Let’s talk… Leadership

At the helm of every great company is a great leader. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson… Home-grown heroes like Melanie Perkins, Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes… All are wildly successful, their praises sung far and wide. However, each runs a business that’s underpinned by their own unique vision. It makes one wonder… what, if anything, do these leaders and others of their ilk have in common?

That’s the question we put to 30 entrepreneurs and industry experts, this week, for our exclusive “Let’s Talk…” feature centering on leadership. As more than a few commentators pointed out, the best leaders possess a high level of emotional intelligence, acknowledge and account for their limitations, and focus on empowering the people around them. Other universal traits, identified by this week’s line-up, included integrity and focus as well as resilience and the ability to make hard decisions – they won’t take ‘no’ for an answer (or they can shrug it off) and they’re not afraid to say ‘no’ to people or idea.

Read on to find out what this week’s commentators – many of whom are leaders in their own organisations – had to say.

“What do all the best business leaders have in common?”

Tammy Butow, Co-founder, Girl Geek Academy: “A good business leader understands that the people are the heart of an organisation. They spend time and invest in developing their team, which involves consistently supporting them to learn and develop in new ways. A strong leader also understands the importance of diversity in an organisation and will focus on building a great team from day one. This was my aim when founding Girl Geek Academy – we started out with five talented co-founders with a diverse set of skills, who can work collaboratively across many disciplines within the organisation. Another trait of a good business leader is perseverance; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were sustainable, scalable businesses.”

Kevin Spiteri, Founder, Menace Group & Author (‘I Just Want It To Work’): “After years working both sides of the fence – in marketing agencies and large multi-national businesses – I’ve encountered a number of different management and leadership styles. The best leaders, from Gary Vaynerchuk to Richard Branson are those who are authentic in everything they do.

“To lead, you need to not only be genuine and consistent in your personal brand, but also be open to feedback and always actively seeking to improve. The best leaders can adapt their leadership style to work with different people and empower them to take ownership of projects, problem solve and act as ‘intrapreneurs’ driving their business forward.”

Nathan Birch, Co-founder & CEO, Binvested: “A great leader is someone who empowers employees to think creatively and problem-solve. In this way, they ensure staff not only play an active role in driving the business towards its goals but are also inspired by the company’s vision and feel like they’re part of something bigger (not just cogs in a machine).

“The best leaders have in common the ability to build a forward-thinking culture where staff walk the talk, and are able to step back and assess the big picture. Leaders need to be able to make the hard decisions that will move a business to where it needs to be. Much like investing in property, they need to be able to make smart decisions in line with an end-goal, not making emotionally-driven snap decisions.”

Julie Demsey, General Manager of SBE Australia: “I have found that the best business leaders encompass five, key qualities:

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – leaders with a high EQ are relatable and empathetic to their team and their business. They are also highly regarded because of these traits.
Authenticity – leaders who show up and are themselves, believe in their cause and are genuinely passionate about what they do. They engage with the people they work with and have a conversation with them over reciting canned messages.
Transparency – leaders who have open conversations with their team so that they always know where they stand. There is no fear. Teams who have fear or lack of trust do not perform as well. When you have transparency, people are comfortable sharing ideas.
Vulnerability – leaders who show up and don’t come across as superior. You don’t need to know everything, you should be hiring people who are smarter than you. Showing weakness does not mean you’re not a strong leader, it means you are very self-aware and you value others for their strengths. This in turn breeds trust, loyalty and engagement.
Listening skills – leaders who talk over people are going to miss out on so much valuable discussion, insight and knowledge. Leaders need to be able to listen, encourage conversation and let their teams shine.”
Dean Taylor, Founder & CEO, Cracka Wines: “Leadership requires a clear vision and mission for your business, to drive it forward. Keeping it real and staying true to who you are, no matter how big you grow is important! The best leaders can innovate and respond quickly to change, e.g. can quickly bring on new staff when needed and can quickly make the hard decisions, like letting go of staff that aren’t working out.

“Leaders are connectors and listeners, and are driven by an unwavering passion to improve people’s lives through their work. They know their ‘Why’ and inspire others to share their vision. They surround themselves with those who have complimentary skill sets and build trust with staff and customers alike.”

Andrew Barnes, Co-founder & CEO, GO1: “Being genuinely humble and always curious. I’ve met some amazing people (from Bill Clinton to self-made billionaires) and the best leaders consistently have a deep interest in listening and learning from what others have to say.”

Terry Gold, Managing Director, Techstars Adelaide: “The best business leaders know their limitations and are willing to let go. At some point in their journey, most business leaders find themselves at a crossroads where they need to choose between the next stage of growth and keeping control. In my experience, the best leaders are those who know their strengths and weaknesses and are able to let go and bring in the expertise that they don’t have into the organisation.

“Another commonality amongst the best business leaders is their willingness and interest to pay it forward. To be generous with their time and give back to their community, whether that’s grabbing coffee with new leaders or becoming a mentor to startups.”

Tanya Titman, Founder of Acceler8: “The best leaders have a high level of emotional intelligence – arguably, they need 85% emotional intelligence compared to 15% technical knowledge. The most technically accurate accountant in the world is not going to be the best business leader unless they know how to get the most out of their staff. Leaders who understand people’s motivation and communicate style are more likely to influence change. I use Extended DISC profiling to understand staff’s communication styles and insights from NeuroPower to understand staff’s core beliefs and strategic mindsets.”

Greg Taylor, Group VP (APAC), New Relic: “The best business leaders I’ve known have all lived by a core set of values that underpin how they do business and make business decisions. I believe that the leaders who are clear on their values are typically more effective, productive, and confident business leaders.

Culture starts at the top, and I’ve seen how this can impact a company for the better or for the worse. When a leader has a strong core set of values, it can have an amazing impact on a team’s culture and potential.

“From my perspective, there are five reasons why values form the bedrock of great business leaders:

Values guide business decisions
Values strengthen your ability to influence
Values create clarity
Values reduce stress
Values guide your actions.”
William On, Co-founder & joint CEO, Shippit: “Great business leaders have self-awareness and people skills. Surrounding yourself with people who have strengths in areas you lack is as much about understanding your own weaknesses. With the best communication skills and ability to get the best out of relationships, great leaders can get the most out of the people around them.”

Mark Gustowski, Acting CEO, QUT Creative Enterprise Australia: “I’ve worked with hundreds of startup founders but the leaders I’ve watched become success stories have all had one trait in common…The inability to accept ‘no’. In their eyes, ‘no’ is never ‘no’ forever; merely a jumping off point for later relationship building and negotiations.

“Building relationships through demonstrating a high degree of empathy and storytelling techniques have always struck me as core strengths of a standout leader. Across every aspect of business is a need to connect. A skilled storyteller can engage and capture a person’s attention in a truly authentic way, and whether the narrative is being told for the purpose of gaining investment, garnering co-working opportunities, securing global partnerships, or appealing to customers or collaborators, an empathetic narrator will always leave a lasting impact.

“A true leader needs to have enormous grit in everything they task. They need to have a burning passion within them that drives them every day to prove people wrong. Being able to be told to ‘go away’ and still come back time and time again to ask for something without restraint shows huge determination and tenacity; both vital elements needed to ensure that a team or business is driven to global success.”

James McKinnon, Co-founder, Sittr: “Without a doubt, I think the most under-discussed leadership trait is resilience. When we talk about business leaders we often focus on traits like intelligence, vision or charisma but I believe this only relates to a small proportion of leaders. Anyone who has started or leads a business needs to have resilience.

“This is because, as a leader, you can expect to hear “no” many more times that you hear “yes”. Whether it’s from investors, customers, or even employees – leaders need to deal with ‘no’ every day. For example, the founders of Airbnb were turned down by seven prominent Silicon Valley investors before they found someone that believed in them.

“Sometimes the ‘no’ people are right. Sometimes they just don’t see the world the same way as you. The ability to hear a “no”, shrug it off, and keep pushing towards your end goal is the trait that all the best business leaders have in common.”

Rafi Katanasho, CTO & Solution Sales VP (APJ), Dynatrace: “The best business leaders are driven by strong beliefs, which shape their vision as well as their company’s culture.

These leaders also have a laser focus on customers and customer experience. Those that obsess over their customers and always look for ways to provide a delightful customer experience with every interaction are the most successful.

Finally, good judgement is what separates great business leaders from everyone else. Leaders are faced with many daily judgement calls, across many facets of the business, often with very little time. This often requires rapid analysis of short and long-term consequences and then making judgement based on practical wisdom and experience.”

Michael Jankie, CEO, PoweredLocal: “We’re fortunate that we work with business leaders across the country, we sell to them. We get to see who is on the pulse and who is stuck with pre-determined ideas. There are two things we see that great leaders have in common. An acceptance to listen to new ideas. Even if they have seen similar in the past, they understand that over time markets will shift. Myspace was too early, but it didn’t mean that social media was a bad idea.

“The other is emotional intelligence. One of the biggest indicators of mediocrity is when a business leader uses their own opinion on what is good or bad without consultation. Often, we see this masked as stubbornness. The best leaders are those that can recognise and conceptualise the emotions of their customers, staff, teams and advisors and know how to best serve them through leadership.”

Yasmine Gray, Principal, Red Agency Brisbane: “There are a number of qualities required to be a good business leader but no matter what industry you are in, if you have the following you will be more likely to succeed:

“Good listeners– leaders often have strong opinions, ideas and vision, however these can blind you if you don’t have the ability to look around you and see how your plans are affecting your team or your business landscape. Asking the right questions and then listening, truly listening to the answers will enable a leader to make better and more informed decisions that may require an adjustment to the original vision, but will lead to a more successful outcome in the end.
“Patience– leaders often know what they want and how they are going to get there but there is not a leader in the world that doesn’t encounter hurdles and challenges along the way. Most will think it is determination that gets leaders to the top – it’s actually more about having the patience to deal with road blocks and plot a new course to get to where you were going regardless of how long it will take or how difficult the journey is. Patience with your teams will reward you in spades, and let’s remember they are the ones that are going to help to get you to where you need to be.
“Empowering – good leaders are usually blessed with a range of skills but one of the most important is having the ability to empower those around you. Good leaders are usually inspiring people but inspiration means nothing if you don’t give those around you the sense that they can be a part of it. If your leadership style is one of charging out in front and expecting others to follow this may or may not lead to success. However if you have the ability to empower those around you to take ownership of the steps that will be required, and this may include some hiccups along the way, then you will be able to develop a rock solid team which is of course essential to success.”

Read more here.

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