Are you and your employees part of something big and important? — Lionesses of Africa

by Lionesses of Africa Operations Department

Last week we perhaps seemed a bit dismissive of some of the great male business leaders of our time. We pleaded with Business Schools to think outside the box and recognize that if we put these leaders on a pedestal then it is no surprise if business and investment decisions are made with a ‘strong pale male’ benchmark in mind.

This week we begin with a quote from one of these greats. Not because we were wrong last week, not because our mailbox was full of letters complaining of our treatment of Steve, Bill and Elon (it wasn’t as most recognised, we were very complimentary, simply asking Business Schools to measure ‘success’ in a different way to ensure benchmarks used by investors are recalibrated), but really because we are large fans of these leaders. Importantly though we recognize that we have to take what they do in balance. Put it another way, the adrenaline that flows through Elon’s veins alone on a dull Monday morning would be far too much for us mere mortals to handle and would probably kill us. So we have to be very careful indeed with what we pick and chose from their visions, musings and actions. Cherry pick the most useful. Please!

One example in point is from the management guru Jack Welch, who Fortune magazine called the “manager of the century”. Jack was one we also mentioned last week (and investment committees love). He started from very humble beginnings and worked his way up to the very top of General Electric with his own style of direct leadership. Note ’direct’ – it’s not for nothing that he puts ‘Candor’ at the top of his ‘must have’ lists for companies, saying that it doesn’t matter if someone gets upset, what is important is that everything is put out on the table so that time is not wasted dancing around people’s feelings (er…nice!).

He is also passionate about his 20:70:10 rule for his employees. The 20:70:10 rule simply states that the top 20% of employee’s must be treated like the Olympic Winning Athletes (‘OWAs’) that they are. Pampered, allowed free rein and given huge bonuses. The next 70% are those you have to encourage, show the exciting future, spend time with, allow to grow – whilst they look lovingly at the 20% OWAs and think “One day I shall be there.”

The 10% balance at the bottom? …Oh, sack ‘em.

See what we mean? Cherry pick!

We are being a little unfair as he does bring some very good pros and cons to the table as well – but still, put on those oven gloves and safety glasses… His brilliant book ‘Winning’ (here) gives you a big hint in the title as to what to expect and win he certainly did taking GE’s market capitalization from around US$14 billion, to more than US$410 billion in a mere two decades! Yes, you read that right.

So on our Cherry picking mission, we see as a bright red Cherry his view on Mission Statements. He says:

Effective mission statements balance the possible and the impossible. They give people a clear sense of the direction to profitability and the inspiration to feel they are part of something big and important.

Have we ever really thought of our Mission Statement? It’s something that many of us doodled on the back of an envelope many years ago and it seemed ok, so we left it like that.

It is far more important.

In his hard hitting book ‘The Hard Thing about Hard Things’ (here) the founder of the huge tech PE Fund ‘a16z’, Ben Horowitz states:

“Being a good company doesn’t matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong.

When things go well, the reasons to stay at a company are many:

  • Your career path is wide open because as the company grows lots of interesting jobs naturally open up.

  • Your friends and family think you are a genius for choosing to work at the “it” company before anyone else knew it was “it.”

  • Your résumé gets stronger by working at a blue-chip company in its heyday.

  • Oh, and you are getting rich.

When things go poorly, all those reasons become reasons to leave. In fact, the only thing that keeps an employee at a company when things go horribly wrong – other than needing a job – is that she likes her job.

How do we create the opportunity for our employees to become more invested in our dream, to truly believe they are working for a great company, to deeply ‘like their job’?

This starts with your Mission.

In his fabulous TED talk ‘How great leaders inspire action’ (here), based on his book (here), Simon Sinek shows us how to inspire through our view of our company and why you do what you do is so important and how this can be transformed into your Mission Statement which then becomes something that everyone can understand, believe in and follow.

Simon talks about his golden circle.

He says that all companies know ‘What’ they do, many know ‘How’ they do it but far fewer know ‘Why’ they do it, yet for truly great companies the ‘Why’ is by far the most powerful. This is “Your purpose, your cause, your belief. Why does your organisation exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning and why should anyone care?

He says that we all automatically work from the outside in, so start with the ‘What do we do?’, then ‘How’, to the most unsure – ‘Why’.

However truly great companies work the other way such as Steve Job’s Apple:

If Apple was like everyone else:
What: ‘We make great computers’
How: ‘They are beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly’
Why: ‘Want to buy one?’


What Apple and other great companies do is start with the WHY and everything flows from there:

Why: ‘Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently’
How: ‘The way we challenge the status quote is making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly’

What: ‘We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?’

As you can see, we are already sub-consciously reaching for our cash… WE BELIEVE.

This ‘Why’ is the basis of the truly great mission statement.

As Jack Welch says a mission statement should always show:

The plan to win in this business.

This is because people buy the Why, not the What.

Steve Jobs’ mission statement for Apple in 1980 was:

To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.


With Steve gone their mission statement changed:

Apple strives to bring the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals, and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software, and internet offerings.

Admit it – who yawned?!?

This sadly is too much ‘What’ and not nearly enough ‘Why’ and sounds like they employed a team of outside consultants for this!

Next week we shall continue our deep dive into the minds of Jack, Steve, Elon (if we can drag him away from his Twitter…) and others as we lay down a path to the perfect Mission Statement that will get your employees jumping out of bed in the morning and most importantly, the Values that drive everything towards this end goal of global domination… (ok, time to put Jack’s book down…)!

Stay safe.

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