After my previous post I had a great exchange with Brad Feld. To cut a long story short, he pointed out that I had left out a couple of crucial points. His book on Startup Communities stresses:
I can’t argue with either of these things. And taken together they remind me of another important challenge. The young founders and entrepreneurs in Scotland today are our best and brightest. The leaders for the next generation. I suspect the same is true for most startup ecosystems. How do we help them grow to realise their potential over a lifetime? The lifetime of a leader that is. Not just of a business or a technology.
I was lucky enough to enjoy a long and somewhat successful career in professional services. Start and up had not then been joined into the same word. Yet in my time (1984-2013) the industry and my firm experienced rapid growth and change.
Throughout learning and personal development were at the core. Central to what was expected and valued in the organisation. As a result I became a different a better person. Better at serving clients. More of a leader. Better balanced and more thoughtful.
Personal development objectives were part of every appraisal. More senior members of the team were always happy to make time to help with achieving these goals. As I progressed into leadership roles I found out why. The objectives of leaders also embraced growing talented people and teams. This applied at every level.
All sorts of behaviour flowed from this culture. Responsibility was given early to allow individuals to learn. But with a supportive mentor to ensure they succeeded. Promotions were denied on occasion. Because hitting the numbers was only part of the story. We also looked at how close each candidate was to realising their potential.
It could lead to unexpected moments of genius. I remember a media campaign we launched about a year before I left. At its core were a series of brilliant cartoons. They were produced by a teenager working in the post room in one of our offices. The marketing team found him. Because he had expressed a desire to develop his artistic talents in his annual review.
At length I realised that this culture arose from 3 mantras. They apply to leaders and leadership at all levels. Any time, any place, anywhere:
1. The only job of a leader is to grow more leaders
You do this by generating more work for others. So that you create space in the business for additional leaders.And by mentoring, coaching and supporting others to do more challenging work. Helping them achieve their leadership potential.
2. Grow leaders better than you could ever be
Be generous by bringing all your learning to the next generation. They will learn faster and achieve more as a result. Your goal is for your successors capability and talent to go beyond your own. And so take the business to new heights.
3. Look to future value not present gain
Make sure the business you leave behind has more potential than the one you inherited. Act for the long term growth of the business. Not just to maximise the value today. Or the exit value for current stakeholders. This is essential to build a great, sustainable business. It is also the foundation of fair dealing with employees, customers, investors and the wider world.
My ambition is to lead and mentor with these ideas in mind. We all owe it to the people who are taking the risk. The entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow. Those who will grow into the leaders of our communities for years to come.
This is the best investment in the future anyone can make. Succeed and you will find it is also the best fun you ever have.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.