By Amir Farha
I attended a Leadership course held in Dubai last month where I learned a lot about myself, both in terms of my strengths as well as areas for development. The course facilitators had first sent out a survey to a list of my colleagues (peers and direct reports) that included several questions on how I deal with specific situations in the workplace, with the answers grouped anonymously and used to determine my leadership score across a range of categories.
At first, I wasn’t keen on the course as I thought it would be of limited value given the two days I had to take off, but looking back now, I was mistaken. The course was tremendously enlightening, insightful and humbling. I learned a lot about myself, my strengths and my faults, and wrote down goals to improve over the next 12 months. Let’s hope it works!
After attending the course, I compared my learnings on leadership to those of entrepreneurs that pitch to us as well as those that we’ve invested in. There were various similarities that one can construe from this, and that I think is an interesting set of eight characteristics that make for investable entrepreneurs and great leaders.
There’s no I in TEAM. I know it’s cliché, but it holds true for the most part. The best leaders and entrepreneurs don’t care about themselves or their own interests, but rather the interests of the collective (employees, shareholders and other stakeholders).
Building a startup is a team effort, and bringing people together to execute allows for greater efficiency, camaraderie, culture development and team-building which has a tremendous impact across the whole organisation, especially as teams tend to grow in size very quickly.
3. Courage & Integrity
Entrepreneurs get told “no” so many times in their lives that they need to have the courage to stand up to people and believe in themselves and their business. They need to be true to themselves and treat others how they wish to be treated. This is my favourite quality as it’s not very common in the Middle East given the stigma and fear of failure.
4. Focus & Discipline
A company is most fragile at its earliest stages of development. There are many directions an entrepreneur can take in order to grow their team, serve their customers, build their product, and spend their capital. These directions can lead to various temptations and the best entrepreneurs are those that resist them in order to build out what they set out to in the first place. This is probably one of the most important traits on this list. Practice makes perfect, and the best entrepreneurs have built a strong work ethic and discipline that is honed in to their main goal.
In order to be able to hire teams, especially high quality individuals, one must be able to sell them on their vision of the future. They need to be able to think ahead, with clarity and belief. This is more of an art than a science, but essential when building out a team and aligning them all to one vision.
6. Process & Systems oriented
A systems thinker is ideal for execution. Designing and building out effective and efficient processes are some of the most important things when taking a startup from seed to growth and late stage. These businesses need to have scalable systems designed from the outset. Institutionalisation is often one of the most difficult things to do when transforming from a small team to a fully functional business. The ones that do it best are the ones that will become sustainable and attractive acquisition targets in the future.
One of the most hidden characteristics is to be caring. The stresses involved in building a startup can often infect team dynamics and affect teams in a negative way. It can lead to a negative working culture that can in turn lead to significant problems in the future. Being caring to your team is essential in building values across the organisation and creating a winning organisational culture. After all, they are also spending their blood, sweat and tears working for you.
It’s okay to be wrong when making decisions. The challenge is making them. We often see entrepreneurs who find it difficult to take action because they ‘overthink’ the consequences. This ‘overthinking’ nature creates a stalemate in the growth of the business and can have disastrous consequences to the future of the organisation. We are always supportive of entrepreneurs that make decisions, even if they end up being wrong, because they’re able to learn from that, which can eventually lead to amazing results.
Not all of the entrepreneurs we’ve invested in have all of these traits, but they do have a high proportion. For me, I know that I have to work on several of the above (specifically Focus & Discipline), and I will continue to learn and develop myself across the characteristics and other important elements that will allow me to become a better leader.
This article originally appeared in Forbes Middle East.