Leadership & Productivity

How do business leaders learn and who do they learn from? Words from an entrepreneurs club MD

4 min read

22 March 2019

A powerful aspect of the entrepreneurial mindset that we see every day at The Supper Club is how founders use their personal networks and peer learning to understand the problems they need to solve and then how to solve them.

In fact, according to The Scale Up Institute’s 2017 Review, seven out of ten scaleups say that leadership development is “vital” or “very important” to the continued growth of their business and cite the ability to better access peer networks, effective leadership development programmes and mentorship schemes as essential. It helps them to lead growth and grow leaders within their businesses.

By adopting a growth mindset, they find a range of mentors for everyday challenges and every aspect of their lives – whether it’s fellow founders, NEDs, investors, advisers, or coaches. Being more open to different peer perspectives helps leaders make quicker decisions that lead to breakthroughs – for themselves and their businesses.

Charlie Mowat, founder of The Clean Space, saw the benefits of advice and peer learning early in his scaleup journey to over £7.5 million in sales and ten acquisitions.

“I set up an Advisory Board when I was in my first year and sub-£1m turnover,” he explains. “They were more like advisors than a proper Board, but it forced me to get out of the weeds and into strategy at least once a quarter. It gave me a mechanism for identifying weaknesses and learning to improve.”

“At £3m turnover I joined The Supper Club, for which I attribute a large part of our subsequent success because I learned from events and peers on a wide range of topics. Just after that I set up a proper management team and a Board, including a non-exec chairman. Along the way I’ve used a mentor (who eventually became our NED) and a coach.”

Fellow member Michael Nabarro, co-founder and CEO of Spektrix, believes developing as a leader is a life-long journey of self-reflection and experimentation – with inspiration for new experiments coming from a range of sources like books, courses, coaching, and sharing experiences with fellow entrepreneurs.

“5 years ago, I went on the week-long Leadership Trust course that my father had been on 30 years previously, and it was a gamechanger for me,” he explains. “I discovered that leadership fundamentally starts with self-awareness and being able to control yourself in situations and adjust your style to work for the different people you work with – which is much easier said than done.  It also taught me about the importance of open and honest feedback as key to developing high performance teams – a great framework for this is given in one of my favourite reads – Radical Candour.”

This need for honest feedback was highlighted by Sophie Devonshire, CEO of The Caffeine Partnership, who spoke about how to manage the challenge of leading at speed at The Supper Club’s Foresight summit on The Future Workforce on 18th July.

“In a superfast world, leaders need to adapt to rapid growth and change; but it’s about having a sense of pace for yourself and your organization. That sometimes means slowing down to think; being aware of the power of the pause and bringing people together to think. But a way to speed that up is using your networks to build a really smart group of critical friends and brains you can borrow to really think through difficult decisions more quickly.”

Sophie concluded with a comment on how to develop tomorrow’s leaders. “Help people to learn fast. Set up systems for micro-learning, snackable insights, and give them fast feedback. Move away from the annual appraisal to immediate timely feedback. And empower people to become leaders, not just managers, to shape what tomorrow looks like.”

Emma-Jane Flynn is managing director of The Supper Club