- Wise Words -
A Win/Win Career Growth Strategy
by martin leuw
As an ambitious young professional, I was keen to progress up the ladder, was naturally competitive, prepared to work hard and to be perfectly honest, the office environment at the time felt like a catalyst for “dog eat dog” competition. The rat race really did feel like a race and I wanted to win!
It wasn’t until I started to manage other people and understand better what motivates different personalities that I started to learn the importance and value of collaboration and teamwork to get things done. What is more, there is no doubt in my mind that the quality of creative collaboration massively enhances not only productivity but overall performance.
I was also fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks on a business school executive program in my late 20s and was put into situations where we had to work with very diverse teams to solve complex issues. It was eye opening for me. I saw that, while I may have had a viable approach to solving a business problem, listening to others who had a different professional background and approach to solving the same problem actually resulted in something better. (For more on the importance of engaging with diverse viewpoints, “Six Thinking Hats” by Edward de Bono is a great read).
In the event that collaboration is not something that you think is a path to success, I want to try to convince you of its benefits in this column.
Cross-sector and cross-functional collaboration
The sheer speed at which the medical community pulled together during Covid-19 and broke down silos to share scientific knowledge to create vaccines, update analogue processes and embrace technology (including telemedicine) highlights how much we can all achieve when we focus on . Too often, organisations create unnecessary barriers to collaboration without even realising it and it’s essential to break these down fast and be prepared to learn from other functions and sectors.
Although I’ve spent most of my career so far running tech companies, I came from a non-technical background and am perhaps more inclined to question the established norms and take a contrarian approach where I feel it will work better – for example we started selling subscription software before any of us had heard of Software as a Service (SaaS). In the early days of the internet, the big technology companies were much more closed and proprietary. This restricted the commercial potential and it’s interesting to see that it has been replaced by “open source” and an array of platforms. Intense competition is crucial to free markets but it can be intense and healthy.
The willingness to collaborate and join diverse teams is a career mindset which I think will be more appropriate than ever. So I’d always recommend looking out for opportunities in your organisation and externally to stretch yourself outside your comfort zone and find ways to learn new approaches and get things done differently. I did it early in my career moving across a number of sectors and it has become my modus operandi.
The network effect of collaboration
I often get asked about networking – why, how, where and when? As a kid I just loved the film “The Godfather” and while I wasn’t considering a career in the mafia I did admire Don Corleone’s willingness to help others on the basis that he might need help from them at some point. It doesn’t have to be anywhere near as transactional as that but I have found that a willingness to collaborate to help others can bring extraordinary serendipity.
Virtually every role I have had since my first job has come as a result of the network effect, often quite randomly. More recently, as I have extended this into coaching the next generation of business leaders I find it is a phenomenal two-way exchange where I can challenge hard, be challenged and share experiences but also learn so much in the process. I would advise everybody to experience being both mentor and mentee.
The office as a collaborative hub
So what is the future of the office and how will it impact us? I know from chatting to many colleagues and business associates that whilst working from home has many benefits, it has like working solely from the office, many drawbacks too.
Funnily enough I think remote working has in many cases improved communication and a better understanding of the needs and feelings of others. However, so many of us thrive on social interaction, making friends through work and it is so much harder to manage others, learn from each other and collaborate creatively when we are remote. That’s where the office really comes into its own, suggesting a hybrid approach will probably be best for most office based organisations. Career-wise that will require agility to adapt and thrive from change.
Collaboration as the essence of a “virtuous circle”
There is much to be said for more partnering to create prosperity. In particular there is so much untapped potential for the smaller businesses (the "David"s) with their entrepreneurial drive and creativity to complement the resources and distribution channels of the large businesses (the "Goliath’s"') to create growth and employment. One of the first businesses I ran was a health-tech corporate venture and interestingly the pharma sector understands collaboration well as it was a vital pathway into biotech.
I hope that I have shown you how to find the opportunity in collaboration and where we can truly collaborate. My business career has been built on understanding and meeting the needs of all key stakeholders – Customers; Employees; Investors; Supply chain; Society; Environment. It is an approach that not just delivered for me, but also appears to be building real momentum now as we create a movement to “build back better”. It’s what I call “Growth4Good”.
Careers: "Career as a Journey" and "Careers Happen"
Networking & People: "Be a Giver", "Reputations Travel" and "Networking as a Relationship"
Stress Management: "Overwhelmed? Take a Mental Refresh"
Layoffs: "How I Came Back From Being Laid Off", "Laid Off? Take a Breath" and "Survivor's Guilt"
Martin Leuw is Founder of Growth4Good, which invests in high growth purpose led businesses in the digital technology sector, principally in social and environmental change.
He is also Chairman of Leathwaite, an international human capital specialist and Ground Control a leading environmental maintenance services provider. Earlier in his career, Martin was CEO of IRIS Software and grew it from small beginnings to become a market leader in each of its sectors and one of the UK’s largest private B2B (SAAS) software houses, with £50m EBITDA pa, exiting in 2007 at $1bn EV.