Lead your “SELF” and others will follow

George Diab
If you mention great leaders, images of historical figures like Napoleon, Churchill and Nelson Mandela may spring to mind.

At its most basic level leadership involves getting others to follow you. Winning their hearts and minds is one thing, but leading them in the right direction is another.

In the world of politics the reputation of a leader depends upon your own personal political ideology.

In small or medium-sized businesses there is a more objective method of determining great leadership; the income statement is the ultimate unbiased measure. Generally, good leaders get consistently good results, bad ones don’t.

George Diab, started his professional life as a chartered accountant. He had little idea that he would eventually become an entrepreneur in the fashion industry and a leadership advisor.

As a tax specialist in the corporate world, Diab had to look the part. This meant finding the perfect suit. His efforts proved futile. He then decided that if his perfect suit did not yet exist he would create it. He simultaneously noted that his fashion frustrations must be shared by others in the business world and this premise was the basis upon which Diab co-founded Tailor Me – a business which sells bespoke tailored suits.

Some entrepreneurs favour the approach of burning all bridges when starting a business. The idea is that by leaving no possible means of retreat you force yourself to succeed. Diab preferred to test the waters rather than burning all bridges. He started the business and tested the market prior to quitting his full-time job.

As a CA(SA), Diab already had an expert understanding of the quantitative side of running a business. He realised, however, that he did not yet have the leadership skills he needed to successfully scale his business.

This led him to join the NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI) – a research company that transforms leadership effectiveness through neuroscience. He is now the Head of Solutions Delivery at the institute.

In the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) world, leadership is of even greater significance than it is in big business. Start-ups by nature are fledglings which need to be nurtured. Big businesses can withstand bouts of less than stellar leadership. Small ones can’t. One bad decision could mean the end.

Since by definition entrepreneurs do not have a leader, they must lead themselves, being your own boss means setting your own rules. And while setting your own rules is easy, following them may not be. Diab says: “If we focus on understanding the ‘self’ better, rather than trying to fix others, we can become good leaders driving positive change.”

An understanding of ‘self’ is all the more necessary for entrepreneurs. The wise advice, ‘know thy self’ encourages entrepreneurs to discover their strengths, weaknesses and motivation and to use this knowledge in leading themselves and others.

There are a variety of leadership styles ranging from the permissive to the authoritarian.

Diab’s leadership advice favours the former approach and may leave control freaks and micro-managers alike squirming. He recommends: “Employees should not be managed, they have to be unleashed. Give them the opportunity to excel and they will. That is just human ingenuity. With the right guidance, with the right overriding purpose statement and correct values, people will surpass expectation.”

It is comforting for entrepreneurs to realise that being a leader does not mean you need to know everything or even pretend to. Just as heads of state benefit from advisors, so too can business leaders. The leader’s role is then to decide which advice to take and which advice to discard.

Developing an open and curious mind is a prerequisite for great leadership. This is a sentiment echoed by the work of the NLI.

Diab asserts: “At NLI we teach that human potential is infinite! If you have a growth mind-set, effort is the path to mastery!”

Being consciously and constantly curious supports the notion of self-improvement. It also sets an example for others and is thus a powerful leadership tool.

This curiosity relates to a leader’s ability to seek advice. Diab points out: “It is not easy out there and you can get down on yourself quite quickly, but receiving advice from a person who has walked that journey before you is very powerful.”

Often entrepreneurs fail not because the idea is bad but because they run out of money. It is therefore crucial they seek financial advice from someone who is properly equipped to help them in making financial decisions.

Many of the instructional manuals on leadership focus on “techniques” of getting others to follow you. Some are backed by research done by behavioural psychologists and there is undeniably some value to some of these tools. Yet, the best place to start with leadership is with your ‘self’. Therein lies a leader’s success – in becoming someone worthy of being followed.