The Leader's Origin Story #1
By Graham Bell
This is The Leader's first blog post, and I want to tell you about some of the emotions involved in our new business startup. It will be a two-part blog – but I promise not to turn it into a book. This first part will outline the rationale behind why The Leader Scotland exists and the next instalment will talk more about our feelings along the way! To complement my input, and make sure we are walking the talk about a fair division of labour, Lesley will write the next blog and outline some of the mechanics involved in starting the business.
We were both fortunate to be able to choose our retirement dates, so thinking about starting a business wasn’t forced on us. We had the advantage of having enjoyed great careers working in an amazing social enterprise which helped young people at risk. We had the challenge of blending a mission within a business structure – and growing that well beyond what anyone ever expected. We had the privilege of working with literally hundreds of skilled and committed people. In short – we loved our work!
But we had also worked very, very hard. It was a 24/7 365 days operation, and we had taken it from the point where it almost shut down in 1996 – to the place where it is now recognised as one of Scotland’s best social enterprises. We were passionate about the cause – I had been determined to change not just the way we worked with young people in trouble but also to understand why so many of them ended up at such serious risk. So, we had tried to widen our own knowledge base, and over two decades, working together we travelled, read and researched constantly.
Leadership and business building
As our positions steadily moved to running a large charitable business, more expertise was developed by other people in the direct work of the enterprise. Our approach turned more towards leadership and business building. We both recognised the dangers of going past our sell-by and (even worse) best-before dates! We knew that having been there such a long time could make it hard for a smooth transition to the next generation. We saw the importance of leaders not only developing other people, but knowing when to pass the baton on. It felt as if it was time to go; we knew we were leaving a strong business, a robust and sustainable business model and good people to take over.
So far from feeling burned out or finished when retiring we both felt we still had a lot to offer. The question was to whom? It needed to be a bit different from what we had been doing – partly to keep us fresh but also to give us the challenge of learning more new things! We were hungry for new opportunities. But we also wanted to be able to use our experience to inform where we would be going next. And we kept coming back to our interest in leadership – in business and in wider society; and, particularly, how struggling leaders could be supported, how young leaders could be developed and how existing leaders could mature and grow.
Hybrid business models
The increasing attention being given to hybrid business models where both commercial and social aims were being met had always interested us. So, nothing ventured, nothing gained! We wanted to help bosses become leaders – and build better businesses. Now we just needed to figure out how.
I’ll be back after Lesley’s next blog. She’ll be telling you a bit more about what we have learned – and what has surprised us in our new leadership journey.
Be well. Do good. Till next time.
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