Why Positive Leadership and Innovative Minds are Key to Business Strategy
Suresh Vaghjiani, CEO and founder of CLOWD9 will be the first to tell you that building and growing a business isn’t easy.
Business strategies will change, new skill sets are needed further along your scaleup journey, but most of all, founders need to keep innovating and developing their mindset to see their business succeed.
We spoke to Suresh about the importance of an innovative mindset and positive leadership to grow a business.
Working on an innovative mindset
Suresh said: “What you have to remember about founders is that they are often trailblazers who push boundaries in areas that have not been disrupted; they're trying to create change.”
But one of the things that can happen with founders, according to Suresh, is that they can get blinded by something called ‘Affinity Bias’, this is when one limits their talent pool by hiring individuals who are similar to themselves; who mirror similar traits and qualities as themselves.
“I think it's very important to have an approach where your mindset doesn't end up down a rabbit hole. It’s important that you follow the journey, however do so with an open mind, as innovation is ultimately what drives change within a sector.
The founders and leaders who I have seen struggle, may have come up with an initial great idea, but they're not in that constant and adaptable state of learning, therefore their success is hindered.
Successful founders have a strong core concept and understand the necessity of adaptive changes based on customer needs. They bring their business to life through their commitment to constant learning.
Previous learnings are invaluable. It's really important that your mind is always open to adapt otherwise you risk becoming stagnated. We're in the fintech sector that is evolving so rapidly that you can end up missing the mark. Remember incumbents often struggle to be adaptive due to the nature and size of their organisations.
When fintechs bring things to market, their main aim is to get their products to market as quickly as possible, even if it's not perfect.
They get behavioural learning from their live customers and enhance the product to improve it with iterative solutions that have the true essence of Behaviour Driven Development.
If you look at traditional big monolithic banks, they may choose to do lots of market research and then launch a product, but by the time they launch the product in two, three years, the market could have moved. So this is where an adaptable learning mindset keeps you ahead of the curve.”
Keeping ahead of the game
As comfortable as it may feel for founders, Suresh says, they should avoid surrounding their team with ‘yes men or yes women.’
“There are different prejudices. You may have people who conform to you; who lack individual ideas; who do not question the reasons why.
It's very comforting to have people like that in the team because there's a familiarity to it, but in many ways, it's actually detrimental when everything is unanimous in agreement.
It is important to unite a team with a shared vision, however it is fundamentally important to have a diverse range of skills and ideas in order to bring innovative products to market.
You should have people who challenge you and who are not afraid to ask questions. As a founder, you want the most junior person in the company to ask, “Why?” In order to consider alternative directions. Having people to challenge you brings a better product and service to market.”
A lesson Suresh says he’s learned along the way is understanding that your business will need its people to have very different skill sets throughout the journey - whether at the start, midway, or further down the line.
But that doesn’t mean employees can’t travel along the business journey with the company - Suresh says they need to adapt with the company and learn to grow.
He says: “I use this analogy. When you're launching, you are a football team in the lowest division, and your aim is to get into the Premier League.
"Along the way you will need to upgrade or upskill your team as the stakes and challenges will be different from when your team were in the lower divisions. This evolution applies to you, the Manager (founder), too. If you want your club (company) to succeed then you will need to put your ego aside to do what is best for the team and go on to win the Premier League.
"It's very rare to have a founding CEO as a CEO of a company floating on the stock market, because their mindset and skill set is very different.
"Founding CEOs are more risk-taking, involved with their team and are often more hands on. However, as the company grows and evolves into a large, established organisation, so too should the skillset of the CEO. They may not have as much direct interaction with their team and may spend more time in board and stakeholder meetings. Therefore different traits and qualities are required at different stages of the journey.”
Learnings throughout a career
Suresh says one thing he realised - which you may not realise when you’re in amongst it - is that when launching your company, whether it succeeds or fails, you never really fail.
“You only really fail if you give up and it defeats you. Don't get me wrong, there'll be many times when you’ll feel like you’re not sure you’d want to do it again, and then you’ll take a step back. As a founder, you end up investing a lot of your emotion and time into something. If you leave a company you founded, it’s like giving your child away.
"But there's no such thing as actually failing. Every time you get it wrong, it becomes a positive learning experience.
"There is always an assumption that, if you make mistakes, people will judge you, but actually, people have way more respect if you take the learnings and move forward.
"You never really fail if you learn. You only really fail when you give up and say ‘I'm not doing this anymore.’ There must be many people that do and I can understand why they would.”
Suresh uses Tom Blomfield, founder of Monzo as an example. Tom created a waiting list for people wanting to open an account - an idea he took from his experience launching a failed dating app.
A piece of advice that resonated
Suresh says he has had many managers, and has learned as much from the bad managers - who teach you how not to manage people - as from the really good ones.
Two of his managers that truly stood out for Suresh both came from military backgrounds. One was in the Austrian army, while another was responsible for nuclear navy submarines who would spend months out at sea in isolation, ready to detonate a nuclear submarine's red button if needed.
Suresh adds: “And I thought ‘How does he keep his team sane without them going crazy with the responsibility and control of nuclear weapons? That’s what he was doing for months on end away from friends or family.
"What I learned about managing a team is that if you really want to be successful, you must put the team first.”
The ex-Navy captain explained when food was laid out for the crew on the submarine, he would let his men eat first, and the first few times, the crew would finish everything and there would be nothing left for the captain.
As the voyage progressed, the crew started to realise what the captain was doing, and would set aside food for the captain, demonstrating their mutual respect.
Suresh adds: “He explained that you must put your people first as it will ultimately lift the whole organisation.
"Different people have different management styles. Some people like to imply they're extremely intelligent at the expense of their team, which is the perfect way to alienate a team. And then there are others who hire people who they consider to be better than them.
"I'm a big fan of hiring people who inspire me and who I believe are better than me. I believe that those who do not hire individuals who exceed them are actually driven by their own insecurities. Therefore if you do have such insecurities, then maybe you shouldn't be leading a company.”