27/03/2015

By Professor Dr Maurits van Rooijen, Rector and CEO of London School of Business and Finance (LSBF)


Entrepreneurs and business leaders have been, for centuries, one of the engines behind wealth and job creation. With 99.9% of all private sector businesses in the UK classified as SMEs and a collective turnover of £3.3 billion, they’re an economic force to be reckoned with.

Success in an ever more globalised knowledge economy is entirely dependent on how ahead the leader is with developments and even more importantly how committed he or she in ensuring that employees are engaged with learning as much as with work.

The old distinction between work and learning is fading fast. In the reality of today, smart students build experience into their study and smart employees remain engaged with learning. Smart business leaders are aware of that and facilitate that.

Here are the three key ingredients to the business leaders of tomorrow.


Leading a learning team

The biggest challenge for a business leader is to avoid turning leadership into an ego trip. The key to success is building up teams, listening to those teams and making sure the various team members listen to each other.

This is not the same as seeking compromises all the time or being nice, it is about creating mutual respect and understanding that the success of one is dependent on the success of the other. So the leader will want to replace office politics and back stabbing with solid team work. Learning together, being engaged in innovation sessions, helps with bonding and creates a sense of shared objectives.

Sharing mistakes is a sign of trust and is the best form of risk management. The best leaders are better at listening than speaking (or shouting), they encourage rather than create fear, yet at the same time are transparent towards all team members as to what the (reasonable) expectations are and that success cannot afford a weak link.

Attitude

When it comes to judging success, it’s the classic debate of what comes first, shareholder value or stakeholder value? The truth is that the second normally will ensure the first.

While it is important to listen to employees, it is vital to listen to (potential) clients and customers. A full understanding of what makes the customer happy and what the customers might value is at the basis of any commercial success.

As a rule of thumb, if customers continue to be happy to give their business, the company has a sustainable success formula and shareholders will ultimately be happy as well. It is certainly a smarter strategy than trying to cook the books, as the Tesco senior management had to discover.

If you are able to anticipate what customers might want, not just now but also in the future, success is guaranteed. This requires sensitivity and a mind-set, not necessarily from the leader him or herself but from the senior team as a whole and in fact thorough the organisation at all levels. Getting that message across internally, especially in larger organisations, tends to be the biggest challenge.

Practice makes perfect

The trick to making success lasting is: understanding reflective learning.

Reflective learning means that you use quite simple techniques to reflect on every action, especially failures, or partial successes. What could we have done better?

Reflective learning is not just standing in front of the mirror, beating yourself up or worse staring in great self- admiration. It is about getting structured feedback. That can be done at an individual level, but it can also be done by the senior team or a team that is much more in the frontline.

It’s important to remember that there is no such thing as failures, other than trying to cover an error up, denying it or repeating the same mistake.
Reflective learning is about accepting that not everything can be one hundred percent successful. The real challenge is to learn from experience. Successful business ultimately is always a learning process. The better an organisation is at learning; the higher its commercial success will fly.