This is the good bit, faithful readers; this is what you’ve been waiting for; this is what keeps the airport bookshops in business. I am going to share with you what it takes to be successful. Be warned though, there are no shortcuts, no easy bullet points to follow and no mention of any famous person, living or dead or any of their utterances or homilies. My views are not intended to be definitive or exhaustive. What I am about to serve up today is one man’s humble experiences and thoughts that have come from a long career. Feel free to take from this what you will, discard what you please or laugh up your sleeve or simply tweet nicely together. All I can say is that it worked for me.
Success is relative and I’m no Bill Gates, Roman Abramovich, Richard Branson or even Alan Sugar. But, I’ve got a great family, we eat each day, we take holidays, I’ve got a pension plan and if you wish to find me on Linkedin you can see that I’ve done quite a bit of stuff and I’m happy with my achievements.
To say I was an example of childhood poverty would rob my family of the dignity we had and the love I received. Anyway, the family life we enjoyed was in blissful ignorance of such socio-political concepts or median income reference points. Certainly, a tin bath in front of the fire on Friday evenings never did any of us any harm and weekly bathing was still the norm in our street. However, despite the warmth of family life, I’ll be honest and say that if I had an ambition in my teenage years it was to get as far up the ladder as I could – so if I fell, I’d never fall as far back as my starting point. Fear of failure became my driving force rather than simple ambition.
Looking back, I realise that the greatest gift bequeathed to me from my father was a love of reading. Curled up tight in bed, I would listen intently to the stories he read to me. Later when about seven or eight he delivered me one Saturday morning to the library to join the Young Readers’ Book Club. By age ten I had exhausted the junior library’s stock of books and once more my father took me in hand, across the corridor, into the hushed, enormous room that was the adult library. Being years too young, my father had cleared the way with the chief librarian who nodded sagely at the sight of me and solemnly handed over my very own senior library tickets. Roaming the adult library was, for me, like being let loose in the biggest sweetshop in the world. For hours I would scour the shelves for histories of war, of tortured victims, of great suffering and great escapes, arduous journeys and of adventure in far-flung places. This love of reading has stayed with through life and been a powerful friend.
Leadership qualities? I don’t know to this day if they are inherited or learned but I do believe that whatever you are born with can be improved with learning and application. What I’ve also learnt is that there isn’t one style that’s right for all circumstances. The approach you need for a failing business is very different to that required for a successful and established company. I got my first taste of leadership as patrol leader aged 12 in the scouts and must have done alright because two years later I became troop leader. I got my first business to run at 29 and my second at 31. These were both very successful (a start up and a turnaround) but what I quickly learnt was that I wasn’t an expert at everything and needed to concentrate on building the right team to move forward.
Hubris was lurking just around the corner to trip me up though and despite continued success in my third business, I demonstrated just how effectively I could screw up relationships with the overseas board. Chastened, I licked my wounds and learnt how to objectively take stock of my weaknesses and set about addressing them in my next role. Changing industries, I also learnt how to set about understanding its opportunities, how to build a team to meet the challenges and, critically, how to manage upwards. Life became fun once more.
There’s probably more garbage talked about teamwork than even sex or football. The ideal of the perfect, harmonious team, continuously subjugating all personal gain for the good of the team and the common goal is about as common as the perfect yummy mummy goddess (or the male equivalent, ladies). Getting the job done and reaching the goals year in and year out is difficult enough. Trying to spin all the personal plates and cope with each individual’s hopes and aspirations (however unrealistic these might be) and the vagaries of their personal lives is, frankly, not the easiest. However, if you pick the square pegs for the square holes, ensure you delegate, support and reward appropriately then you aren’t going to do a bad job. And if someone doesn’t work out (after the appropriate procedures and support) then let them go quickly and with dignity.
More on leadership and the qualities that have helped me in part 2 plus the importance of strategy and a few other important things. Feel free to share your views.