Tag: leadership

Christian Van Niekerk is passionate about business innovation. The Grant Thornton director – who commenced with the company in 2003 and quickly worked his way up the ranks – has recently been recognised as a Performance Inspiring Awards finalist by the company for his work on a reporting model he created.

Christian says his work with Kiikstart led to the development of reporting templates that are changing the way the company presents to its private advisory clients across Australia. We asked him to share more about his journey to a Grant Thornton directorship, and his views on leadership.

Kiikstart: Congratulations on your award nomination for creating a new approach to reporting at Grant Thornton. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt about leadership during your career?
Christian: Thank you. Probably that true leaders need to stand up and make tough decisions. You don’t get into a leadership position because you’re friends with everybody. Sometimes difficult things need to be done and said. I’ve had to make a few tough decisions along the way. If you don’t make them, you can’t truly be a leader.

And the other lesson is around the importance of looking after yourself. Leaders tend to just go on and on and not stop and look after themselves – and we should. You need to have your own time and preserve your own mental and physical wellbeing in order to be an effective leader. I have three children under five at home, so balancing it all is important.

Did you always aspire to a leadership role or end up here by chance?
I like to think I’m your traditional introvert who doesn’t go looking for attention. At school I was the kid who’d rather get an F than stand up and do an oral presentation. Having said that, I ended up being school captain in year 12 and chose accounting because I thought I could be in the corner and do numbers and not interact with people. I didn’t go looking for a leadership role, but as I got more responsibility and started training the junior guys, I kind of fell into leadership.

What do you love most about your role?
I enjoy the responsibility that it brings; and feeling like you’re making a difference to people’s lives – whether it’s the client you’re looking after, or your staff. I’ve trained and mentored so many staff through the CA program. You become a go-to person to give them advice about where their careers end up going. I enjoy the challenge of helping them through that.

Who do you look up to in business?
Leaders who inspire me include Richard Branson. I’m inspired by where he came from, how he built his empire, and the way he views life. His philosophy around caring for your employees because they look after your customers is so true. I really align myself with that thinking.

How important is it to be passionate about what you do? And how do you maintain that enthusiasm for your work?
If you’re not passionate about what you do, then you shouldn’t be doing it. I think people can see through you if you don’t believe in what you’re delivering.  At times it can be difficult to maintain your enthusiasm. I’ve often found my enthusiasm rejuvenated by the younger people coming through; their passion tends to rub off on you. It’s fantastic sitting down with them to discuss their own career trajectory, and how I can support them in that journey.

In the last five years I’ve been given more free reign in terms of what I want to do, and how I want to do it – including interacting with clients at a different level, and presenting to them differently. I’m extremely passionate about innovation.

How has Kiikstart supported your work at Grant Thornton?
I engaged Ali personally one year ago in an informal mentoring role. We went through a 10-week one-on-one training program, which pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I’m so glad I went through it.

From there, we developed a program called GT Grow in Adelaide to help our staff understand what it is to have a career and grow it. Ali has been a key part of that. Her sessions around owning your career and what that means are designed to stop people from expecting their employer to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to their training and development. The underlying premise is that your learning journey belongs to you.

What are some of the key takeaways from your work with Kiikstart?
The work I’ve done with Ali has been amazing, and resulted in some great changes. One of the key takeaways for me is around doing things differently for clients. Working with Ali challenged me to consider how tax results delivery should change for the client. The reporting model we’ve moved to as a result ensures that we don’t get bogged down in technical language. We used to deliver results to our clients by going through financials page by page, and pulling up detailed excel spreadsheets. Now, we explain the outcomes, and don’t get so caught up looking at the financials. It’s very visually driven. We started by rolling this out in the Adelaide office, and it’s since been rolled out nationally.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I think I’ll still be a partner in an accounting firm, continuing to focus on self-improvement, and looking at the ways we develop and deliver results to our clients, ensuring we’re continuing to innovate. For me, a focus on work/life balance and family is key. At the start of my career it was all about the corporate tree, and I never really appreciated having a family, and that’s certainly changed in the last few years. I want to make sure that balance is maintained.

Promoting from within is a great motivational tool for your team – and a fantastic way to retain your best people.

But, when taken too far, it can create a culture that is insular and nepotistic.

Striking the right balance between promoting from within and bringing in outside talent with fresh ideas is key to any business’ success.

Here, I’ve covered my top five reasons why looking beyond your in-house talent pool can add value, whether you’re looking at a new hire, or working with expert contractors on a regular basis.

Fresh perspective
External hires and contractors, such as trainers and business coaches, can bring fresh ideas and perspective. Likewise, hiring leaders outside your business can have many benefits. University of Missouri-Columbia research found that while 78 per cent of new CEOs are hired from within an organisation, external hires “spend more money on research and development” and showcase a greater commitment to innovation. This is particularly important where a business is struggling or in need of rejuvenation. Let’s be honest – regular, constant rejuvenation is a reality for any business that wants to be relevant and grow into the future.

Multi-industry expertise
When sourcing outsider talent, choose experts with experience across multiple industries. The scope of their expertise is a major value-add. In fact, outsiders with expertise far-removed from your industry can offer more value still, since like for like expertise often does not allow for new idea generation.

Challenging the status quo
Outsiders bring new insights – and can challenge group thinking that can come from knowing each other too well and feeling too comfortable. When done right, outsiders will challenge the status quo, including relationships and team behaviours that inhibit growth and innovation.

This is particularly true of business coaches. The right business coach will immerse themselves in your business to gain a full picture. This might include interviewing staff and observing your business in operation. Working with outside experts also brings a level of accountability that can see ideas be executed rather than merely spoken. This minimises waste and, in turn, can increase morale and staff buy-in.

Cost-effective support
In addition to their expertise, working with contractors is a cost-effective approach for many businesses. In-house help in areas such as business coaching, finance or marketing may be cost-prohibitive to many small to medium businesses. At the same time, uneven workflows may make working with outsider talent a more attractive approach.

Cultural shake-up
Outsiders – and hiring outside leadership – can also be useful when a business is in need of a cultural shake-up.  One prime example is the banking sector, with the big four currently under intense scrutiny as a result of the royal commission that is underway. Hiring outside leaders to overcome a culture of mistrust is one effective way to signal a new beginning in the eyes of the public.

So whether you’re after a fresh perspective, in need of a multi-disciplinary expert to bring external expertise and challenge the status quo, or it’s time to reset and refresh your business, outsider talent can add huge value to your organisation that should not be overlooked when it comes to your hiring practices and contract work.

A certain amount of ego is needed to build any successful business. It can bring you the confidence and resilience to persist, even when the odds are stacked against you, and to pick yourself up and keep going after failures and setbacks.

But too much ego can have a converse effect. In extreme cases, it can even kill a business.

Writing for entrepreneur.com, Virtugroup chairman Neil Petch says big egos are responsible for poor financial performance, equating to an estimated loss of 6-15% of annual revenue.

At Kiikstart we like to say that if you want to get stuff done, you need to get out of your own way! But the line between a healthy sense of self and an ego that is negative and counter-productive can be a fine one.

Below I’ve outlined a few of the ways that your ego could be damaging your business – and ways to turn it around.

Failing to listen
Too much ego often means we think we have all the answers, and can come to think we’re right regardless of the facts. But as Neil Petch says, “a one-way, top-down communication style will also mean that there are missed opportunities”. It creates a culture where your team may stop sharing and generating ideas.

Turn it around: Be open-minded and receptive to new ideas. Good leaders ask for insights from those who add value – and take this feedback on board to make better decisions and get better outcomes.

Hiding from failure
To quote Eckhart Tolle, “The ego is very vulnerable and insecure, and it sees itself as constantly under threat.” So too much ego can lead to false pride, causing us to avoid – and even refuse to acknowledge -our failures.

Turn it around: Talk about your failures and learnings. Be open to reviewing your personal performance, and own your mistakes, even if that means acknowledging your mistakes in front of your team and clients. Great business takes courage!

Overlooking your team’s successes
Leaders with too much ego spend too much time looking inward, and not enough time giving credit to others where it’s due. This can cause some leaders to take undue credit for others’ ideas and efforts, or fail to recognise the efforts of others in their team.

Turn it around: Getting the best out of your team means openly acknowledging, celebrating and rewarding their success. Be sure to give credit where it’s due.

Making it about ‘me’ not ‘we’
Personal ambition is fine, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of the business. The primary focus should always be on building your company and responding to the needs of your team and your customers. When taken too far, career and workplace expert Patti Johnson says a “drive for personal recognition and success … can distract you from doing important work that’s much bigger than you”.

Turn it around: The best leaders are open to new ideas, happy to seek input, and willing to share their knowledge. Sprinkle useful insights like fairy dust to those that are open to it – and put your team, your customer and your mission as a business ahead of personal interests.

An inability to recognise personal skill gaps
This is a particularly dangerous shortcoming that business leaders with an inflated ego face. An inability to recognise our own skill gaps means we won’t take the advice we need on board, and can also fail to delegate effectively. Consequently, some leaders can underestimate challenges that their business faces.

Turn it around: Remember that no-one has all of the answers, and no-one excels at everything.  I don’t like the term weaknesses, but we do all have skill gaps, so undertake an honest and insightful critique of your skill gaps, and outsource to people who excel in these areas. Be prepared to invest money in responding to these skill gaps where it is relevant to your business and wellbeing. Also be prepared to say no to opportunities that aren’t the right fit.

So keep your ego in check and get out of your own way!

Remember that a leader’s personality and ego is a powerful tool. Cultivate positive working relationships by listening, putting your team first, and acknowledging success. Stay humble, and recognise your own failures and skill gaps. Your business will see the benefits.

There’s that natural sense of trepidation that comes with taking the plunge into business.

Unlike a cold dip, it can take quite some time before you come up for air. And, sometimes, longer still to feel like you’re not just treading water.

But as LA-based investor and entrepreneur Lauris Liberts says, “Don’t wait for the right moment to start the business. It never arrives. Start whenever. Now.”

While there’s a lot you can only learn through experiencing the inherent highs and lows of business firsthand, there are also many tips and resources you can draw upon throughout your business journey.

At Kiikstart I work with businesses ranging from start-ups to large corporations, supporting the development of their business strategy, tactics, skills, and capacity building functions.

Here, I’ve offered a few of my top tips for getting started. If you’re not a business novice, chances are these tips are a good refresher anyway!

Be Genuine
Of all of the tips I can offer, perhaps the most important is to genuinely believe in your product or service. Entrepreneur and philanthropist Maria Forleo advises, “Never start a business just to ‘make money’. Start a business to make a difference.” This comes down to knowing your why. Ask: how will my product or service enrich people’s lives? Your business is much more likely to succeed if you know your ‘why’ and have the passion to keep at it through tough times. Only a genuine belief in your offering will allow this.

Know Your Worth
Do your homework before starting out. How is your business of real value to people? Does it fulfil a gap in the market? Or are you doing things a little differently? Never start a business because someone else told you that you would be good at something. This is a disaster. To be able to make any business work you need to be able to quickly articulate why someone should spend money with you. This is not for the faint hearted or overtly humble! Know your worth, and be ready to spruik it!

Mind the Gap(s)
We all have personal strengths, as well as weaknesses and skill gaps. Get real about your skill gaps – and find solutions to these. Play to your strengths, and assess whether further learning is needed, or whether you’re better off having an employee or contractor do some of this work for you. It’s all about weighing up risks and opportunities. Over the past 12 years I’ve mentored 1700 people to lifelong change, including career change. When people say they want to undertake further study, I always ask how it will benefit them and their business. What changes will it make? And if they don’t do it, what is the outcome?

Choose Your Partners Wisely
Choose your partners carefully in business – and in life! There will be times when you need to lean heavily on your partner, so make sure you have someone who can be there for you when times get tough. Also be careful about who you partner with in business. Ensure this is a person you can trust completely, and that you have complementary skills to bring to the table. As Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, says, “Choose a business partner as carefully as you would choose a spouse.”

Master Your Time
A business isn’t a 9-5 job, so being disciplined with your time – and how you let other people use it – is essential. Starting a new business requires the ability to consistently set and meet deadlines, even if that means saying “no” to the demands and expectations of other people. Remember that for every client-facing hour, there will be just as many hours of work required behind the scenes looking at your business’ strategy, communications, financial management, administration and more.

Take Care
Self-care is a crucial element to long-term business success. So get your physical and mental well-being in order, and make a commitment to yourself. If this means working with a personal trainer and psychologist, then do it. Starting a business and pushing the limits will be the most enjoyable and stressful venture you can undertake. If you are not well in every sense of the word you, will not give yourself the best possible chance of success.

Stay Accountable
Ensure you are accountable to someone outside of your family and friends. Whether this person takes the form of a mentor, business coach, or comes via a formal business program, it’s vital you verbalise your plans and ideas to this trusted source. Choose someone with great business instincts and vision who will also call it as they see it.

Need an accountability partner? Kiikstart offers a Virtual Scholar mentoring program suited to both start-ups and established businesses throughout Australia. During the program, I’ll work with you either in-person or via technology to develop your business – and yourself. Working in partnership with you, we co-create your learning experience so our focus is on what’s most useful to you. Sessions are an hour at a time, and designed to fit in with your life, including over the weekends if need be. If you’re looking for an accountability partner in business, Kiikstart could be it!

Contact 0428 593 400 or email enquiries@kiikstart.com.