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Have You Got What It Takes To Be A Leader

By Jon Sawyer on 31/07/2017 - 0 Comments

Facing up to the demands of current markets can be challenging and places significant pressure on the business owner to continually make the right decision. The ultimate objective of achieving sustainable, profitable growth is beyond the reach of many business owners and many fall by the wayside as evidenced by the high rates of business failure. 

So, what do companies have that succeed that their counterparts do not? One of the answers lies in leadership from the business owner. This article will examine the lessons that can be learned.

What is Leadership?

This can be defined as the person who creates an inspiring vision of the future and then motivates and inspires people to engage with that vision. As Jack Welch (ex CEO of General Electric) in his book ‘Winning’ describes leaders as the people that “make sure people not only see the vision, they live and breathe it.” He adds to this by saying “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.

When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Leadership is one of the key aspects that enable sustainability of the business as it requires long-term strategy to be effectively communicated to all stakeholders, and the influence of their behaviour toward these shared goals.

The first step in this process is to develop the long term plan and then it’s time for the qualities of leadership to kick in.

Who are the Proven Leaders – who can we learn from?

Jeremy Boudinet (12th. May 2016) in his article ‘Successful Business Leaders To Follow in 2016’, identified the following:

Mary Barra - Chairman and CEO of General Motors Company. She has held the CEO
position since January 15,2014, and she is the first female CEO of a major global automaker.

Marc Benioff - He is the founder, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, a large enterprise cloud computing

Jeff Bezos  - Founder of Amazon

Warren Buffett - American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist. He is considered by some to be one of the most successful investors in the world

Ursula Burns - Chairwoman (since May 2010) of Xerox and was the CEO of the company from July 2009 to December 2016. As such, she was the first African-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company

Stewart Butterfield - Co-founder of the photo sharing website Flickr

Grant Cardone - American author, motivational speaker, real estate investor, and sales trainer

Brian Chesky - American Internet entrepreneur who co-founded the hospitality exchange service Airbnb. Chesky is the CEO of the company and was named one of Time's "100 Most Influential People of 2015”
There are plenty more examples of individuals with strong leadership skills such as Sir John Harvey Jones, Richard Branson, Alan Sugar and outside of business, probably one of the greatest of them all – Winston Churchill.  In his book ‘The Churchill Factor’, 

Boris Johnson defines his leadership in the following way:

Britain = greatest empire on earth
Churchill = greatest man in the British Empire
Therefore Churchill – greatest man on earth

Churchill was able to make leadership an art form and he became synonymous with this as his 2 finger salute became part of his brand. What is clear is that the list of business leaders are all very different, but one thing unites them all - they each possess the skills with which to get their teams to follow.

What are the Core Leadership Skills?

What do these leaders possess that others do not, and what can we learn from them? No one is a born leader—everyone can develop leadership skills and everyone can benefit from using them.

Leadership skills are an essential component in positioning executives to make thoughtful decisions about their company’s mission and goals, and properly allocate resources to achieve those directives. Valuable leadership skills include the ability to delegate, inspire and communicate effectively.

Some will place greater emphasis on the type of approach such as Steve Jobs (founder of Apple) who said that “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”.

The skills these leaders possess can be summarised as follows

1. Leading by example. Any attempt to rule with an iron fist will go down like a lead balloon – after all, your co-workers don't report to you, and make sure you do your fair share of the work.
2. Talking less, listening more – this is a much under-utilised skill and ensures you will really understand what is being said.
3. Don't play favourites – focus on being fair and equitable and try to avoid mixing business and pleasure. At some point this may compromise your decision making.
4. Being yourself – be honest with people. If you try to be something you are not people will see through the insincerity.
5. Taking responsibility – take account and show you are in charge
6. Being able to direct and motivate others – be clear on what you want your team to do and identify appropriate approach for motivating your staff. Remember that motivating staff is not always linked to financial reward, but instead acknowledgement can be a powerful tool.
7. Be aware of your own weaknesses – ensure these don’t impact the business.
8. Being prepared to take the tough decisions – steering a business is not easy and may require taking tough decisions such as redundancy. Don’t avoid making the call as the problem will only amplify further down the track.

A truism that exists in business is that the challenges faced by most companies do not differ significantly as they grow, the challenges are a result of the scale, and the complexity often comes from employing more people.

This places a preeminent requirement on good, sound leadership. Understanding that running a company requires leadership and the skills with which to demonstrate this can be learned is vital as it raises the next question…..

How can you improve your leadership skills?

The following represents a 10 point guide:

1. Have a clear vision – this is an area of immense opportunity as failure to articulate a clear vision will result in lack of direction for your team and difficulty to communicate a proposition to your customers.
2. Act as a role model – demonstrate by doing and don’t be prepared to ask someone to do something you would not do yourself.
3. Be present and visible – if you’re needed make sure you are there. In management parlance this was often referred to as ‘management by walking around’ (MBWA).
4. Be Passionate – show that you care about your team and your customers and all other stakeholders. Truly taking time to do this will reap rewards not least in terms of loyalty.
5. Set definitive goals and follow concrete action plans – and communicate these effectively to your team
6. Be flexible – a hard lined boss can come across as autocratic and intransigent, and will not get the best from the team. Be prepared to compromise.
7. Always be fair – in your treatment of staff and customers
8. Invest in yourself – be aware of your own weaknesses and develop your own skills and, if required, seek help to do this.
9. Be positive – this can be difficult to manage in the face of adversity, but a positive attitude and approach becomes infectious.
10. Always persevere – in the face of continued challenges on cash-flow and negative customer feedback, the pressure can build, leading to stress and often, ill health.

Find ways to work through this as very often the turning point is just round the corner.

Find below a useful leadership map developed by University of Kent:

Effective leadership essentially provides the bridge between surviving and thriving – moving the business toward sustainability. As markets become increasingly more competitive and pressures on business increase, make sure your leadership skills are well honed.

The next step? Speak to your local Business Advisor - If you do not know who they are - check here

Focus On Change

By Team Icon on 31/07/2017 - 0 Comments

Focus on Change

If you want to affect positive change in your business you need to focus on change in the beginning.

The following article is another one taken from the Icon book – “Your Business Your Life”. You may request your own copy here


The only constant in the universe is change. Change is the one thing you can absolutely rely on and as such it should become your friend.
If change is an absolute, you must be focused on change in a positive way. You must focus on how you can activate change in a way that is always giving you and your business what you want.

Don’t let change overtake you and allow you to become its slave, as most business owners do. Do not fall victim to what they think is “unusual and unplanned events”.

You can control what happens in your universe, it’s just a matter of focusing on what you want and then go for it with 100% commitment.


The road less travelled is the one where you mould and construct your business with true purpose.

As an example, just imagine that you were to go on a car journey to a destination you have never been to before. One of the first things you would have is a map of how to get there.

As you travel along the way you may take small detours to put petrol in your car, see the odd sight etc. You would however eventually reach your destination.

Imagine you were to go on a journey to a destination you were unsure of, and you did not have a map. The question becomes – “would you make it?”

How would you know if you were on track or off track?

How would you know if you were heading for danger?

This is how most people run a business!

So what do you need?

You need a map of “your business plan”.

You need to know your destination and you need to be focused on getting there.

Contact your local Icon advisor for a no obligation chat – if you do not know your local advisor you can find them here



Running Your Business: It’s About Doing What You Want

By Jon Sawyer on 18/07/2017 - 0 Comments

The title of this article should not be frivolous, but a statement of fact for all those business owners who have got their business to the right place where they are truly running their business effectively.

A business owner truly in control of their operation provides themselves with choices and it is from these that you can decide what you want to do. It is very easy to get pulled around and be at the mercy of the demands of the business, as David Leadbetter puts it, ‘Let the dog wag the tail’ and not the other way round. 

As now is the time when over 60% of the population go on holiday during the months of July and August it is probably a good time to review whether your business is controlling you or are you in control.

The following is an examination of what you need to do to get into control and a review of what some of the choices may look like when it all works.

One of the main keys to success in running any business is once you have established a robust business proposition based upon your product or service that profitably captures a sustainable niche of customers, is to implement effective systems and process.

It is the experience of most of our Advisors at ICON Business Solutions that most business owners have developed a sound product and service offering, and yes, whilst there may be some work required to formulate a stronger marketing platform the missing link is often systems and process.

Most business owners don’t plan to fail but fail to plan and build in these systems and processes. At the heart of this is a reluctance of the business owner to extricate themselves from the functional areas of business – these being marking, sales, production and operation, HR and Finance.

Often the business owner seems to have a main focus only on production or operation which is to the detriment of effective management and ‘strategic ownership’. This last term refers to the ability to identify and exploit other opportunities as and when they arise. Being stuck at the ‘coal face’ in operations will often mean that such opportunities are often missed.

Business Focus

What can be done to resolve this? The answer lies in putting robust systems and process in place to manage all the functional areas of the business so that these each have clear expectations and deliverables, and performance against which is regularly measured.

Often these measures get called Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and are published for the business owner to review on a monthly basis.

The benefit of ‘bedding down’ the business with robust systems is that actual performance of the business can be measured against budget to determine if the business is on track. If not, then corrective action can be taken because the business owner is in control and can steer the direction of the business as required. 

As we enter an every changing competitive landscape, in particular, with the roll-out of Brexit, there is no more pressing time to put such system and process in place.

What are these systems and process? These will be different for all businesses and will vary according to the size of the business. This will require a thorough examination of the importance of each area in terms of what it contributes toward the goals of the business.

Functional area goals will need to be developed and itemised by month. These can then be put into a plan for each functional area of the business that cascades into the overall business plan. The monthly review then becomes a tracking process to see if the milestones are being achieved to ensure the business is on the right track.

What are the benefits of such an approach? This will give you the chance to delegate effectively to functional teams and will ensure you have the time and scope to exploit broader more strategic opportunities for the business. As the business grows, management of the business can be achieved by reviewing a monthly budget and KPI review pack which will have submissions by function.

Whether or not you think this approach is for you, this is how the big corporations run their business, and so if you have aspirations of growing, then at some stage, you must also embrace this method of management. Just think of how it what it would be like if you were able to manage your business by taking regular time out from the business.

This doesn’t mean that you do not need to be present in the business to verify with your own eyes what is going on, what has been called ‘management by walking around’. What it does mean is that you now have choices as you are in control.

The main benefits can be accrued in terms of time to effectively manage and grow the business. This time can also provide greater levels of flexibility for you to enjoy taking time out to enjoy holidays and other pursuits.

The business should be there to reap rewards for you so that you can enjoy the ‘fruits of success’. If you are stuck in the UK over the summer period and did want to get away, then it is probably the case that the ‘tail is most certainly wagging the dog’ for your business, and it should be time to consider changing.

The Two States of Life

By Team Icon on 16/07/2017 - 0 Comments

This article is another one taken from from the Icon Business Solutions "Your Business Your Life" book.

There are two natural states of life:

  1. You are growing; or
  2. You are dying.

Your business will be in one of these two states, it’s either in a growth phase or it’s dying. You can’t maintain stability or stay static as it is not a natural state of the universe.

Unless you are planning to get out of your business or let it die a natural death, the only choice is to grow you and your business.


Are you holding back the reins of your business and stopping it from running? Sure you have to control your business to a degree so it does not run into undue danger, however, if you hold the reins too tight for too long both you and the business will never go as far and as fast as you could have.

The culture of your organization will be one of forever holding back. You will hold on too tight and nothing will be able to change. You will maintain direction, even if it’s wrong and is going down the wrong track.

One of the largest challenges in small business today is that the business is never going to get anywhere. The owner is moving too slowly and is holding on too tight.


Step 1: Hold both of your fists as tight as you can and don’t let go;

Step 2: While holding your hands like that, as tight as you can, get somebody else to put money into your hands.

If you hold on too tight, you can’t receive and you will never be able to get what you want.


There are a many and varied number of methods to improve this area.

For some, it will be a long journey and for others it will be fast and exciting - the choice is yours.

Contact your local Advisor today and develop the processes for continual growth for your business.

Dealing with Uncertainty for Business

By Jon Sawyer on 26/06/2017 - 0 Comments

For this article we are again taking inspiration from the Icon handbook - "Your Business Your Life" This section is more valid than ever: 

There are a myriad of challenges a business can face and these can come completely out of the blue, but will still need to be managed correctly. Such crises may include illness of a key director, fire, loss of information and theft, and each of these may make it impossible to deal with business in the normal manner.

The parallels with political uncertainty are more than apparent as Theresa May tries to work towards a successful conclusion in Brexit talks with a reduced majority. The politicians, nor media did not predict the outcome of the June 2017 election. Instead of strengthening May’s negotiating hand, the results of the election may limit her room for negotiation. As a result she will now work with the UDP to drive through agreed changes into UK law.

Did Theresa May have a plan in place to deal with such a crisis? The answer is probably no!

Instead of crisis management is there a better way to be prepared for whatever markets, competitors, customers or your staff may throw at you. The answer is YES. With good planning it is possible to mitigate against the potential impact of such crises, and may even prevent its occurrence in the first place.

The best approach is to have a guide or plan to deal with each potential crisis. Otherwise, failure to plan may result in potential damage to your brand, reputation risk of loss of sales and market share.

The need for a plan to cover such emergencies is self-evident, and is more than apparent for small business as they may lack the resource to cope easily in such circumstances. The following 4 step process sets out a methodology for dealing with the unexpected in your business.

      1. Identify all the potential events that may affect you and the likelihood of their occurrence

      2. Determine ways in which you can mitigate or avoid these from happening – focus on the priority areas.

      3. With your management team - set out a business continuity plan – an action plan for dealing with such adversity.

      4. Test the plan and put regular checks in place to update.

A classic example of such a crisis is in the event of loss of trading data and was highlighted in the loss of account information earlier this year for HSBC customers. Faced with such an eventuality there should be a back-up plan in place so that trading does not grind to a halt.

One of ICON’s Advisors worked for a timber company that suffered a fire resulting in the loss of the main operational site. In these circumstances an emergency premises was used and all information was backed-up off-site to ensure trading could continue the following day.

Any continuity plan needs to be effectively communicated to all staff to enable them to deal with the crisis more easily, and should be sufficiently resourced, and also tested from time to time. Doing this may even give you an edge over competitors as you may build greater levels of resilience into your company through the continuity plan.

Remember that whilst scenarios such as a major theft, fire, or illness of key staff may be unlikely, it is prudent to start planning for them now.

As Steven Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) would say, start ‘planning with the end in mind’. Build the continuity plan into the fabric of your business and make sure they are fully ‘road tested’.

Start building resilience into your business. If unsure of how to deal with this then get help to put a robust plan in place by giving one of our Advisors at ICON a call.

Everyone Has An Unfair Advantage

By The Icon Team on 23/05/2017 - 0 Comments

Remember this … if one person in the world can achieve something, then so can you.

If Bill Gates can create an outstanding business that generates an annual revenue greater than that of the country Turkey, so can you.

All you need to do is to be ever improving in your gain of knowledge and then apply that knowledge to all things around you.

If you improve just 2% every week then you will be a massive 104% improved by the end of just one year.

One other important factor most of us are unaware of is this: “Most people over estimate what they can achieve in one year and grossly underestimate what they can achieve in ten  years”.

List what you want your business to achieve in the next ten years. Take into account what will best support you as a person with regard to your lifestyle, wealth and family interaction.

The above is a small snippet from our book - "Your Business Life".

Over the next few months we will be revisiting more of the book in detail - Where do you start in Business? A Job for Life! and many more. Look out for these - and if not already on the mailing list let us know and we will add you on to ensure you do not miss out. 

To discuss any aspect of advice on how to grow and develop your business - make sure you contact your local ICON Business Solutions advisor now.



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