Leadership Lessons from the Trenches

It’s been eight years. Eight years since Synthesis Group was founded and eight years since I moved from employee to business owner. Nothing could have prepared me for the immense personal stretching that lay ahead – here are a few highlights over that time.

1. A vision beyond today’s reach

Medtronic, the worlds largest medical devices company was founded on a 100-year business plan. That’s a daunting and inspiring notion. Your plan need not be that far into the future, but it should be forward looking and stretching the parameters of how business is conducted today.

Ever since Synthesis was established, I’ve been able to close my eyes and see an organisation with a very specific reach, service, footprint and impact – a rolling 20-year plan of what the business will be. It’s a far cry from what’s in place today, and it scares me, but that I believe it is necessary.

I cannot achieve it on my own. It’s a battle cry that gathers together team, advisors, suppliers and partners that collectively will see the vision fulfilled.

2. Watch your mental health

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve woken in the night in a cold sweat, gripped by fear about the unknown or uncontrollable. The daytime can be equally challenging. An event or a thought can be all that is required to tip thinking toward unhealthy self-talk or doubt about my abilities and the path that I’m on. It is my observation that your mind is most vulnerable to irrational attack when asleep, and self-undermining talk when awake.

What’s allowed me to continually right myself after these hidden and upending experiences is my faith, and always having two or three experienced, older and wiser ‘father figures’ who provide the encouragement and a hard word when it’s needed.

3. Brilliant business advisors

For me, creating a vision of the end state is a straightforward component of growth. At times, generating the specific execution plan for a component of the strategy can be the challenge.

Since the early days, I made the conscious decision to surround myself with experienced professional advisors, men and women with a deep well of knowledge in various facets of business. Whether that be service evolution, scaling, team and culture building, or industry connections – external professionals who can provide surgical-like guidance when it’s needed.

4. Make it personal

One of the simple rules that I run by is give before you get. Put another way, I like to ask the question, ‘What can I do for you?’

Rather than continually looking out for self, my approach is to put the other individual first. That doesn’t make me a doormat, but it intentionally and sincerely places the priorities of the other party before my own. Whether it’s advice, insights, a practical tool or perhaps making a simple introduction, advancing the immediate need of the other party will regularly develop rapport, build trust and yes, win work.

5. Are you prepared to pay the price?

Leadership is costly. Many aspiring leaders want the title but may not understand what they’re signing up to. The lost weekends, the late nights, the missed school event, reduced income in the early years and forgoing social activities, these are all part of the journey.

Success (whatever that looks like to you) takes time. We hear about organisations and individuals that seemingly take off overnight. Some achieve this, but that’s not been my experience. There is usually a huge personal, financial and time sacrifice that happens behind the scenes that can so easily be glossed over by those that are hungry for advancement.

6. Involve and prioritise family

I believe that you can have a successful business or career, and a wonderful healthy family life. They do not have to compete. I will not sacrifice my wife and family in the name of progressing my career, growing a business or providing a lifestyle. My approach has been to take them on the journey.

I talk with my children about the business. I share with my family the ups and downs. And I always emphasis that they come first. There are moments when my time commitments to the business do not align with that statement, but I make sure that I compensate. For instance, tucking my kids into bed each night, having a regular 1:1 chat with each child every week and prioritising time in diary to show appreciation to my wife, these are essential. Spontaneity may have suffered, but my family will not.

7. Partnerships

Collaborative partnerships have been a pillar of opportunity and scale for Synthesis. Further to the earlier remark about putting others first, our partnerships operate along similar lines. What is the partner wanting to achieve, overcome or capitalise upon and then, how can I contribute toward the satisfaction of that goal?

Of course, not every potential partnership takes off. In my experience, less than 30% of all collaborative conversations result in a mutually agreeable structure being formed, and then for those that do, there is a sliding scale of outcome. I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with sole trader subject matter experts, right up to large multi-nationals – it’s been an absolute honour.

8. Learn to rest

Perhaps the hardest lesson that I’m still learning right now is to rest, since pure drive and determination alone will not be enough.

I’ve found a remarkable correlation that the more time I take off, the better the business performs. In other words, a refreshed leader brings more to the table than one who is strung out. That of course is only made possible through an empowered and competent team that has been encouraged to contribute and lead.

Eight years goes by quickly. The business I had at the beginning is remarkably different to what I have right now. So much is due to the talented team that calls Synthesis their own.

In many respects, after eight years, now the real journey begins. I’m highly mindful of staying the course, enjoying the ups and downs and growing along the way. What a privilege it’s been.

Synthesis Group is Australia’s leading cultural reform experts, with a specialisation in capability uplift that empowers corporate service teams. We believe all teams should be able to demonstrate their true worth and value.

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