Tiffany Loh: How can business owners get to know where their strengths lie?
Alex Malley: After growing up in a small business family, with almost a decade of CEO leadership under my belt, the shining characteristics remain self-belief, self-reflection and being a forward directed person open to objective advice. Remember, however, our strengths can often manifest as weaknesses. Test your beliefs and ideas with an independent person you respect. Bounce off your thoughts and management style, and listen to what you verbalise – it can often sound different to what you are thinking.
Tiffany: What sort of associations should business owners look for?
Alex: Sharing their experiences – with particular emphasis on previous mistakes and lessons – I find it of enormous value. Conversations with retired business owners, who may have lost their competitive drive, but have a generous and practical insight, can be of great value too.
Tiffany: How did you come to understand where your own strengths lie?
Alex: I took the long route. For at least ten years I was happy in my cocoon of belief that I knew it all and that my job was to impart knowledge, not to receive it. Then someone asked for my help for a fundraiser for a cause that I believed in and together we achieved a great result. It took this out of work experience away from workplace politics or pressures for me to see a different self-worth. That sole experience of stepping outside of my comfort zone really benefited my leadership career.
Tiffany: Why is it important to always be yourself in business?
Alex: People will always do business and build relationships with those they believe in. Being authentic is the key to a positive life and career. Facades are a risky, unsustainable and exhausting. Inauthentic behaviour gets found out sooner rather than later and such news spreads quickly. Ultimately, your reputation is the value of your business.
The isolation of leadership builds a strong case for developing networks of like-minded leaders.
Tiffany: In your book you’ve said to ‘stop keeping up with the Joneses’. How can small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) obsess less about the competition?
Alex: One of the interesting perspectives of competition is the apparent desire to all look the same. My approach to leadership is to build a business that does things differently to its competitors. This can be as simple as a different approach to customer service, bringing your personality into your advertising, or being personally available to your customers as the owner of the business. In recent years my business built a significant online presence where we had little experience. The key lesson was to be willing to employ a small group of people (this could be one person depending on the size of your business) who had intuitive experience in this area.
Tiffany: What are some tips for a small business owner who lives and breathes their business?
Alex: In reality, business leaders have to find time to step away from the day-to-day grind. Too many leaders get sucked into micromanaging, instead of inspiring through leadership. Step away, and allow yourself to think bigger. You have to learn to trust others to allow some freedom to think.
Tiffany: Why do business owners need to forget negativity to build a successful business?
Alex: In every successful person in the world, the one characteristic in each case is persistence. Success does not come easy. It requires unstinting resolve, persistence and a willingness to suck it up and keep going. It’s during negative periods when you must force yourself to think clearly, seek trusted counsel, and put in context to the good things in your life. Most negative circumstances eventually seem smaller than they did at the time.
Tiffany: How can business owners hone their gut instincts so that they make smarter decisions?
Alex: Wisdom is a collection of experiences – I collect them every day. It regularly amazes me that so few seem to expose themselves to different environments and people. It’s so important as a leader to be childishly curious about what is going on in the world and how it might impact your business or sector. Gut instinct, matched with a curious eye, makes for a potent business leader.