Why The Key To Success Is To Be Hard on Principle And Soft On Success

Without leaders businesses cannot succeed, but leaders also need to foster excellence within their teams. One of South Africa's most influential female entrepreneurs, Jane Stevenson, tells us where we need to start.

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Vital Stats

Jane Stevenson

Player: Jane Stevenson

Position: Managing director of Magnetic Minds and director, Magnetic Storm

Companies: Magnetic Minds; Magnetic Storm

Visit: www.magnetic.co.za

As a seasoned strategist, business coach, mentor and keynote speaker, Jane Stevenson's passion is to grow, develop and inspire individuals and leaders to magnify results and their impact on colleauges, employees and customers.

Entrepreneur chatted to her about how leaders should approach their roles and fostering an environment that breeds excellence.

Q. What is the most impactful business advice you've ever received?

Be hard on principle and soft on people.

If people understand expectations, boundaries and consequences, then tough conversations can be handled with kindness without being soft on principles.

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All too often in business, we have a great concept, a great brand, a great team and great products, but the balance sheet paints a different picture.

I believe that we are not quick enough in handling issues or being consistent with consequences. We hope things will miraculously fall into place. But if we are soft on principle; either because we don't like dealing with conflict or because we "don't have time right now', it will come back to haunt us.

Things seldom "disappear'. And left alone, situations often spread toxicity to other areas, and before you know it, you are dealing with a mountain instead of a molehill.

So, be clear on expectations and set a culture that is hard on principle and soft on people, regardless of time constraints or your appetite to deal with it.

Q. What do you believe is the secret to getting the most from your teams?

Being consistent in approach and once again, hard on principle, soft on people. Showing people that I care enough to not let efficiencies and productivity slip.

Building a culture that allows creativity and freedom to express within the organisational culture boundaries is essential.

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I also believe that trust plays a significant part in this. Whatever you say you will do, do it. Whatever you commit to ensuring happens, ensure it does.

Be a man or woman of your word. Teams, like children, follow actions not words. This way you can hold teams accountable to their promises because you lead by example.

I've also learnt that over communication is essential. Usually, before we communicate something important, albeit a change, new system, restructure or merely a task to be done, we have often mulled over it in our mind and conversation several times.

We then think by telling others via email, they now know. They say in today's cluttered world, a person needs to hear a message seven times to remember it. So I guess this calls for us to be creative and find different ways to share the same message repeatedly.

Q. How do you train people to think about outcomes and be more proactive?

I try and focus on the "why'. When we understand the purpose of everything we do and how it feeds into something bigger than ourselves and our role, it makes more sense and gives each person an understanding of the importance of what they are doing, even if they don't enjoy it.

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Added to this is the way we measure our teams. For example, performance appraisals should focus on outcomes as opposed to tasks. Rather than dealing with 20 line items, ensure they know what outcomes are needed and measure that.

If they have not achieved the outcome goal, then delve into the detail. This way it builds a culture of achievement rather than a busy fool syndrome. It keeps teams focused on critical and urgent rather than everything that needs to be done.

Q. What is the importance of modelling behaviours for your team?

Critical. Words are cheap and easy to spew, but actions speak to the heart of who you are. Those who hear you say one thing and then behave differently, quickly lose respect for you and don't take you seriously.

I spoke of this in one of the earlier questions and trust, the foundation of every relationship, is built on modelling the correct behaviours.

Q. How would you advise leaders balance pushing for excellence while also understanding that mistakes do happen?

Always praise great work, and never tolerate mediocre. Get rid of bad apples; they are hugely contagious. A healthy accountability model shared with the team, with clear reward and consequences and the freedom to learn from mistakes, is vital.

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You need to ensure the person has the skill and the means, only then can they be held accountable. I use the following model:

  • If there is a toxic person who is destroying the culture and moral elements within the business, get them out.
  • If there is a complacent, just working under expectations person, use your IR disciplinary code to ensure they understand expectations and allow them a set time to improve.
  • If there is someone who does what is asked, thank them continuously.
  • If there is someone who exceeds, reward them (not necessarily financially but with something they may enjoy, such as time off. Exceeding does not mean making a customer happy, that's everyone's job. It's going beyond the call of what they usually do.

Q. Are leaders fundamentally different from other people?

Leadership is about influence. Leaders are people who use their talents to positively influence others, to achieve more than they believed they could.

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Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, genders, ages. They understand the relevance and importance of how to treat people to magnify potential and impact results.

They are self-aware, continuously improve their knowledge and more importantly their EQ. They work relationships. They lead by example in all areas of life.

They serve, share, grow, empower, mentor and have the ability to walk away from something that no longer positively serves them.

Q. Are you purposeful in your own self-learning?

I have several mentors that I work with, I read loads of blogs and books, and I invest a minimum of a week a year in self-development programmes as well as many online programmes.

I work with Roger James Hamilton of Entrepreneurs Institute and regularly do various online programmes and micro degrees.

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Annually, we meet up with entrepreneurs from around the world where we work on our businesses and collectively engage in helping build a stronger foundation for exponential growth.

Q. What is one of the most significant lessons you've learnt?

Focus on people. You can only grow when you let go, and you need a solid team to work with. My mentor, Roger Hamilton, often says when you run out of time, it means you have run out of team or need a team.

Be sure to build the right support based on talents that complement yours so they can do what you are not good at and vice versa. Richard Branson wisely creates businesses by building solid teams to run them.

Q. What single piece of advice would you give your younger self on career development?

Be more mindful of who I spend my time with; you are the average of the five people closest to you. It's scary to see the influence others have in our lives and only as you mature, do you realise the importance of surrounding yourself with people who believe in you, lift you and have your back.

It's equally important to be that to others. And walk away when toxic people enter your life.

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