Five Tips On Executing Big Business: Balancing Leadership And Management For A Stronger Organization
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Over the past few years, it has become fashionable to applaud “leadership” and criticize “management.” We are regularly exposed to the current business discourse that lauds leaders and attacks managers– and it’s coming from everywhere, including HR departments. What is actually needed, based on my years of experience both leading and managing, and appointing both leaders and managers, is an exceptionally rare mixture of the two methodologies.
Managing, contrary to today’s thinking, is not all bad. In reality, I find that it's managers who often have the best eye for maximizing data, finding cost-saving alternatives, and enforcing due diligence and procedural adherence. Like it or not, these skills make a company run and ensure that your books balance at year-end. Leaders, also contrary to today’s trend, are not always the best executers. Executives are, by the very nature of the word, meant to be good at executing. Leaders are big-picture thinkers, and are often the ones that dream and delegate the actual execution to others. I believe in hands-on leadership, interspersed with a healthy dose of management expertise.
Here are five lessons that I apply to running our Group portfolio that have served me well throughout my career:
1. Ask why
You may be surprised that I bring up Enron in an article with this title, but the truth is the company had the essential idea right– it just spiraled out of control. Always ask why. Why can’t this be done? Why do we do it that way? Why haven’t we tried this method? You would be surprised at the wealth of knowledge every single team member has to share. When I get an answer that begins with “I can’t,” there is always a why coming in response. I need to know why it can’t be done– is there an innovative solution hiding in there somewhere? Is there an element or layer of complexity to this that I am unaware of? If so, let’s hear it. The most effective solutions come from picking apart some of the most basic barriers. The best outcome here is that your leadership side asks why, and your managerial side comes up with the solution.
2. Know your people
Know everyone’s name, no matter how big your organization gets. Know what they’re good at. Know what they’re not good at. Know why they joined your organization, and know where they’ve come from. As the CEO, I’m not only personally involved in the recruitment of senior management, but I am briefed by my team on every single person who joins us. One of our biggest companies, ARADA, has a large salesforce. I regularly spend time with the sales team at our B2B and B2C events. Both types of events provide valuable opportunities for me to get to know each member of the team and discuss their strengths and their successes. Also, during my weekly meetings with the sales team, they are encouraged to be vocal and put forward any information they believe is worth sharing. Leaders connect on a personal level, while your managerial side establishes who is being underutilized and potentially, undervalued. It gives me a lot of perspective in more ways than human capital, which leads to my next point.
Related: Eight Steps To Build Teams That Last
3. Trade in knowledge
To make informed decisions for your company, you must be well informed. The more you know and the more you can glean, the better positioned you are to execute. Of course, you need to tap into focus groups, and assess all of the available market documentation such as research reports compiled by industry analysts. But there’s an even more valuable source of intelligence that you may not be maximizing: your first lines of contact. This is heavily connected to my second suggestion, simply because our sales team are the people on the ground. They are the daily receptacles of market sentiment, and they routinely hear client opinions and concerns. What are your customers asking? Think of your client-facing team as the operators of the biggest focus group out there. On an average day, our sales team might see anywhere from 100 to 300 potential clients. Think of all the insight you can gather on what your customers want, how they perceive your company and how they perceive the industry as whole. Based on this, you strategize your next moves.
4. Pivot with purpose
This doesn’t mean lose sight of your vision and mission. You have company values, and you need to stick to them. It doesn’t mean that you suddenly change trajectory with little or no thought to the long-term impact. In fact, the opposite is true. Study your hard data, study your soft data, take the numbers into consideration, then decide what needs to stay and what needs to go. If a certain product is unpopular, determine the factors contributing to its lackluster performance, and make adjustments accordingly. The finest decision makers in the world will tell you that agile movement to correct or compensate for an inadequacy will save you working capital now, and opportunity cost in the future.
5. Know your limits
Not every company is destined to be Alibaba. You don’t need to do everything. You need to execute your core competencies proficiently, and give your clients, partners and stakeholders a real reason to stand behind the company– that reason should be the fact that your company is a real powerhouse in the sector. I’m not talking about scale and revenue, I’m talking about superior delivery, quality, and truly inspired output. Distraction is a curse in the modern world of business, and if there is one salient takeaway it is that you really need to concentrate on what you excel at. If you cannot deliver outstanding results to your clients, then perhaps you need to rethink your business model. Many of the bestsellers on big business champion experimentation and “branching out.” My leadership side believes that risk is needed, while my managerial side advocates “branching out” only when we are sure we can do it better and when we’ve calculated that risk.
Managers are second to none at ensuring that there’s a healthy dose of reality injected into any big dream that comes from a leader, so you need to be both. Thinking big is a key characteristic of any global success story. That’s what makes for a great narrative- what doesn’t always make the headlines is the substantial amount of managerial know-how and grit that propelled the likes of Jack Ma to the top.