CEOs explain how to be a better leader

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There are innumerable aspects to what makes a great leader, not only within the person but in the group that they assemble and the culture that surrounds them. From emphasizing stability, finding someone to learn from through to assembling the right team, here’s what can help you to be a better leader, according to some Australian CEOs.

Jo Burston. Supplied.

Jo Burston, CEO and Founder, Rare Birds

The most important characteristic of entrepreneurial leadership is the ability to combine EQ (emotional intelligence) and IQ at the right place and the right time; to know when to listen and when to talk. Having strong empathy for my team means I can work to understand their underlying motivations and ambitions, which helps me to help them on our journey together.

Throughout my journey as a leader, it has always been critical that the team knows I am the rock of stability and the voice of our vision as we grow and learn together. It’s important when starting out in business that the vision is clearly articulated, and that EVERYONE in the business is on the same page. My team needs to know why they are doing what they do and it is my job as the leader to continually share the “why” through a clearly articulated vision, as well as an ongoing clear and passionate conversation – daily.

Robin McGowan. Supplied.

Robin McGowan, Co-founder, InStitchu

Our journey building InStitchu, from start to finish, has been one of learning and personal growth – and we believe these are the most important factors in becoming a better leader. From day one, James and I have dedicated ourselves to learning, putting effort into studying from the best business leaders and fashion icons from around the world while learning more about our business and employees. We are wary of stagnating as CEOs and try to always remember that true respect is not gained from the position you hold, but the effort that got you there.

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Chris Smith, Founder and CEO, Area360

Those of us that are blessed to see our companies grow past the early stages have to quickly learn to transform from the star-player to the coach of the team.

1. Build a strong team. Build a team of smart people that you love to work with. Of course, every company wants talented staff, but remember that your early hires will spend more time with you than their families. Hire slowly and keep your culture in mind. Fire swiftly if you and/or the rest of the team don’t trust, love, and appreciate a staff member.

2. Set your pace. Startups move fast and your team will want to run fast. It’s important as a leader to set a long-term vision, but the destination will only be reached by constantly aligning on your short-term objectives. Sometimes that means slowing down and putting one foot in front of the other until you reach and surpass your milestones.

3. Learn to say no, fast. Leaders must be ruthless about prioritizing the company strategy. Learning to say no to opportunities that are wrong for the business (even when they look amazing) will clear the way for the right ones.

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Ben Handler, CEO and Co-founder, Cohen Handler

While I’ve had mentors and follow inspirational thought leaders that have shaped the way I lead, I think becoming a good leader is a very self-taught process. I have learned to craft my own style, joined CEO leadership groups and have coaches for mindfulness, marketing, sales; some of the most important aspects of my life. Being a good leader is not just about focusing on what you bring to the business — it’s about having a good balance in all the major things in life.

At Cohen Handler we empower all our employees to recognise their leadership potential, as we don’t believe that only CEOs and senior management can lead. When you provide your staff with the tools and training for personal and professional development, they are more driven to think critically like a leader, and become a good one. Providing flexibility and autonomy helps identify people’s qualities and understand their leadership potential.

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Craig Davis, Co-founder, Sendle

The whole world struggles to pay attention, so the best thing you can do as a leader is just that, pay attention. Slow down, stop talking and notice what’s really going on with your people, your customers and your product. Good leaders always have time for their team. When you listen carefully, you’ll be amazed by what you learn and the connections you make. You’ll engender focus and calm. And when things get stressful remember to breathe, so you can be at your best and not your hair-triggered evil twin.

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Mitchell Taylor, Co-founder, Koala Mattress

No matter the size of your team, a few leadership philosophies will always ring true.

1. Have no fear. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You mistakes will teach you valuable lessons for when you get up and go again.

2. Admit when you are wrong. If you are wrong, own up and take responsibility for your actions- your peers will respect you for being the bigger person. You should never use a position of leadership to pass on the blame.

3. There is always more. Don’t let yourself get too comfortable. Always see the potential to be better, continue to aspire to greatness and inspire your peers to do the same.

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John Box, Executive Director, APAC, Meltwater

Sometimes people seem to think that being an entrepreneur involves flying solo and to be a strong leader, you have to forge your own path.

To the contrary, I would suggest that the strongest leaders are those that are humble enough to recognise that they can’t do it all alone. Your best chance of success lies in working alongside people that you are passionate about and who can offer a skill-set that compliments your own, in order to form a leadership team that can offer as much as possible to the company.

Based on my experience at Meltwater, I would just add that you should never be afraid of working with young people who possess the potential, but not quite the experience. Sometimes, there is no substitute for someone’s drive and determination to prove themselves!

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