Category Archives: Advising

How Vertical Development helps new leaders truly transform

Have you noticed how awash the internet is with advice from investors and other gurus about how to build and lead technology businesses? CEOs and other new leaders need good advice“guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent future action” – if they are to stand any chance of building a successful business. There are many core skills that must be acquired, and there is much to be learned from those who have done it before. But to develop truly effective leaders we need to move beyond providing them with more information – telling them what to do and how to do it – to helping them improve how they think, make decisions, and make sense of the world. This is the distinction between horizontal development, which focuses on what you know, and Vertical Development, which concerns how you think.

In a VUCA world, where information and knowledge is everywhere, it will be individuals and teams who develop their ability to think and act in more complex, systemic, and interdependent ways who will be at the vanguard of leadership and business growth. This post dives into the detail of what Vertical Development is and considers its application to leaders in startup and high growth technology businesses. It ends with three habits of mind that you can develop, as a leader, to help you advance your thinking and leadership capabilities beyond what you know to how you think. This is the place where you truly transform and grow.

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How to develop a leadership culture in your business

The internet is awash with articles about the importance of developing a positive company culture. What’s less commonly discussed is the importance of developing a positive leadership culture. In this post I explore what leadership culture is and how you can develop it in your business by: having focused executive leadership team conversations, engaging the whole business in leadership conversations, owning leadership culture from the top, and investing in leadership development.

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Leading on the job: advice for new leaders

Not long ago you were part of a small team of people with a big idea that you thought could change the world. Now you’ve taken on significant investment and are responsible for a rapidly growing team who are looking at you for direction. Your burden of responsibility has increased dramatically and you need to learn to lead quickly. Having coached a lot of new leaders in this situation, in venture capital and private equity-backed businesses, I’ve turned that experience into five pieces of leadership advice.

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4 questions to improve your leadership self-awareness

Self-awareness is the “capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals. Self-awareness is how an individual consciously knows and understands their own character, feelings, motives, and desires”. Back in 2003, psychologists acknowledged that self-awareness was “arguably the most fundamental issue in psychology, from both a developmental and an evolutionary perspective.” More recently, the critical importance of self-awareness as a key trait of effective leaders has become recognised.

Because Great Leadership Starts With Self-Awareness, helping my clients understand how self-aware they are now, and how they can become more self-aware in the future, is a critical part of my role as an executive coach and a critical part of their development as leaders. In this post, I explain the approach that I use and which you can use too.

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The management, leadership & coaching principles of Bill Campbell

Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell (Amazon UK, US) is a book about a man who helped build some of America’s greatest companies, including Apple and Google. A former college football player and coach, Bill didn’t enter the business world until he was thirty nine. Moving quickly though through executive roles, he went on to coach the likes of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Ben Horowitz and Bill Gurley, to name just a few. He passed away in 2016, leaving a legacy of growing companies, successful people and an enormous amount of respect. The book is essential reading for any manager or leader operating in a fast-moving, high growth business.

This post is a summary of Bill Campbell’s approach towards management, leadership & coaching. For more inspiration, sign up to my monthly Newsletter: a curation of blogs, articles, books and podcasts about the future of business and leadership.

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How to avoid being duped by survivorship bias

It’s easy to see, and pay attention to, only successful individuals and businesses, not the failures that fall by the wayside. This phenomenon is called survivorship bias: “the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility.” (Wikipedia). This article explains what survivorship bias is and how to avoid being duped by it.

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The Lindy Effect: a simple heuristic to help you choose your next book

In his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Amazon UK, US), Nassim Taleb provides a simple heuristic, known as the Lindy Effect. The effect simply says: that the expected life of an item is proportional to its past life. You can use this heuristic to help you choose your next book based on the wisdom it might contain.

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Do these 2 things to get better at coaching your employees

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever (Amazon UK, US) is one of the best books I’ve read for managers and leaders who want to use a coach approach with their employees but don’t have the time or inclination for formal training. It’s short on theory but long on practical tools and techniques that are a shot to the heart of great coaching.

The author identifies seven questions to ask when taking a coach-approach towards engaging with your team. Rather than spoil the book, I’ll share two challenges that he identifies for anyone seeking to be a better coach-manager or coach-leader.

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What is the difference between coaching & mentoring?

The words coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably, though there are in fact important differences. In his book Coaching for Performance (Amazon UK, US), the late Sir John Whitmore, explains what the difference between coaching and mentoring is. Whitmore is the founder of the coaching movement in the UK. The book is widely considered to be the industry gold standard for performance based coaching.

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The role of luck & randomness in life & business

Howard Marks is one of Wall Street’s wisest investors. He co-Chairs Oaktree Capital Management which has approximately $100 billion in Assets Under Management. He’s also the author of  The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor (Amazon UKUS). A highly successful investor, and multi-billionaire in his own right, Marks is clear that luck and randomness has played a key role.

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How to be a great mentor

What does it take to be a great mentor? Talking at the launch of the Forward Partners mentor network event I shared my thoughts about mentoring entrepreneurs (Forward Partners are a leading London-based early-stage venture capital firm). I talked about the importance of listening and understanding, before giving advice, and suggested some questions that mentors can ask to helpfully open up a mentor conversation.

I started with a quote from Sal Virani’s recently released book Mentor Impact. Based on over 200 mentor interviews and extensive personal experience of working with accelerator programmes across Europe, he launches the book with a quote from one of the best mentors he interviewed (also a founder who had been through an accelerator programme). That person’s advice to other mentors: Continue reading

Advice for entrepreneurs: focus on doing one thing really well

Advice for entrepreneurs: focus on doing one thing really well

The June 2015 edition of Wired magazine leads with “41 lessons from Uber’s success”. Leading industry commentators shared their opinions, but Josh Elman from Greylock Partners shared the best piece of advice. Travis Kalanick may be a controversial founder, but Elman noted that the entrepreneur had the focus to: 

Do one thing really well – then figure out what the second leap is.

Successful entrepreneurs heed this advice. Elman cites Facebook’s beginnings as a private social network at colleges, before the company realized that the news feed could help propel the site into a massive multi-billion-user, multi-billion-dollar company. Uber, he says, was the same thing:

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Steve Jobs defines focus and why it is so important

For entrepreneurs, an inspiring idea and early validation of your business model are just the start of the journey. When it comes to scaling your startup, there are a thousand and one things that you could do, but you must focus on the one hundred and one things that you can actually do with limited available cash, resources and time. In Tren Griffin’s blog A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Steve Jobs about Business, he references two quotes about focus from the great man.

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Why you should always begin with the end in mind

7habitsI picked up my copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey the other day. I remembered that one of Covey’s principles was to begin with the end in mind and I’ve been doing some detailed thinking recently about what my own end is, so to speak. It struck me that there’s some useful lessons in the book about how to grow a business in 2015.

Covey says that beginning with the end in mind is based on the principle that all things are created twice. First a mental creation, then a physical creation. He uses the example of building a house: “you create it in every detail before you ever hammer the first nail in place” he says. Continue reading

Governance for startups: how to build and manage a Board

shutterstock_136036394 (2) Black and WhiteAny startup that has successfully raised follow on funding (angel and beyond) is going to find itself with external investors to keep happy and to do this effectively requires some form of governance structure to be put in place. Achieving this is not actually that complicated but if you’ve never set up a startup Board before, or put any kind of governance structure in place, then it probably feels like a daunting task. Continue reading

ANOTHER post about what’s WRONG with The Lean Startup

Lean Startup Collage

The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, was first published in 2011 and has since become the bible for startup entrepreneurs around the world. More recently, the approach outlined in The Lean Startup has received criticism, but is that fair? In this post I argue that it is not, because that is all it is, an approach, albeit a very good one. 

The Lean Startup is not a prescribed formula that guarantees business success. Sadly, management is complicated”, something that Eric Ries makes very clear in this video where he discusses how the principles and processes explained in The Lean Startup can be used to gain competitive advantage.

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Business lessons from David Bowie

Did you manage to make it to the acclaimed ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London? Bowie is an incredible talent, combining undeniable song writing ability with outstanding creative flair. He is a true innovator, whose fame has real momentum through constant reinvention. Whilst the days of the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane may be over, Bowie is arguably as well known now as he has ever been.

Whilst exploring the exhibition my mind turned to thinking about what business might be able to learn from him. In a world where pop stars increasingly come and go, David Bowie’s (talent based) fame has endured. This post takes a look at why, and what lessons business can learn. Continue reading