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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7 thoughts on dealing with the pressure and loneliness of running a business

30/09/2014

One of the LinkedIn groups I am a member of, asked if anyone had any tips on how to attain a good work/life balance and deal with the pressure and loneliness (at times) of being a company leader. As I got a few likes on my response, I thought I would share it on my blog.

I have always had a keen interest in the entrepreneurial mindset, in fact I have written a book on it as well. Having observed lots of successful business people over the years, it would appear that those who win, have good housekeeping embedded in their company, strong customer focus and one that often gets overlooked – mental toughness and resilience.

Growing a business is a roller coaster and you should expect the unexpected, period. The loneliness of running a business is a reoccurring comment made by individuals I meet – here are some thoughts:

  1. Many of the things we worry about are of are own making – be careful of the conversations you have with yourself, they can be extremely destructive
  2. Create space to think – success is 20% thinking and 80% doing. So many business people forget the importance of ‘time to think’ (I walk my dog for 2 hours a day over the Lancashire Moors).
  3. Have 2-3 people whose views you respect and trust – give them a call.
  4. Get involved with entrepreneurial networks – we are all worrying about the same things. Be open and share.
  5. Aim to build a great team who can share the burden.
  6. Life is short – remind yourself that a late payment is not the end of the world. Far worse things could happen.
  7. Maintain good health – without it… Say no more.

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!


Growth Entrepreneur – the much referred to lonely journey

31/08/2012

Successful entrepreneurs so often talk about the feeling of isolation they experience when pursing their desired aims and objectives. The journey to a bigger job, the quest to build your own business or being at the helm of an organisation where the buck stops with you can create a sense of overwhelming burden. Such feelings can be difficult to switch on and off as they can hang over our very existence. Striving for success invariably involves expeditions into the unknown where situations, circumstances, cultures or environments can trigger immense insecurity. Making the right decisions becomes the central focus of our intention as delivering the wrong ones could effect both our own or other peoples future, they could result in financial hardship, losing face with others, humiliation and as a worst case damage your health.

The preoccupation with getting the decisions right has all the danger signs of isolating ourselves from others. We must take positive steps to ensure that we don’t withdraw into ourselves and find channels that turn the feeling of loneliness into one that ensures we have an effective support infrastructure around us –this becomes the route by which we answer the question of who motivates the motivator.

In the process of moving towards a successful and fulfilling life and career we can take some simple steps to combating loneliness:

Smile – don’t signal your loneliness to your peers and other that you are trying to influence. This could have an adverse effect on how you are perceived. Also remember life is too short to be miserable.

Friends – we all have friends outside of work make sure you talk to them. They are a great source of support and advice

Learn – new situations and environments will require new knowledge – the more you know the more confident you become, the less isolated you feel

Be friendly – be nice to everyone you meet, it makes people warm to you and you feed off their energy

Attend events – networking events where like minded people congregate provide an ideal opportunity to share experience and war stories.

Ambassadors – build relationships with people that support your points of view. Ensure that you communicate with them and keep them in the loop of what you are thinking and doing – they become your extended voice

You may feel alone and isolated but you must take comfort in the fact that at some point in their progression to success others have felt exactly the same. Remember at some point in the future you will be able to share with others how you coped and made it through those lonely days and nights


Success Factor For High Growth Entrepreneurs

12/02/2012

Success Factor is my second book and it has not been given the attention it deserved over the last 12 months, the main reason being the focus on several major tenders. I am now back onto it, with bags of momentum.

I am a great believer that successful high growth entrepreneurs embrace the right mindset for success, here is the summary:

The ten steps to a winning mindset involve:

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.


Small business owners ‘ready to give up’ (what?)

24/01/2012

This was the headline finding of a report compiled by Aviva and covered in today’s Daily Mail. It went on to read “a quarter of small business owners say the economic outlook is so bleak they would rather return to being an employee”. Given the job I do I am more than aware of the pressures and challenges entrepreneurs face, but why is the media constantly pushing out such bad news.

Negativity of this nature can condition ambitious people to hang up their boots up, we must balance all of this with celebrating the successes of many entrepreneurs who have decided not to participate in recession.

Headlines like this do nothing for the spirit or culture of enterprise. A brighter way of looking at the future is looking at the great successes of the past:

General Electric – formed by Edison when US economy faced collapse.

IBM – set up in the middle of a US economy slump

General Motors – went buying spree when the Federal Reserve was approaching melt down

Disney – took off smack bang in the middle of the Great Depression

Microsoft – founded in the middle of a phase of stagflation

CNN – started in a “double dip” recession

Apple– thrived just after the dot-com bubble burst!

These are the messages we should be putting out into the market. One of the key ingredients for business success is the mental toughness of the entrepreneurial team – please can we stop with the doom and gloom – we all know things are tough, stop pushing it in our face. To quote Jim Collins (again) great leaders face the brutal facts but they maintain absolute faith and belief in what they set out to achieve.

Well I am sure Aviva did the research with all best intentions, but this is  my advice to those thinking of packing in:

1. Remember the very reason why you set up on your own

2. Get involved with a network/group and speak to other business owners, ask them for their advice

3. Find a mentor – someone to lean on

4. STOP – take a day off and try to rise above your business situation

5. Surround yourself with positive people

6. Stop listening to enterprising assassins

7. Be aware of negative thinking and reframe with positive thoughts

Challenges are all part of the business growth journey, many of us would be lost without the pain. More success and good news stories PLEASE.


Resilience – A characteristic of ambitious entrepreneurs

19/06/2011

The last five years of reviewing and observing how high growth entrepreneurs go about their job has revealed many interesting behaviours. One of the most valuable is the power of resilience – an ability to maintain momentum when everything seems to be going pear-shaped. When you listen to the stories of those who have achieved something of significance in business, it almost seems mandatory to have suffered financial, commercial and emotional hardship. Many I speak to recite their story of misfortune with total clarity and passion. They talk with great pride how they turned difficult times into prosperity and growth.Without having gone through the pain of managing difficult times business wisdom is hard to acquire.

 

I believe the underlying force that enables people to keep going is the power of purpose and having faith in their mission. Whilst many had a realistic view of the reality of difficult times ahead, whether that be running out of cash, revenues declining or challenging economic conditions they never lost sight of what they set out to achieve. The burning sense of purpose and intention creates resilience and an ability to keep plodding on. Without a clear sense of what you want to achieve and deep-rooted desire, falling at the first hurdle is almost inevitable.

Success is underpinned by a strong sense of purpose and clarity of intention. This creates resilience in those dark times.