Leadership is something that comes hand in hand with being a start-up founder and entrepreneur. You need to be able to lead the development of your business. You need to champion your vision and your offering to customers, suppliers and your broader networks. And as your enterprise grows, you will need to lead a team.
But while I believe that people have leadership potential, I also believe that we should never stop learning. Some of this comes from experience, but some of it comes from people.
Recently I read First Man In: Leading from the Front by Ant Middleton, former SBS operative, and more recently of SAS: Who Dares Wins fame. I was expecting tales of Special Forces training and his experiences on tour, which would have been interesting, but not necessarily something that would change my own approach. But what I actually got was a very authentic, very real insight into his life journey. And some really useful leadership lessons along the way.
When we take the decision to learn from others, it’s quite natural to gravitate to people you know, and people who have gone before you on the same path you are starting out on. If you’re an aspiring education chief, you’ll look to learn from people who are already in school leadership positions. If you want to be a business leader, you’ll look towards established entrepreneurs.
But through reading Ant’s book, I have learned the power of learning from someone whose path is so very different from your own.
And its true. Our paths are decidedly different. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in French and Russian, and a Masters Degree in Management, and live a fairly quiet life in Berkshire. And in all honesty, the only things I know about military life are from TV, my husband’s interest in the topic, and from talking to friends who are military wives. On the flipside, Ant joined the military at 16, and has served with the SBS, the Royal Marines and 9 Parachute Regiment Royal Engineers. He has climbed Everest and recreated the journey of Captain Bligh.
So what leadership lessons did I learn from Ant Middleton? The answer… an awful lot! Our experiences and paths through life may be different, but this in itself is a very positive thing. And often, learning from someone whose journey has been so very different from your own, is actually a huge opportunity.
[Life’s journey is] about taking who you are and making you a better version of yourself. It’s not about trying to be this person or that person.Ant Middleton, First Man In: Leading from the Front
When I looked back through the book, I found it quite challenging to select my top three leadership lessons – there really are many. So instead, here are a selection of my favourite quotes from the book, and my interpretation of them.
“No matter how it comes to you, even if it’s in an apparently negative package, take that lesson as a positive.”
This is so true, but nevertheless can be a challenging mindset to adopt. But we all really do make mistakes. None of us can be perfect all of the time, and in reality, it’s the act of learning, and therefore making progress, that is by far the most important thing. So even when negative things happen, deciding to learn from them, immediately turns that negative into a positive. Then we continue to make progress.
“If you get the small things wrong, big problems will find you.”
Again, absolutely true. It’s great (and encouraged!) that a good leader should maintain a strong vision and direction, but that cannot be at the expense of the details. Knowing where you’re heading is great, but you also need to work out how you’re going to get there. Failing to anticipate barriers and risks will just hold you up, or even prevent you from achieving your goals altogether.
“There’s always a route around your weakness… Be the exceptional person – find the route around.”
Have you ever hit a stumbling block or barrier, and picked yourself up? But then turned round and headed back the way you came? We’ve all been there. But this quote is a lesson that I really, whole-heartedly, agreed with. When you hit a difficult patch, or hear the words’No’ or ‘You can’t’, a good leader needs to continue looking forward. And then find a way to overcome the challenge or negativity at hand.
“Leaders understand that their demons are an essential part of who they are.”
Again, this can be a really challenging one to take on board, but Ant’s approach is exemplary here. We certaily do all have demons – I think it’s part of human nature. But many of us either allow ourselves to be beaten by them, or manage to develop something of a ‘front’ which then allows us to paper over the cracks. But the key is to turn it into a positive. Take the time to identify and understand your demons, and then turn them to your advantage. Making you stronger as a result.
“If it feels like ‘temptation’, it’s a bad decision”
Temptation is all around us. Whether it be chocolate, alcohol, or the temptation to simply say something that you’ve been dying to say (but perhaps shouldn’t). I think the lesson here is about careful consideration, and thinking about the bigger picture. Making a decision, or diving into something quickly, just because it feels good in the immediate term, is not usually a good thing. Instead, we should take time to think, consider, and weigh up the impact on the bigger picture.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed, and can draw your own inspiration from the above and from Ant’s book as a whole. Developing a strong mindset and good habits is a fundamental part of becoming an entrepreneur, and we start with this in the first stage of our Programme.
But in the meantime, who inspires you to be a great leader? Let us know in the comments!