What separates top business leaders from their less successful counterparts? Here are five tips to becoming a high-impact leader.
We’re all familiar with the cliché, ‘life’s a journey, not a destination.’ But the same is true of leadership, as Nonkululeko Gobodo discovered while she was building the fifth largest – and 100% local – accounting firm in South Africa, SizweNtsalubaGobodo.
Related: Nonkululeko Gobodo on leadership that brings change
Not everyone starts off as a great leader – but you can learn to become with, with the right focus and dedication.
“I was so busy pursuing my vision of what I wanted my firm to look like, first as Gobodo Inc, and later once we merged as SizweNtsalubaGobodo, that I forgot to wait for my team to catch up,” she says.
“It took time, maturity and growth for me to understand that great businesses are built by people, and that as a leader your role is not only to have the big vision and to forge ahead, but to bring everyone with you as well: To share that vision, inspire others and create a culture that supports personal growth, which in turn supports the business’s development and growth.”
If we consider that much of a leader’s skills lies in their ability to adapt, change, mature and grow, then we can understand why it is a journey. Here are five tips to get you on the path to becoming the best leader you can be.
1. Be willing to grow, accept your faults, and change what you can
Gjermund Nesland, a former pro kickboxer and currently the manager of Norway’s kickboxing team as well as an entrepreneur, believes there are three core leadership lessons that he developed while competing at an international level in competitive sports.
“First, a core value for all leaders should be to constantly be expanding who you are, what you know and what you can do. Don’t lose sight of your faults though. For example, I know that I can be very inefficient because I’m too focused on the details. Being meticulous is a good thing, but not when it’s causing me to spend far longer on a task than it’s importance warrants. By being aware of my faults though, I can improve on them, particularly if I embrace a mindset of continuous improvement.
“Hand in hand with this is the ability to accept that if there’s a problem outside of my control, I mustn’t spend too much energy worrying about it. Instead, I should always focus on things I can change.”
2. Become a continuous learner
“The best investment of your time that you can ever make to get the highest return is on your own development,” says VC investor and ex-Accenture COO Clive Butkow. “With today’s technology you can literally turn your car into the university of your choice with podcasts and audiobooks. All you need to do is invest the time and be disciplined about your growth.”
Deon Herbst, CEO of Enterprises UP, agrees. “New developments are occurring at a rapid rate, particularly in tech. Continued learning is imperative to stay competitive. Make sure your skills are on par with your ambition, and that you’re ‘future proofing’ yourself if you want to be someone who can lead a high-growth organisation,” he says.
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3. Cultivate a drive to succeed
David Rubenstein, founder of the Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms and currently No 257 on theForbes 400Richest People in America list, has this piece of advice to share: The most successful business leaders are driven by an internal passion and purpose – and it’s got nothing to do with money.
“The drive to improve yourself; the conviction that you’re doing something that’s going to prove you’re correct; and the ability to work with other people, and get them to see the world the way you do, is a core characteristic that I’ve recognised in top performing business leaders,” says Rubenstein.
“It takes a certain amount of intelligence to be a successful entrepreneur, but drive is a far more important determining factor.”
4. What got you here won’t necessarily be your success tomorrow
“As a leader, it’s incredibly important to challenge yourself,” says Dawn Nathan-Jones, ex- CEO of Imperial Car Rental Division and a Shark on South Africa’s Shark Tank.
“Challenge yourself; keep yourself relevant. It’s never been easier to stay in touch with rapidly changing markets and trends than it is today. Three decades ago we had to fly overseas at great expense to see what was happening in other markets. Today you can access better information at the touch of a screen. Everything and anything is accessible to you. There are no excuses to not be the best you can be.” Nathan-Jones has one final piece of advice: Embrace change – it usually brings something amazing.
5. Create second tier leaders
“One person’s ability to have a vision of the future will never be enough to grow a high-impact organisation,” says Nicholas Bell, founder and CEO of Decision Inc.
“As an organisation, we drive client-led strategies, and so the entire business needs to be focused on how we better service, engage and increase value for our customers.
Related: What leadership style are you and will it get results?
“Developing second tier leadership has been essential to achieving this. As we grow, the top management team can no longer inculcate our value proposition across the organisation. Our business makes an impact on the frontline, and so how our people engage with customers is of paramount importance. A strong middle-management level means we aren’t burdening the top tier, who should be focusing on top-line strategy, while the business as a whole is delivering on our value proposition.”
Do you want to be a leader who others follow? Start by finding out as much as you can about the leaders you admire – how do they think, what drives them, and how have they grown over the years?