The BBC have made a series of short films, #CEOSecrets, in which they ask Business leaders a very simple question: “What is the advice you wish you’d had when you started out?”
The three most frequently given answers were
a) surround yourself with the right people,
b) network all the time, and
c) get on with it!
The third is certainly true, but a bit trite so I won’t comment on that.
If you’ve known me for a while you will know how important I think networking is. People who are out of work often find it difficult to network if they haven’t been active networkers during their career, because they haven’t accumulated much social capital, and this makes it difficult to ask for help. That’s why I always encourage clients to make time to network when they are in work instead of burying themselves completely in the new job. Networking is part of working. It’s how we become effective at work and is not simply done for personal benefit. If you don’t network you’re not doing your job properly.
The first point also interests me very much. Of the senior business leaders and business owners I have met, the smart ones are those who openly admit to not knowing everything and who have carefully recruited people with complementary skills to run the show for them. One even happily talks about bringing in much cleverer people than himself. These people claim not to be smart, but actually they are the smartest. Maybe not in terms of IQ, but certainly in terms of EQ. In fact I’d argue that emotional intelligence is far more important for a business leader than IQ.
Contrast those leaders with entrepreneurs and senior managers who are either so insecure that they recruit people who will make them look clever, or are such control freaks that they do everything themselves. Either way the organisation will suffer.
Is it easy to be a “smart” leader as I have described? No, is the short answer. It takes self-awareness, humility and confidence.
- Self-awareness to understand where the gaps lie between the capability you have and the capability the organisation needs.
- Humility to know that it’s impossible to build a substantially sized business on your own.
- Confidence to know that by doing all this you are not going to be considered a talentless waste of space but instead a leader of talent.
Interestingly for me as a counsellor as well as career coach, humility and confidence grow out of self-awareness. When people understand themselves to a level at which they can acknowledge and accept their weaknesses, humility follows, and then so does personal confidence. Not only that, but of course knowing your weaknesses is the first step on the journey of managing them.
All of which ties up with another of the pieces of advice given by the CEOs questioned by the BBC: Learn from your mistakes.