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A leader with guts. How good would that be!

Peter Switzer
1 July 2016

Whatever shows up on television screens tonight as the leadership team is selected by the nation today, you have to hope we get the leader we deserve.

One thing that I’ve noticed over the years as an educator first, then as a father, employer and now as a thought leader on matters of money, business and wealth-building, is that success and failure come down to leadership. This is why developing strong leaders is crucial to the success of a country, just as it is for a family or a business.

Some years ago, the penny dropped after interviewing and analysing the best in business over 25 years. This eureka moment was that most of us are in leadership roles – either at work, in our families or when we unwisely put up our hand to coach our kid’s sporting team. However, few of us ever do any leadership training.

I ask you: have you ever read a book on leadership? I bet you’ve read cookbooks, great novels, maybe the guide to your TV. But what about arguably the most important skill you could develop – your leadership?

I’ve often joked in my small business speeches that the best book I’ve ever read is “my own!” I then hold up a copy of 350 Ways To Grow Your Business, (a book I wrote with my business partner and wife), which always brings a hearty laugh.

Of course, there are other great books that anyone in business should read, which include Good to Great by Jim Collins, Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. There are certainly many others but the one that had an enormous impact on me was John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

Maxwell has sold way in excess of a million books on leadership and I was actually his MC in Dubai at a conference a few years ago. That’s where I heard him for the first time and it was there that the penny dropped that I had to lift my leadership ability if our business was to grow.

John McGrath, founder of McGrath Real Estate, always uses those very true cliches that a fish rots from the head down and no business will outpace its leader. Jim Collins, in looking at the most successful US companies over a 20-year period, using over 30 post-graduate students to drill through the data, identified leadership of these companies as critical to the operation’s success.

However, in my 350 Ways to Grow Your Business, which was based on 78 very successful Aussie businesses from Gloria Jeans to Sumo Salad to BridgeClimb to Boost Juice and a whole lot more, all the founders held back on what I think was the main reason for their success!

You see, the 350 ways were often based on what the founder or CEO or MD would underline as the reasons for the success of their business. We also interpreted what they did, which singled them out from others, to get that 350 number. Not one of these legends of business ever answered my “why did you succeed?” question with “my leadership!”

But they should have because this is the critical reason for most great businesses. The longer I’m in business with my family, the more it has become clear to me that success and failure get down to leadership.

Maxwell doesn’t believe leaders are born, in general, but they can be developed (thank goodness!) and he argues, I think convincingly, that “no matter where you are in the leadership process, know this: the greater number of laws you learn, the better leader you will become”.

Of course, it’s not just learning but actually doing leadership, which means challenging yourself to get outside your comfort zone. Leadership feeds off change and this leads to growth, not just of the business but growth in you as a leader and, invariably, you as a person.

Another point Maxwell makes is that leaders are always learners, who strive for better business as well as individual performance and productivity all the time. It’s a 24/7 commitment linked to a clear dream of what the entrepreneur wants to achieve.

Maxwell says he was asked a question by his mentor many years ago, which really shocked him. The mentor told him that his approach had to change.

The question was, “what is your plan for personal growth?” He had to admit that he didn’t have a formal, written down plan for personal growth and that was the last day that ever happened in his life.

Of course, I don’t think many successful entrepreneurs have ever done this — written out a plan for personal growth — but they do tend to be so fanatical that they’re always up for change, are always willing to invest in innovations that could deliver better outcomes, and are totally driven for success. When I talk to audiences at conferences I suggest that they do a personal SWOT – write down their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to their own development. Doing this can be enlightening.

I have a theory that the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who continually push themselves into discomfort zones. They do this because success is more important than self-protection and fear of failure.

When I recently reread 350 Ways, I saw the subjects – great Aussie entrepreneurs – I have interviewed, talked about, analysed and deconstructed to see what explained their success in a totally new light.

Their journey was not just one of navigating a business from a start-up to a huge franchise operation, such as Gloria Jeans, or an iconic brand such as BridgeClimb. It was one about the growth of a leader.

This not only explains the business success in terms of profits, the number of employees or its value, but also what it did for the people who worked for these leaders, because great leaders help create other great leaders.

It’s no surprise that Aussie Home Loans founder, John Symond, saw many of his staff go on to create other great businesses in the mortgage space.

In his latest book The 5 Levels of Leadership, Maxwell says at the first level, people follow you because you pay them. At the second level, they follow you because they like you — it’s a relationship thing. The quality of the leadership lifts at the third level because they follow you because of what you’ve achieved. At the fourth higher level, they want to work with you for what you’ve done for them. Finally, at the fifth level, you have all four levels of leadership working for you, your business is performing brilliantly and you’re a legend not only to your devoted customers, but also for the people who follow you. They respect you as a leader.

At numerous award nights, I’ve seen great winning business builders instantly thank their staff for their contribution to the success of the business. But these great staff members aren’t great by chance. They’re developed by their leader. This is the Holy Grail that all business owners or entrepreneurs have to keep searching for. And it’s what all family leaders need to think about if they’re having difficulties within their family.

Right now, there are a lot of complaints about the younger generation being disengaged from politics and it might explain why so many independents and strange feral-like candidates end up in the Senate. The last election produced what was tagged as the cantina scene from Star Wars!

Maybe this country is badly in need of a great leader who can bring along a team of future great leaders, who, in turn, can inspire a nation.

As John Maxwell told me when he toured Australia and I was his MC: “If a leader looks around and no one is following him, he’s not a leader. He’s just going for a walk!


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