Energy! Energy! Energy! This has to be the most effective way of describing Stephen Saad from Aspen! He only sleeps 4 hours a night, but one gets the impression he can do with even less of this ‘burden’.
After my interview with him it once again dawned on me how important it is to enjoy what you do; to have a passion for it; to be motivated! In fact, when I carefully reflect on all the interviews with great leaders the recipe for success becomes clearer and clearer: You have to have motivation, direction and structure in your own life and in the business or division that you lead!
If you don’t have something that motivates you to be successful you will never reach what a Saad reached! This does not mean you are not successful if you don’t build a multi billion rand empire. But, if you want to be the best you can be in your specific job, business or industry you have to have a strong motivator, reason, or purpose! Something that drives you harder than anything else out there!
This could range from a fanatic fear of failure or a burning desire for recognition to a passion for making a difference. It could even be an indescribable hunger for wealth because of a poor upbringing! The motive can be of a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ nature, but it must be there!
Notice the words fanatic, burning, passion, indescribable hunger? Somehow you have to have this or you will wobble at the first bump or curve in your road to success! This is a guarantee!
Then there is Direction. When I asked Saad to give advice to small business owners that want to become really successful he suggested they have a plan, a goal, control expenses and stay positive. He added that no plan can be cast in stone so one must be flexible. In an interview with Laurie Dippenaar of First Rand Bank last week he also suggested that thinking long term is important.
To have a plan and a goal or to think long term is directional! Simply being motivated is not enough! The motivation will fade if you don’t strengthen it with sound and believable directions, actions, plans! During the interview one often hears Saad say “I/we had a plan to…” This presupposes that he spends time and energy thinking through situations; evaluating what he should do about them. Remember previous articles where I explained that great leaders are excellent evaluators and doers?
Following closely on direction is the importance of structure or structural elements of your life or business. This is where the detail lies and often the cause of most of our problems or challenges. In fact this is where the ‘expenses’ of the business or even your life lie. This is the area of life that needs ‘controlling’ as Saad suggested. If this area of your life or business spins out of control it affects your or those you lead’s motivation. If you cannot successfully manage structures make sure you have someone that can!
One gets the impression that Saad has motivation, direction and structure both in his personal life and in his business. Because of this it almost felt out of place to ask him what price he has paid to get to where he is today? He is happy and organized, I believe. Of course he is not perfect, but he has simply learned to apply the law of movement very successfully! The law of movement states that “all movement in life is governed by the integration of motivation, direction and structure”. If you want to excel in life learn to implement the law of movement successfully!
Go on the “I to We” journey
I explored the principle of ‘when enough is enough’ with Saad. He believes their company is ‘good’ but it is not great yet! As a Durban boy he believes “to rest is to rust” so you have to keep moving. And Aspen has indeed moved from small beginnings to more than 13 billion market cap; 100 staff to 3000; national to international; and so on!
Why go on? This too is a characteristic of exceptional leaders – they are never truly satisfied!! They continue raising the bar; lifting the standard; expecting more! Saad says they have demonstrated so much in South Africa, but to be great they have to demonstrate it all internationally as well!
In their beginning stages great leaders are never satisfied with what they themselves accomplish, so they keep raising their own bar; lifting their own standards; expecting more from themselves. Then they start projecting this attitude on others around them. The focus shifts from themselves to others; from ‘I to We’. They get excited about others reaching their potential as opposed to them reaching their potential. Their lives start revolving around assisting others to raise their bars; lifting their standards; expecting more of themselves. The irony of course is that in doing this they keep lifting themselves to higher levels!
There are unfortunately those leaders whose focus never shifts from themselves; they keep pushing others to make themselves look better and better. Of course such individuals are leaders but not great leaders in my book.
Aspen grew at a tremendous pace and during this time some of the hardest lessons learned by Saad were to manage people in different structures. He comments that in a small business you can be all things to all people – making all the calls and decisions, walking into the warehouse and doing the stock count. But, when the business gets larger you have to learn to let go and you have to learn and understand structures.
To understand structures he tried to make a big business into a smaller business by breaking it into blocks, giving smaller areas of responsibility so that people could be accountable. In fact, what this did was to create more structures where leaders had opportunities to improve, raise the bar, lift the standards, and expect more.
What gives this leader a real thrill is running and operating the business; achieving things! He says: “When everyone had given up on manufacture in SA; when the consensus view was that you cannot manufacture in SA – 20 to 30 manufacturing plants had closed in SA – I said it could work! No one believed that we could do it! When we were the first company in the world to have a product registered, an anti-retroviral registered through the FDA that gave me the greatest thrill! It also gave the people in Aspen the greatest thrill, because there was a belief now that we could win. That belief has stood all of us in such good stead.”
Notice how the ‘I’ starts moving towards ‘we’ and ‘us’? My view is that Saad is on the ‘I to We’ journey that all great leaders can relate to.
He goes on to explain further why they have been so successful: “Part of our success has been that we had 10 plans; we don’t rely on one plan; we had 10 different plans and if three work out for us we will be successful.” There is the word ‘plan’ again!
Stay positive, do with passion and give all
I want to come back to the advice Saad gave to leaders of small businesses as I found it very valuable! In edition to having a plan (remembering to be flexible with it), a goal, he mentioned the importance of controlling expenses: “I have seen so many small businesses fail because people want to go straight into a fancy office and have a big car and do all the things that supposedly come with running your own business. That can wait! There will be a time for that! First make sure your business is successful, because most businesses fail in those first few years. If you can get over those first few years then you will be successful. Yes, you will not be able to play golf every Saturday…but those are some of the sacrifices you might have to make to become successful in your business.”
He adds to the formula that staying positive is critical! Create symbols that enhance feelings of positivity! At Aspen they have a SA and Aspen flag outside every building. This would symbolize the need for being positive about your country and company. DAV Professional Placement Services (One of the top companies to work for) developed a Pledge to South Africa that they read once a month during their weekly company meeting. Do something that works for your company!
Saad continues: “What ever you do, do it with passion and try your absolute best – give the most that you can! Why waste it or go half measures if you can give it all!”
Then, know the detail! Darren Hall MD of McDonalds suggested to me that it is very important and Saad agreed while adding “once you know the detail you actually empower because you can ask the right questions; you can actually give the proper direction…”
In line with the principle of ‘when enough is enough’, Saad said “enough will be enough when people recognize that Africa can achieve everything it wants to achieve if we put our minds to it and we have sufficient dedication!”
With more energetic leaders like Saad we can most certainly change this continent!
Summary of leadership and life lessons:
Be motivated; have clear directions (plans); manage structures well.
Keep raising your own bar; lifting your own standards; expecting more from yourself.
Go on the “I to We” journey – help others reach their potential; raise their bars; lift their standards; expect more from themselves.
For a small business – have a plan that you can be flexible with, a goal, manage expenses (discipline in first few years), stay positive, know the detail.
Do everything with passion and give your best!
Create symbols of positivity.
This article appeared in the:
Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on email@example.com for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.