Your business is your baby. Here’s how to raise it


Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 46 we had the honour of speaking with H.E. Prof. Dr. Ambassador Tal Edgars, Group Executive Chairman of GBSH Consult Group Worldwide and Chairman of the National Master Plan Task team in South Africa in Social Entrepreneurship and Social Development.

H.E. Prof. Dr. Ambassador Tal Edgars is a global business authority, mentor, diplomat and a cutting-edge strategist and academician. He specialises planning and executing successful private and public sector initiatives all around the world.

In this chat he shares his lifetime of knowledge with us on what makes a good leader and how small business owners can lead ethically and strategically.

Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with H.E. Prof. Dr. Ambassador Tal Edgars on YouTubeSpotifyListen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.

Authored by H.E. Prof. Dr. Ambassador Tal Edgars.

When people ask me how to be an effective leader, I say to lead based on impact, not based on results. Anyone can deliver results, but not everyone can have a successful lasting effect on society. 

I’m sure you have heard people say running a business is like raising a child. It’s true in more ways than one. There’s a saying that goes, “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them”. Small businesses do the same. We look at what big businesses are doing, and we imitate them. If a big business was able to grow from millions to billions, what can I, as a small business, learn from that? 

Just like you would with a child, if you want your business to grow big and strong, you have to nurture it and, as the business owner, guide it with intentional strategy and integrity.

Lead strategically
There has been a general decline in the ability to understand and formulate a strategy. The problem is many are confused between strategy and strategy goals. Almost all “strategies” are lists of goals or sub-goals and not strategies. However, there is a difference between your destination and your roadmap. Strategy is supposed to be a comprehensive roadmap on how to achieve your goals. It’s a way to describe the entire journey so that people know how to reach the destination. As long as a strategy is in your head, it’s just an aspiration. You need to paint a picture of what you want to achieve, how you want to achieve it and for how long. Strategy building is essentially made up of three steps: diagnosing the goal and situation, creating a guiding policy to get to a certain point, and then putting it in action. 

Let me explain what a strategy should not look like, with the four hallmarks of a bad strategy. The first is fluff. Many tend to inflate their strategic concepts or arguments with a bunch of gibberish. It is using fancy words that have no real substance to them. The second is failure to define and face the challenge. If you cannot define the challenge, how can you expect to improve your strategy? The third is mistaking goals for strategy. Again, a lot of bad strategies are just statements of desire rather than plans for overcoming obstacles. It is just a stretch goal, budget, or list of things you wish would happen. The fourth is bad strategic objectives. A “bad” objective is unachievable or does not address the critical issues.

Many business owners will say, ‘My business is my baby’, but fail to treat it as one. When you have a child, you plan for when they go off to college and prepare for it while they’re still teenagers. That is what small business owners should be doing with their business. You want to know what you will need when it gets to its mature phase and how to get there. However, you shouldn’t wait to know all this when it reaches that point, you should want to know now. What are the important conversations I need to have now and in the future? That is what many small business owners struggle with. 

I believe strongly in horizon scanning as part of strategy. When the world was disrupted by a global pandemic, businesses went from asking what are we doing now, to what is going to happen later? Part of planning for the future is looking at the past. However, sometimes we are so stuck in this century that we forget what has happened in the millennium. Horizon scanning borrows everything you learn from the century, together with the millennium, to strategically push your business forward and plan for the future. 

At the same time, business is a practice that has to be worked on daily, in the here and now. Like humans, businesses need to eat, sleep and work otherwise they don’t thrive – they suffocate. It’s similar to the bamboo theory that says a bamboo will stay underground for four years, but if you water it every day, in the fifth year it will grow up to 90 feet tall. All that time it was developing a root system strong enough to support a resilient tree. That is how you should view your small business. Working at it every day, giving it what it needs now because you have big plans for it in the future.

Now, a lot of small business owners will question how to strategise for the future, considering they’re already dedicating hours on end to their business. Just because you’re classified as a small business doesn’t mean you have to be small. You have to be able to build systems that will allow you to stop working in the business and work on it instead. Apply your mind in a way that will build the root system, so you have time to sit back and assess your business from the outside looking in. 

Take the creators of McDonald’s for example. The creators applied their minds to accommodate the idea of fast food. They saw a human need and found a solution for it. Shake Shack later saw a different human need at a different time – a new wave of conscious eating, putting the food first over fast food. That’s how Shake Shack became the popular US franchise it is today, alongside the great McDonald’s.

The point is, that every small business has the opportunity to be a bigger business if it allows itself to look at its structure and processes and say, ‘How can we achieve what we want to achieve?’. Most of the time we’re quick to describe the destination, but not quite interested in the journey. I think the journey is far more important because it can lead you to places that change what your destination looks like. 

Lead ethically
In a world where ethical leadership in big business is continuously being eroded, small business leaders today need to embody integrity even more. Leaders of big companies know the rules and laws very well and sometimes even deliberately violate them for a higher gain. Small businesses are able to bring that moral advantage to the table. After all, when you start your business, the first thing everyone wants to know was who you have worked with, not what your balance sheet looks like. We now value interpersonal relationships and in that, integrity comes first. 

Let’s take it back to the metaphor of your business being your child. Just like with a child, if you don’t instil a strong ethical base in your small business, it won’t be able to resonate with others and grow. As a small business owner, you must be the first person to hold yourself accountable because, unfortunately, there is no solid bar or standard that we as business owners hold ourselves to ethically. Further, the terms ‘business owner’ and ‘entrepreneur’ have become overused and cheapened to include anyone with a ‘side hustle’. To differentiate yourself as a true business owner, you need integrity as well as merit. 

People always tell me, ‘Oh, but the data shows…’. Data only means so much in the boardroom. Other than that, it doesn’t mean much to me; meritocracy does. What do you bring to the table? What unique and diverse capabilities in yourself and your team can you drive, scale, and grow within your people and business? 

What does an ethical leader’s business look like?
Ethical leadership is one of those characteristics you can’t hide. As small business owners, we convey elements of us as leaders into the business, whether it’s through our mission, goals, or other types of messaging. A successful business is not exactly based on what you sell, but on your approach. It’s about what you promise to consumers. The reason many people are reluctant to associate themselves with small businesses is because of the fear of risk. The only way to overcome the risk is by building a reputation. 

In the 1970s, Pepsi conducted quite a popular social experiment where a group of people were given two unlabelled cups, one with Pepsi and one with Coca Cola, to drink. When asked which they preferred, they chose the Pepsi. Nevertheless, Coca Cola was and still is widely preferred over Pepsi because of the branding it’s built over time. The experiment shows that consumers are emotional beings who will choose a business based on their experiences with not just the product, but the brand itself. 

As small businesses, we don’t have the space for buyer’s remorse. If an experience is horrible, the customer won’t come back like they will for a large corporation like Amazon, who has money to re-engineer the feeling for customers to come back and say, ‘No, I’m missing out’. Small businesses have limited chances to make it, and if you want to do it right, you have to start with ethics and integrity. 

Each morning as you head to work, ask yourself: is my strategic plan guiding us in the right direction? Am I showing integrity as a leader of my business? Are we delivering on our promises?