3 June 2013

I’m sitting in front of a log fire with the wind and rain blocking out any noise.

I love my time in Wales. It makes everything else feel so remote. Problems are so far away, they stop mattering.

We all need to switch off from time to time as we all have a breaking point. I have learnt when things get too much to head for the hills. Life is a cycle and pressure mounts no matter how organised you are.

Working on the wild side

Working on the wild side

The pressures I felt (back in the early days) when everything was on the line and I was learning to cope with 5 or 6 staff are soon forgotten once you find the answer. It doesn’t take long for them to reappear again at 20 or 30 and then again at 200 or 300 strong. Funnily enough, the answer to releasing the pressure at every stage is exactly the same. There’s a formula for unravelling every conundrum.

As an organisation grows, so do your responsibilities. You take on more and more and pretty soon, when you are flat out, with no more hours in the day and little or no fuel left in your tank, that’s when you start to feel the pressure. I have learnt to love this feeling. It’s the drive that brings on change. If you don’t embrace it, it will get the better of you, so you might as well tackle it head on. Life is about balance. It’s impossible to do everything yourself and if you study the great leaders, they learn to trust other people.

The greatest of all the leaders go one stage further; they search out and attract real talent from the outset so that, long before they are delegating responsibility, they are growing and inspiring a team who know there are opportunities ahead to develop themselves and the organisation. Knowing you can make a difference is fundamental to motivating someone. If a person knows the job they do, however small, is crucial to the outcome of a much bigger picture, they will be far more motivated than someone carrying out the same job, without the understanding and responsibility on their shoulders.

It sounds easy, and I often hear people over simplify the process and say, “you need to delegate,” but most businesses fail eventually and it’s more often than not because they missed out the crucial developing stage, and recruiting the right blend of people who make the real difference. Delegating a task to someone who can’t do a job to the right standard creates more stress.

So, is the answer ‘delegation’ or is the answer ‘ motivation’? I believe if you inspire someone and give them the motivation to make a positive difference, you bypass the need for delegation as that person becomes immersed in the challenge. This is so much more powerful than merely dishing out jobs and giving instructions. Giving managers the autonomy to take control of their departments, knowing they’ll do as good a job as you, or better, is the most rewarding part of leadership. Why? Because you get to see people as they grow and at the same time you are taking a risk and this, by its very nature, is fun.

I am only just realising the importance of experience and the impact of sticking with people over a long period of time, giving them bigger challenges than they might get elsewhere, and watching what happens. Whilst some people struggle at first, with coaching and support should they need advice, the end result is that people will surprise you.

I recruited a friend and personal trainer 18 months ago called Joe. He now looks after a team of full time builders, he manages 9 properties, all security related projects and people, the cleaners, receptionists and our people department (HR to normal folk). He even looks after all the animals, and there’s a lot, and he still has time to drive me about, play squash and train with me most days. Was this possible when he first started? Absolutely not, his head would have exploded! He has learnt how to bolt on more and more responsibilities and there have been challenges on the way, as he’s had to learn to adapt, but his focus enables him to always come out on top.

Joe Cravagan in Verbier 2013

Joe Cravagan in Verbier 2013

He has created a system that works for him that interconnects to mine and everyone he deals with. Yesterday I rang to thank him for helping get the house straight before leaving for Wales, he told me quite firmly: “Don’t be so stupid, I love what I do, I have a lifestyle that I never imagined and it’s my job. I love being part of your family.”

If you are offloading responsibility, choose people who love massive challenges, who are inherently competitive, people who’d sooner die than give up.

Incidentally, Joe is a man who ran the Manchester 10K in 39 minutes and then played an hour of squash with me straight afterwards, which he almost won! Will his head explode in the future as he takes on more challenges? Very probably, but with the support network we have in place, he has me looking out for him, just like he looks out for me and so many people at UKFast.

So if you ever wonder how on earth a crazy Welsh kid from Denbigh copes with running a business of 200 strong and growing, with all the ludicrous pressures and responsibilities, because I regularly have to do a double take; the answer is, I spend a great deal of my time searching out superstars to enhance a team of people who are, quite frankly, inspirational.

I don’t delegate in the usual sense of the word; it’s too time consuming. There are people running every aspect of the business. They are my life support system and I’d be screwed without them. And as the business and my responsibilities grow, I add in new ones. The tricky part is getting them in place before you get overwhelmed.

So is the role of a leader to delegate or inspire; to give out jobs or to enable people?

I’d like to think we enable people to do great things. I believe UKFast is successful because it’s full of people who make a difference. There are no middle managers. Everyone contributes and, most importantly, everyone is valued. Is it perfect? Far from it. It’s incredibly frustrating as there are thousands of things we can improve, but trying to create the perfect business is the ultimate challenge.

Good luck and see you out there on the field.

Best of British




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