If only I knew then what I know now

Escalators on the London Underground

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Being a Bruce Lee fan doesn’t make you an expert at kung fu any more than reading a book about leadership makes you a leader. That’s why I joined the FuturePerfect CEO Growth Academy. It’s like a dojo for business leaders who are serious about  mastering the mindset, skills and behaviours behind entrepreneurial success. 

It’s an ongoing process but I want to share with you three essential realisations that have transformed me and my experience of business that I could never have developed in the corporate world and had never even considered in that context.

This changes everything

A little over five years ago, I was enjoying a successful career as the finance lead for a £0.5bn turnover business within the packaging and logistics division of a global multi-national. Even though it was the goal to which I had aspired for much of my career , I felt like I was going through the motions and I wanted to achieve something more personally satisfying.  

With courage and the support of FuturePerfect, I launched Green Caterpillar Consulting to provide a part-time Finance Director and Outsourced Finance function to help ambitious scalable small and mid-sized businesses realise their goals.

I had built up a whole range of skills in 30+ years on the payroll, but when I launched my new business it was clear that there were three vital skills that needed my urgent attention. Whatever I thought I knew was not enough and some of it was completely wrong.

Looking back it seems a little crazy that these themes don’t even feature in most professional services development pathways. 

1) Value Driven Sales

Even though I knew how to manage internal relationships in a corporate, the decision to cooperate was often challenged by conflicting priorities, busy schedules and little choice but to work together because you have a common purpose and a level of loyalty that builds up over the years. When that fails there’s always the hierarchies to leverage.

That’s very different from having to articulate a customer promise to deliver value that is meaningfully different to your competitors – to people who don’t necessarily understand the complexity of what you do. 

One of the best things about working that out is you have to look inwards and get serious about what you want to stand for in this world. Clients don’t buy you for what you know. They buy the difference you can make. Working that out and making sure it’s true is hugely satisfying. 

2) Leader vs Manager Mindset

Leadership and management often get confused. Leadership, to me, is about people and management is about processes. You need both but there’s not a lot of scope for leadership in corporate.

Leadership implies going somewhere. It’s the stuff of vision and purpose and culture direction. The ideas that inspire teams to get on board and bring their best selves to work every day.

Management is about the consistent way you have decided to deliver on that promise and monitoring whether it’s working. Are you achieving the  agreed targets and have you get the right resources in place? 

I associate leadership with being the CEO and I thought it would be easy to transition once I was the owner. Truth be told, I found it harder than I expected to consciously shift to the mindset necessary to be a successful CEO. It’s so easy to slip back into the familiar manager mindset where it’s easier, when things go wrong, to justify why it’s not your fault – hiding behind paperwork and miscommunication. As the CEO you have to look beyond those things to see the people, whether that’s your customers, suppliers or team. You have to decide the right thing to do in the right way for the right reasons for the long term. It probably wouldn’t happen without the support of my Academy group. It’s tough being open to challenge but it stretches you to become the very best you and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

3) Integrity & fairness

It’s a word that appears on most corporate list of values – with very little consideration for what it looks like played out in relationships between colleagues and with customers. In a small business you don’t have the management and financial resources that are available within a corporate environment. So when things don’t go to plan you have to make decisions based on real integrity and fairness to those impacted. You quickly come to see that integrity and fairness are not intellectual ideals but attitudes of the heart. 

It’s not easy to embed these attitudes into your behaviour.  You need the support of wise peers who have faced similar situations or mentors who can guide your thinking and support the changes required in order to succeed long term.

In summary

I got so much more than I bargained for when I started this chapter of my career. The freedom is great. The personal development has been life-changing. What I love most of all is that I can stand tall and say that the values I hold most highly to are the dna that runs through everything I try to bring; through my business and my leadership. I know there is still much more for me to discover and I can’t wait.

Kim Pearson had almost 30 years senior experience at DHL before making the decision to create a new future for himself with the launch of Green Caterpillar Consulting in October 2014.  He has been a member of what is now the FuturePerfect CEO Growth Academy since 2014