Business Basics Part II

6 Jul

This article is part of a series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on

This article is also the second part of a two-part series on Business Basics. See here for Part I.

In yesterday’s post, I addressed the importance of a good mix of Practice and Theory, a solid Business Plan, appropriate Structures and the value of good Reporting Data.

Today’s Business Basics focus on the acclaimed “softer” aspects. Leadership, Culture and Motivation. I don’t at all agree with the distinction between Soft and Solid Business Skills, they all form part and parcel of a well-rounded skills portfolio. To me there isn’t a single skill that alone makes one person or one business successful, it’s the combination, timing and dose that makes the difference. Anyhow, on we go with our list:

5: Lead me to Oz

Leadership. What makes a good leader? Is this something you can learn or are you born with it? Is there a difference between male and female leadership and what’s going on with this world right now for producing such a particular (read with pursed lips) canon of state leaders?

Leadership is a fascinating topic and one for endless discussions. To me, Peter Drucker’s distinction between management and leadership still holds a lot of value:

“Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.”

No one-liner will ever capture the entire complexities of such a topic, but sometimes when things get too big, it’s worth breaking them down into something graspable. And this sentence does just that.

Some important aspects of leadership to me are:

  • Responsibility: Somebody has to be, or put others, in charge. If the buck doesn’t stop somewhere in a planned fashion, it will keep bouncing around until it has created damage and has broken a few things. A good leader assumes responsibility where they can and gives responsibility where others are better placed. Sometimes being responsible means leaning in, sometimes leaning out. One of the most responsible thing somebody can do is to step aside and to make space for somebody who can do a better job.
  • Direction: If Peter Drucker is right, if leadership is about doing the right things, this requires saying yes to some and no to others. Sometimes the direction is clearer and more important than the end position. With a clear course, the team knows where to go and can then make their own decisions accordingly. Without direction, there will be mutiny.
  • Credibility: If I expect a certain behaviour from others, I better lead by example. Because not doing so usually doesn’t end well. Being a credible role model means living the values I preach to others. Even if I have not fully mastered something yet, actively working on improvement shows motivation and dedication more than words can. Asking questions can hold more power than providing answers. This also includes owning up when we don’t know something. Nobody, not even the most prolific and experienced leader, can be expected to know and be good at everything. Admitting when you don’t know something does not make you weaker.
  • Omnipresence: A leader does not have to be everywhere, but instilling a sense of leadership into the team means leadership can happen everywhere. Whether a leader is the figurehead on top or provides the support level further below, no leader can do it alone. The more others understand and support a certain leadership, the easier they can become an active part of it.

6: Culture

Not free drinks or table tennis (eye roll). I mean values. The actually lived ones. Few things are as toxic as written and talked about values that are nowhere to be seen in the day-to-day. That’s actually worse than not having an officially communicated set of values at all. Empty values are a slap in the face of every team member. With values come accountability and responsibility. If I say I value openness, I better make darn sure I explain further what I actually mean with that, how I mean to live it and how I empower others to hold me accountable to it.

Mistakes that many organisations (especially StartUps) make is by communicating a fake sense of identity, especially during recruitment. So many job ads are written in ways that are meant to excite, inspire and build expectations. So many jobs and organisations then really don’t live up to them. Every job in the world has its limits and its boring parts, every organisation has jobs that include pro-active shaping and decision making, and some jobs that are simply meant to be executed. Building wrong expectations usually backfires at some point, as the company creates immense levels of frustration and exhaustion. Almost ironical is the fact that those companies that go on and on about their unique organisational culture often fail to even get close to it.

Clearly stating what you believe in, the rules of engagement that are important to you, living up to them every single day and making yourself accountable requires constant work, attention, reevaluating and fixing. Values should not be changed all the time but re-visited regularly to check whether your are still in line with your promises.

7: I don’t get out of bed for less than $500,000

If that works for you, cool. Motivation, like leadership, culture and values are words we use quickly and often, but never really spend that much time looking behind the obvious front. What is motivation and why is it important?

Motivation is the fire in your belly, the fuel for your engine, the stuff that gets and keeps you going. I think it’s the “keeping” that often does not get enough attention. The things that initially raise our attention, that are attractive to us, aren’t necessarily the same that keep us engaged over a longer stretch of time.

On an organisational level, motivation can be seen equivalent to mission. If the mission is to “Give every child in Africa access to education”, I have a goal and a picture and I can direct my actions, the “What – what needs to be done to get there“, in line with that. And that’s what many managers and leaders focus on. But it’s the “Why – why is this important and why is it important to us“, that’s the stuff that gets you the buy-in, that motivates others to join your course. This is not a distinction between management and leadership, it requires both management and leadership to look after the “what” and the “why”. But the “why” marries the organisational with the personal. Of course I could also not care whether the organisation believes in the same things as I do as long as its actions go in the same direction, but if I can see the personal motivation behind everything, I probably feel much more connected.

Organisations are human entities and motivation is very human – yes, it’s also animalistic, but let’s not split hair. WHAT motivates me is one thing and something we can probably all answer relatively quickly. Money, time, things etc. WHY these things are important to me, that’s the harder part. That leads me to my core needs, the real stuff. The more organisations can communicate and have meaningful exchanges with their people about the WHY certain things motivate them, the deeper the relationships and the more meaningful the work.

I am drawing on my Business Basics a line here. There is still so much more to say, these two articles on Business Basics are really just the beginning of a much bigger discourse. The beauty in all the things I have mentioned is that they are all basic and complex, obvious and miraculous – and that’s the beauty of business. It brings out our more reasonable thinking, our childish joys and fears. It’s narrative and numbers. Percentages and people. Flipcharts and tears. It’s everything.

Picture: Geralt via Pixabay / CC0


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