Leadership is about inspiring others to do their best in pursuit of a common cause. That’s simple to say, but much harder to achieve. This is because leadership usually involves motivating a diverse group of people, with different agendas, ideas and skills, to work towards a shared goal – a goal that some of them might not even care that much about.
Here are five lessons from the new generation of business leaders:
- Hire great people and empower them to have real impact
Success is not a solo endeavor, argues Mette Lykke, CEO of Too Good To Go. If you want your business to fly, it’s essential to hire great people and give them the opportunity to make a difference.
Lykke’s advice to other leaders is this: “Have a clear purpose, set a clear direction, but then give people a lane to run in. Make sure to remove any barriers and really set people free. Then, naturally, they will want to have as much impact as they can.”
When it comes to empowering people, trust is key. Lykke admits to being a big fan of US management expert Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which lists an absence of trust as the first dysfunction. “I really believe that,” she says, “because once you have trust, you can give feedback openly and you can have professional arguments, and you can still work together.”
- If you’re not ready to fail big, you’re not ready to win big
Lucrezia Bisignani, founder of educational cartoon company Kukua, says that the most important leadership lesson she’s ever learned is to be comfortable with failing. In fact, she cites the motto of the English drama school where she once studied: “Fail, fail again, fail better.”
Early in her entrepreneurial career, Bisignani competed to win a prize of $15 million in investment that would enable her to launch an app for teaching primary school children in Africa how to read, write and do math. But despite putting in a huge amount of work, she didn’t land the prize. “It was a moment of failure that knocked me to the ground,” she recalls. “But I believe it was all so I could ask myself the next most important question: where do I go from here?”
After she’d picked herself back up, Bisignani decided to move into the entertainment industry and began developing cartoons. The result was Super Sema, an animated series featuring an African girl with superhero powers relating to science, technology, engineering, math and the arts. A YouTube hit, Super Sema has already amassed over 115 million views from around the world.
- Know that principles and ethics matter
“If people ask me what’s the problem we’re trying to solve, I say it’s the fact that more than half of the African continent is in the dark,” says Nthabiseng Mosia, co-founder and chief commercial officer of Easy Solar.
“Most countries’ electrification stories have involved dirty, harmful fuel,” she says. “In Africa, we have an opportunity to look forwards and backwards at the same time and learn from everybody’s mistakes. It would be such a great story for humanity to say, ‘We learned from the past and we did electrification in a clean, affordable way that had human dignity. And that didn’t leave the world worse off than how we found it.’”
- Listen more than you speak
Listening skills are vital to leadership success, according to serial entrepreneur Akindele Phillips. Phillips is co-founder and CEO of Farmcrowdy. He makes a point of learning from other people, including his mentors.
Phillips is also a great believer in getting 360-degree feedback from his colleagues. When seeking feedback, he asks what he should do more of, what he should change, and what he should stop doing. Over the years, he’s learned a huge amount about his strengths and weaknesses as a leader from asking those three simple questions.
- Set the vision of where the business needs to go
Andrea Thomaz was an academic before she co-founded Texas-based Diligent Robotics. Yet she hasn’t let the absence of a traditional business background get in the way of setting an inspiring vision.
“At Diligent, we say that we want to build beautiful robots,” Thomaz explains. “We build beautiful robots that do useful things for people.” Indeed, this vision is vital to attracting the talented people that Diligent needs to thrive and grow.
“Everyone I interview – without me bringing it up – usually says within the first 5 or 10 minutes that why they want to work for Diligent is the social mission,” says Thomaz. “They want to be working on technology that they can feel good about. They want to be building state-of-the-art machine learning; AI and robotic systems that are for the benefit of society.”
While many accepted principles of good leadership hold over time, others are rejected and new principles emerge. One notable trend that we see today is that leaders increasingly have a strong social and environmental focus and a more empathetic approach to management. The new generation of leaders prioritize the wellbeing of their people, understand the impact of their organizations on the natural ecosystem and have a powerful vision for how the world can be a better place.
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Here are our takeaways and thoughts - pause and reflect, then nourish and grow!
These are 5 really inspiring lessons we can learn as leaders and they made me think about what I can do differently to increase my leadership skills.
The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team is an instrumental platform and is incredibly valuable to any team and organization. Every company I have been with, I have shared insights and outcomes. If you have not ready the book or participated in any professional development around it, put down what you are doing and go get the book.
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