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Never stop learning

Module 5: The seven responsibilities of a leader

Very few company founders have any idea how much they need to know to grow a successful company. In the beginning they are busy convincing people to work for their start-up, developing and selling the product, going to the bank and negotiating their first loan, even emptying the rubbish bins. Force of personality, ability to sell the vision, hard work and long hours get a lot of companies through the start-up phase of a business.

But as the company begins to grow, the CEO will find there aren’t enough hours in the day. Some people want to know how you’re going to achieve that exciting vision, and some grow tired of you making all the decisions – especially if a few turn out to be wrong. It becomes clear that you need to do more than work harder. You need to work smarter – and that requires you to learn new skills and gain more knowledge. You need to learn how to hire people who know more than you do and delegate parts of your job to them, so you can spend increasing amounts of time on strategy, organisational development, and financing growth.

You need to work smarter – and that requires you to learn new skills and gain more knowledge

Learn as your role and responsibilities change

The shift from doer and decision-maker to direction-setter and delegator is not easy. It’s ironic that just when you get good at doing what you think is your job, you need to stop doing that, learn a whole new set of skills, and begin doing something entirely different.

One of the hallmarks of a successful CEO is the ability to learn

And when the company shifts into rapid growth, you need to learn yet another set of skills: coaching, communicating and planning. You will need to learn more about the psychology of coaching individual members of your executive team to high levels of performance, and getting accomplished professionals to work together as a team. You’ll need to learn how to plan, and get disciplined about implementing a planning process which will enable every department and division to contribute to and be held accountable for achieving their portion of the plan. And you will need to hone your skills as an effective communicator.

By the time you get to continuous growth, you will need to apply all this learning to new situations, and learn new skills as well. In addition to being externally-oriented and moving in national and international circles, you’ll need to get good at managing the changes required for the company to be able to capitalise on the opportunities you’ve developed, or mitigate the threats you foresee. You’ll need to understand how to rebuild your organisation and select new systems that are more appropriate for this stage of growth, negotiate with acquirers, investors or the CEOs of other companies you may want to buy. In short, there is so much to learn, and so little time, that you need to continuously delegate as much of your current job as possible and free up your time to focus on learning what you need to know to navigate the next stage of growth.

One of the hallmarks of a successful CEO is the ability to learn – from successes, failures, things that didn’t turn out as planned, wrong hires, great hires, product flops, customer complaints, and sales wins and losses. But it’s no good for the CEO to be the only learner. The whole organisation needs to get good at learning. CEOs need to build learning into the company’s DNA by encouraging employees to take five minutes and talk about what they learned from situations they’ve just been in. You should never stop learning. And if you’re the CEO of an exciting growth company, you’ll never want to – every day will be a treasure chest of new learnings and exciting experiences.

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