/ 12 August 2022

Seven leadership laws for business success

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As leaders, when we make better choices around how and where we’re investing our time, money and energy, we’re not only giving our businesses the best shot at surviving but the best shot at thriving.

Much of the time, leadership stops at the key performance indicator and choices to invest begin and end with a budget and a bottom line in mind. But, in today’s business landscape, this mentality is not only outdated, but it’s also wrong. How do you become a better leader and lead not only your business but your people, your industry and even your country to greatness? The answer is simple: you choose! You choose — daily, consciously and with commitment — to invest in the right things. 

When we speak about leadership today, we speak about “real” investment that drives all-round growth and empowerment; investment that drives culture, wellness, sales and profit. Ultimately, it’s the sum of a leader’s choices that affect their business and their people. As leaders, when we make better choices around how and where we’re investing our time, money and energy, we’re not only giving our businesses the best shot at surviving but the best shot at thriving.

Here are my company’s seven leadership laws of investment.

1. Invest time and energy in conversations with your people

Your iCal may be colourfully blocked until November but investing the time to connect with team members who need and appreciate the airtime goes a long way to banking hard work, trust, loyalty and support; and has a knock-on effect in building a strong culture of accountability and performance. All too often, the softer qualities of leadership are overlooked, yet, in order to bring out the best in the business, people need to feel seen, heard and understood. To build connection, focus on getting to know your team member’s personalities, interests, strengths, weaknesses, hobbies and preferences. This can give you insight into their goals and motivations so that you can support not only them but also their potential. 

2. Choose to invest in skills development

Helping your people to learn something new helps turn the workforce you have into the workforce you need. Great leaders have the power to make an impact by upskilling employees and giving them a chance to challenge themselves, grow, and exceed expectations while cultivating pride, appreciation and employee loyalty. And, in a country such as South Africa, what could be more significant than upskilling our people and, most specifically, our youth? Choosing to invest a budget into developing skills is a sure-fire way to contribute to empowerment and grow your business and, as a leader, leave a legacy.

3. Choose to invest in hiring the right expertise

Being a great leader means having the humility, the wisdom and the capability to recognise the things that you cannot do — nor do well — and finding the right expert to fill those gaps. It starts with defining what you need and outlining the type of expertise or help required. To find the right person, start by canvassing your personal and professional networks. Be specific about your key criteria, including time frame and budget. And, finally, it ends with finding an expert — be it an employee, consultant or third-party agency to get the job done. 

4. Choose to invest your focus in contributing to impactful projects

Great leaders don’t only spend time at work: they invest the time to ship work that matters and is aligned to the company’s purpose; not only profit. Consciously choosing projects that impact your business and the people inside and outside your organisation has the power to step-change entire industries and economies, if not the world.

5. Choose to invest energy in working with ethical partners

Ethical investing is about aligning your moral compass with your investment portfolio. The same can be applied when it comes to who you work with and for. Working with integrity gives your business a competitive edge and also makes it a more pleasant place to work and engage with. As much as it’s important to build up your internal integrity, you don’t want to violate it by partnering with people and organisations that don’t share the same values you do. Vet your business partners (and your clients) to ensure that you share the same moral code when it comes to things such as honesty, transparency, prioritising excellence and commitment to the work.

6. Choose to invest time and budget into mental wellness for yourself and others

Especially post-Covid, investing in mental health is not only the right thing to do but, as experts have proven, it’s also good for business. Great leaders have the power to create real change by tackling workplace mental health and engaging in the global conversation around mental wellness at work and beyond. Here’s how you can lead from the front:

  • Be vulnerable: Being honest about your mental health struggles as a leader opens the door for employees to feel comfortable talking with you about mental health challenges of their own.
  • Model healthy behaviours: Share that you’re taking a walk, having a therapy appointment, or taking time off and putting tools down in the interests of not burning out.
  • Build a culture of connection through check-ins: You can help problem-solve any issues that come up only if you know what’s happening.
  • Scale wellness programmes across the company: This means starting something as simple as yoga, meditation or breathing classes during lunch breaks in the week.

7. Choose to invest in collaboration, not instruction

Gone are the days when top-down “instruction” worked to cultivate buy-in, enthusiasm and ownership from teams. Great leaders know not only how to collaborate with and listen to their teams, but also to “sell” their ideas to their people in ways that they feel are their own. True leadership is about helping the people you lead recognise the choices they have in front of them, and making decisions together. And, at the end of the day, as opposed to simply “barking” orders, great leaders encourage growth by teaching — so that they coach by example and can also grow new (great) leaders to take their place.

Kerry Morris is chief executive of staffing agency The Tower Group

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.