Leadership, and a high performance culture

I’ve been self-employed, a business co-founder/owner, and have worked in high-growth tech companies. There is NO DOUBT that culture eats strategy for breakfast, and there is a huge opportunity cost in getting that wrong.

I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Mel Rowsell, who has published her book Leadership for the Fourth Age. Mel provides leadership strategies with practical applications for building a great team culture in the Imagination Age. There is a lot of information in this space, and this book is an easily digestible read incorporating many of Mel’s experiences as co-founder and self-proclaimed ‘Camp Mother’ of tech startup Vend.

True leadership begins with knowing yourself, including your personality traits, natural tendencies and communication style. When you are forming high performing teams it is essential to put the work into yourself, and also to take time to bond and build trust with your team. Ensuring team roles are aligned with a deep understanding of individual strengths can really empower a business, and ensures that capability gaps are addressed early.

This is particularly critical with early stage companies, many of which fail through dysfunctional team dynamics. Indeed, investors are looking at individuals and teams as much as the business concept and market opportunity. I personally know many business owners and startup founders who have seriously burnt out, lost resilience, or suffered from depression triggered by ongoing business pressures.

Leadership is a journey, and it also begins with our own wellness and ‘self-mastery’. As a long-time yoga practitioner I’ve always been interested in the connection between mind and body, and the ability of a yoga or meditation practice to restore energy – or at the very least help you get to sleep at night. Of course, there are many ways to recharge, and it can start with simply taking time to sit down for a coffee and chat. Building some kind of wellness routines into your weekly schedule, getting your energy levels up and understanding how to manage your workload is essential for business success over the long term.

Defining your ‘why’ on an individual level also inspires passion, and if you haven’t read Viktor Frankl’s 1946 book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ yet, make that your next priority. A lot of attention has been given to ‘purpose’ in recent years, with Simon Sinek’s video ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’ one of the most highly viewed Tex Talks. Our knowledge economy requires this understanding of ourselves, our motivations and drivers – and aligning business with purpose sets us up for success.

Mel sums it up nicely: “I like to use the metaphor of an iceberg to explain humans. On the surface is the part of the iceberg floating above sea level. This is the relatively small part that is visible to others. However there is a much larger part hidden from view under sea level. This part is not only unknown to others, but more often than not, unknown also to ourselves.

So, don some scuba gear and get diving.