When leadership begins

By Jamie Rowland

Jamie loves helping businesses explore how better leadership capabilities can lead to better results. He is great at listening and asking the objective questions which stimulate new thinking.

Leaders are made, not born or made in a lab. So where does it all start? Jamie shares a story about the emergence of an entrepreneurial hero.

There once was a boy called Mike.  At school he loved playing football, and was popular amongst his peers. He preferred the sciences and design lessons over the arty ones, and no-one was surprised when he left school to become an apprentice plumber. After three years of working alongside Keith, who had three decades of plumbing experience, they mutually agreed that Mike should move to a bigger company so he could learn more contemporary practices. So Mike, now aged nineteen, moved to Plumbjob - a national business, with depots positioned in light industrial units across the country.  His depot was managed by Sheila - she ran a tight ship to achieve the key performance indicators that triggered her bonus payments. Mike had a solid work ethic, which had been reinforced by Keith’s mentoring, and soon found out that this might not be enough to get him the recognition and progression he wanted. Sheila kept deploying him to easy jobs which offered him little in the way of challenge, not wanting to risk him taking longer than the company allotted for more challenging jobs. So in his spare time, Mike started to do a little moonlighting…. Keith’s nephew had branched into installing emerging green technologies and Mike helped him out in order to find out more.  His curiosity piqued, he signed up to a correspondence course to enrich his knowledge and gain a diploma.  Two years later, Mike left Plumbjob to gain himself some thinking time. To keep the money coming in he took a six-month contract with an architectural practice, providing technical design input on whole house green heating systems.

At the end of the six months, with a little money in the bank, Mike went to see an accountant who helped him set up a company called Greenheat Ltd. Initially it was just Mike, occasionally helped by the semi-retired Keith, but the work kept coming in as his reputation travelled by word of mouth: ‘great bloke - knows what he’s talking about, gets the job done when he says he will, honest about his pricing, and comes up with great tweaks and ideas’. Three different architectural practices commissioned him to help on design projects, installation jobs were increasing, and many people wanted to keep him on a retainer for servicing and emergencies. A couple of former colleagues from Plumbjob came to work with him, and a few month’s later Keith’s nephew and his team of four decided to come under the banner of Greenheat Ltd. Mike’s accountant suggested he should get someone to manage the business so Mike could concentrate on growing it.  Sheila was delighted by his offer and agreed to manage the business on the proviso she should be given free rein and not be restrained by imposed KPI’s - Mike gladly agreed.

Fast forward three years, Mike was now twenty five and was leading a business with seventeen full time technical staff, five administrative staff, and a turnover in excess of one million pounds. He won an award at his chamber of commerce as ‘emerging business leader of the year’ which caught the eye of an experienced business angel who met Mike. They impressed each other and agreed on a plan to expand the business.

Mike is now thirty-three.  He successfully took Greenheat to IPO after working hard to replicate the success of the business across the country.  His business has eclipsed Plumbjob, and he is working with his advisors on his plans to move into the Australian market.  He has been interviewed on numerous occasions for the string of leadership awards he has won, and a number of ivy league business schools have been conducting research to put their finger on his business success.

Whenever he is asked ‘when did you become a leader?’ he just smiles, shares the story I have just shared with you, and says ‘you tell me!’


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