that hangs on mum and dads wall and the handshake from the university chancellor the best send off we can give them? As well as the well-earned degree certificate, they should all leave with a “plan for life” or maybe a plan for their own business.


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.