Many people don’t consider the impact of leadership—true leadership—on the growth and success of a business long term. But leadership, especially early in a business’ life cycle, means learning to manage people (perhaps for the first time), to communicate vision and inspire buy-in, and to balance strategy with the common entrepreneurial need to follow the “shiny ideas.”
In a recent podcast, Kevin Blake, president of ICS, and Sunny Kaila, CEO of ITBD, talked about their experiences over decades of leadership and shared three key lessons.
1 Learn From Your Mistakes
For Kevin, a turning point in his leader journey came when he realized the success of ICS didn’t depend on the best tech, but instead on the best people.
“I wish I had learned more quickly that the stumbling blocks weren’t tech issues, they were people problems. My peer group made it clear that if I wanted to keep growing my business, I had to fix my people problems,” explains Kevin. “It was easy to push the blame to the team, then I realized the problem began at the top.”
Kevin took responsibility for changing behavior from the top down. “I adjusted my mindset; I work for my people, they don’t work for me. That made all the difference, but I likely lost 3-4 years of growth because I wasn’t facing the issue.”
Understanding the need for an MSP to be a people-centric business is a common challenge for many leaders and has a huge impact on success, adds Sunny. “The sooner you realize as a leader that your product is people – the better off you are as a leader and a company.”
For him, the lesson learned was more of a personal challenge to overcome. “As our company grew and I became busier, I didn’t realize the power of deep work,” says Sunny, explaining that “Entrepreneurial DNA” often focuses on identifying a problem to solve, then diving in to do just that. Shiny objects are a risk, particularly if a leader gets so distracted he can’t focus on priorities. “I’ve realized you have to choose what to fix next and bring that problem into focus while pushing the other distractions away.”
Both Kevin and Sunny agree that having a business operational system—such as EOS, which both ICS and ITBD use—can help keep leaders focused while also providing opportunities for others in the company to push back as needed.
2 Learn to Share Your Vision, Earn Buy-In
Involving the right team members to drive change successfully is another lesson learned by both leaders. It’s great, they agree, to have vision and creativity as an entrepreneur, but it can be challenging to get the entire team on board to drive true growth with new initiatives.
“We call it sea gulling – I would go to a conference or read a book, fly over a meeting, drop the idea (good or bad) and keep moving,” says Kevin. He credits EOS and peer groups for helping him learn to slow down and ask for input. “We’ve developed a process for me to dump my ideas—be it about new offerings or M&A or whatever—and then the team has a chance to discuss and push back,” explains Kevin. “I have surrounded myself with people who are honest, strategic, and know when to drill down as part of our EOS process.”
He recommends that entrepreneurs find an outlet for that creative part of their spirit, which may mean diving into a project outside of day-to-day business responsibilities.
Sunny agrees a big challenge for leaders is learning to temper the “go-go-go” part of their personalities to get input from their team. “We made a mistake several years ago; a vendor came to us and I signed up without checking with all the right people, and then it took us three years – with us paying the whole time – before we could actually use the tool. It was a wake-up call that my vision and outcomes were not aligned with the rest of the team, who were going to be faced with implementation.”
Hs decision making process today includes taking time to understands each point of view and the impact on various teams within the company as part of.
3 The Next-Gen of Leadership
Another lesson of leadership can be the challenge of hiring the new generation—a process both men agree starts with core values. “We have put a lot of effort into defining our mission and core values, and everything goes through that filter,” said Kevin. Hiring at ICS involves several steps, including personality tests, a very structured set of interview filter questions, deep dives into references—even a review of social media sites.
Want to read more hiring tips? Read our 4 Tips to Kick Start Hiring
At ITBD, the process is similar, and there is a particular focus on emotional and intelligent maturity when hiring for managers or other leadership roles. “We look for lifelong learners,” said Sunny, explaining that those open to and engaged in learning are way more likely to continue to develop themselves and challenge their team to do the same.
Want to learn more about the critical role of core values in MSP businesses? Check out this blog
Listen to the full podcast here.