Leadership: a trial of attitudes and actions

As your enterprise grows, you'll need to develop leadership skills. Iain Edwards, from social business support organisation Firstport, offers some tips for getting it right, starting with considering how to guide a crew paddling a canoe.

Hands up, leadership is one of my favourite topics. It’s vast, it’s polarising and a subject I’m deeply passionate about.

The reality is, that without some form of leadership nothing – but nothing – gets done. Be it granny deciding you’re staying for that extra cup of tea. Or Robert Falcon Scott, driving ever greater effort from an exhausted team: all while marching away from the South Pole, likely feeling a little dejected after Amundsen had beaten him there by a month.

Forests have been laid bare to produce books on leadership, each promoting their learned wisdom, some good and some downright ridiculous. This short article, therefore, can only scratch the surface. So let’s start by anchoring the topic: I’d contend that leadership is simply influence over others by intention.     

As an entrepreneur, social or otherwise, you are by default a leader. Generally, in the early days you may feel isolated and intent on motivating and driving yourself as you nurture an idea into a trading business. Get it right and your business grows. 

Growth beyond your own individual capacity will see you hiring people and leading a team. You’ll need to understand and articulate your vision and the pathway to others, gaining their commitment and effort. You’ll also discover one of the greatest of all business challenges. How do you mix that cocktail of characters in the team, develop the culture and continually balance them to gain best effect, for the present and the future?

Leadership is a cornerstone of any endeavour and it will or should be implicit in all we do. Some do it naturally and for others it becomes a learnable skill. 

I like to use a canoe analogy to illustrate the point. The leader does it from the front, for it’s here that barriers and obstacles are first seen and negotiated. The real value of that leading position comes in passing the message through a succession of team members, all paddling in the same direction to the guy at the back busy with the rudder. 

As the leader you will have invested your spirit, soul and vision and you will, as a matter of course, navigate the challenges ahead. Succeeding or failing – but learning. Yet all the time accountable to your team and customers, focused and executing.


First team players  

You need to fill the boat with first team players, those that are going to contribute and even positively challenge ideas to allow you as leader to maximise potential. Develop your emotional intelligence, as you’ll rely on it massively as you become more engaged in driving the team to deliver your vision. Never doubt that a first team player will generally be strong-willed. It's simple – you must be stronger. Accept their contribution and alloy it with your own to multiply the effect on the business. Incidentally, in those key roles never be afraid to hire someone smarter than you.

Clearly, if it’s the first time you’ve experienced such challenges you’ll be taken outside your comfort zone. Take advice and whatever support might be available and just do it. Get comfortable in that unsteady state because as the leader it’s something you must accept as part of every day. You’ll be learning constantly, experiencing highs and lows in the same rapid fashion. Pushed, pulled, stretched and at times bent way out of shape. All the while presenting yourself as the rock; dependable, assured and in control.

You’ll never stand still in the business. Doing so will precipitate stagnation and your business will die. Even mild bouts of procrastination must be avoided. Grasp the opportunity, manage its attendant risk and execute. In fact, always think action, even when things are calm, running to plan, on time and everyone’s happy. Rethink what you do, read books, learn and evolve the business. 

Live life on the front foot and on the edge of your seat. Work out the unexpected and plan for it, but always remember that something you didn’t consider may strike and will no doubt drive you out of the comfort zone once again. Accept being afraid. Your life will be one of uncertainty and doubt, so it’s only natural that you’ll be uneasy, apprehensive and even scared. Learn to treat people in the way you would like to be treated yourself. You never know when you’ll meet them again. Demand more of your team but even more of yourself.

Having stuck with me thus far, I guess, for many, joining a religious order or having a stress free j.o.b (= Just Over Broke) and going with the flow sounds pretty welcoming. 

Well, it would be if you were willing to forsake freedom, independence and the satisfaction of creating social good. So be relentless, inspire, exemplify – but most of all lead.


Photo credit: Garden State Hiker