Some Thoughts
on Leadership

The Big Secret

I am currently struggling with a dilemma. A business that I helped found and fund is run by a charming man of great personal integrity, an astonsihing work ethic (I have never known anyone who works as hard or can manage the weight of the workload he burdens himself with) and off-the-charts intelligence. He has deep, if not encylopaedic knowledge of his specialist subject and is a recognised and published authority in his field.

He is creative and able to combine knowledge across diverse disciplines in order to arrive at innovative solutions to problems that the business faces, in the way that distinguishes mere technical experts from masters. He is also passionate, dedicated, a family man, simple and unassuming in his personal tastes and loyal to his friends. An ideal partner and founder of a dedicated business, you would think. But you would be wrong, for the simple reason that this talented, personable man cannot lead.

As a result, the business, instead of thriving, is writhing in pain, as his style of management, his inability to delegate, his preference for harmony over professional excellence in his personal circle, his absolute conviction that if he wants anything done to his standards, he will end up having to do it himself and his disinterest in those parts of the business process that are not central to his particular set of skills (but of vital importance to the value that business has been set up to deliver) creates stress, chaos, intransparency and, if allowed to continue, will eventually consume and destroy the business itself.

As someone close to the enterprise and the man, I look with amazement at the mess and stress this has produced and ask myself some fundamental questions about the nature of leadership and why a man with such an abundance of talent and personal quality, should find the task of leadership so daunting and probably so impossible to muster. These are my reflections so far:

1. **Your job is not your job anymore**: In his outstanding book on Entrepreneurship "The E-Myth", Chael E. Gerber makes the critical point that most businesses are started by technically proficient "experts" who feel unable to perform their job properly in their current (employed) position. They are under-appreciated, working for a business that interferes with or deliberately prevents them doing the job they know they excel at and at some point, after months or years of saying "I could do much better than these idiots", they take the plunge and set themselves up on their own. Now they are free to do their job exactly as they have always wanted to do it. But unfortunately, along side their job, they now also have four or five other jobs that they are not only unqualified to do - accounts, sales, tax, support and, of course, dealing with all those time-consuming people problems - they hate doing them. My friend and business partner is definitely one of those, for whom the business of actually running the business, is a distraction from what he really wants to be doing;

2. **Basing a business on the extraordinary talents of one individual is a recipe for disaster**, unless the core value bringing activities can be broken down into systematic processes that ordinary people can work with and perform. In this case, one man, my friend, is the font of all knowledge, the only one who truly understands how the machine works. He has no comprehension of how complex his work is and cannot understand why, after a very quick and cursory debriefing, the beauty of his creation cannot immediately be comprehended. He gets angry and frustrated when, after only the shortest time of leaving his people alone with his creation, it lies broken on the floor, requiring him and him alone to deal with the repair and fall-out from the accident. I don't know how many times I have heard him say in pure exasperation "But I told them what to do" and whilst having no comprehension of how little they truly understood of what he had told them and how deeply irresponsible it was of him to leave them alone with his creation, with no supervision and no system of tracking the results.

3. **Very clever people get bored very quickly**. Successful businesses are built on incremental improvements to systems that produce reliable results every time. Clever people don't like the repetitive, often slow grind of working on systems, particularly when the work in progress has no new challenges to offer them. They are off quicker than a swallow from a barn, looking for new challenges to excite and light up their synapses. Also very clever people can't understand why other, less brilliant minds, cannot see and understand what is obvious to them. They find explaining basic principles and interdependencies tedious and the process of supervision distressing, as it fills them with impatience. These individuals almost always end up doing the work themselves, as the agony of watching others do it badly, more slowly and less intensely than they would, is literally unbearable.

4. **A good leader has to love his business more than his job**. In fact, almost from day one he has start planning and thinking about how he is going to transfer his job onto other shoulders in order to free himself up for the much greater challenge of running the business. That doesn't ever mean that the entrepreneur is not allowed to perform the very tasks that she enjoys so much and at which she excels, but it does mean that the decision to turn those skills into an independant business, with employees and a promise to leverage those skills, the entrepreneur is making a commitment that requires her to transfer that knowledge, those skills and the processes that underly them, into the business and to become independant of themselves. This is a huge undertaking and one that often defies the abilities of the cleverest.

5. **A good leader must be able to hire complementary talent that has demonstrated excellence in areas in which he is weak**, but that are critical to the proper functioning of the business. My friend is appalling at this and it is the single root cause of the worst of the trouble in his business. My friend is motivated by approval and recognition. He wants to be appreciated for the technical mastery of his area of expertise. He is also a thoroughly nice guy, who wants a harmonious work environment. As a consequence he tends to hire people he has known for a long time and who are friendly towards him. He is deeply loyal to them, irrespective of their true qualifications or their ability to assist him in leading the business in growth. This error is compounded, when, as a result of their incompetence, things start going wrong (as they did and always do), he refuses to have the tough conversations with them and hold them to account. Instead he complains about the lack of support and the extra workload that he has to assume to rectify their weaknesses. He seems unable to realise that his stress is the direct result of his own inability to define, attract, hire and supervise the right people for the jobs at hand. In fact the whole prospect of designing a system for hiring and inducting the right people is something he finds distressing and he sees it as a major distraction from his "real" job. In my experience as an investor, of nurturing entrepreneurs and businesses, I would put this down as the single most difficult job and the one that is done least well by the overwhelming majority of entrepreneurs. (I have to admit, that I have too little experience of woman entrepreneurs to know whether this trait is the same in both sexes. What little experience I do have in this matter, suggests to me that female entrepreneurs in similar situations will, by and large, make better decisions, but I would love to receive feedback on this hypothesis).

6. A good leader has to fulfill one of two (preferably both) requirements: Firstly, they must be able to articulate a specific, detailed, consistent **vision for success** of the business (for the best way of doing this, read chapters 6,7 and 9 of Ari Weinzweig's excellent "A lapsed Anarchist's Approach to Building a Better Business" - and / or they must be able to describe precisely the **purpose of the business**, defined as the specific problem(s) that it solves for a very specific group of customers (and why solving that problem is important to them). My experience and deep conviction is, that any leader doing both of these things, has the tools to be outstanding and any one who aspires to lead, but does neither of these things well, will fail.

7. Finally - and possibly controversially - I do not believe that in today's enlightened, well-educated work environment you can ever be a good leader, let alone an outstanding one, if you don't like people. If you do like people, if you can see them as individuals, with individual talents and biographies, aspirations and potentials, and if you see your primary function as an entrepreneur as being responsible for developing that potential in the context of your business, you will automatically put them and their needs in the centre or at the heart of your activities. By nurturing them, you will inspire them to fulfill your vision (which is now their's as well) and to live your business's purpose.