The importance of trust between startup founders and investors

Most startup founders have an uncanny ability to suspend disbelief when it comes to the future of their venture. They’re always in sales mode – to themselves, early customers and investors, and the world in general. Startups that are on the brink of huge success are often also on the brink of spectacular failure, the line between the two extremes is often wafer thin.

Early stage startups, by definition, are almost always missing something as they iterate on product-market fit. Meanwhile, early stage angel investors can often see past these shortcomings due to their experience and learnings from their own mistakes, and provide the care and nurturing to founders needed to unlock success.

Investors focusing on early-stage startups understand this reality and accept the associated risks in anticipation of making bets on founders working on ‘10X’ ideas to realise outsized rewards. This relationship between founders and investors is a key ingredient to startup success, and isn’t just from a commercial perspective, but at a personal level – rapport, respect, mentoring and trust are vital.

Early stage investors invest because they believe in the founder at a personal level. There is something about you, and your idea that convinced them that you could make it happen. Usually, it is just a feeling and not some tangible thing they can put their finger on. Ironically, most angel investors will imagine a future version of a startup far more enticing than most sane founders are willing to pitch.

The startup game isn’t for everyone – it isn’t really for most people. At the end of the day the most likely outcome is failure, even angel investors expect most of their bets in startups to fail. In this cauldron of uncertainty and high-stakes, the most important element of the founder-investor relationship is trust.

Startup founders have the singular authority to address high-stakes challenges and make tough decisions. However, to a large extent their autonomy rests on the willingness of the investors to cede it to them. In other words, it depends a lot on investor’s trust. Leaders who violate that trust soon find themselves ousted – Travis Kalanick, whose brash and at times inappropriate behaviour repeatedly raised eyebrows at Uber, was blamed for creating a toxic culture and forced to resign by an investor revolt.

Founder trust has also been eroded by Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook. In April 2018, Zuckerberg was before Congress and questioned about Facebook’s commitment to data privacy after it came to light that the company had exposed the personal data of 87 million users to Cambridge Analytica. Then in September 2018, Facebook admitted that hackers had gained access to personal information of 50 million users. Then a New York Times investigation revealed Facebook had given Netflix, Spotify, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon access to its users’ personal data, including in some cases their private messages.

So when Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would launch a dating app, I shook my head. And then they announced releasing an app that allowed people to share photos and make video calls. Why would anyone trust Facebook with personal data on something as sensitive as dating, or with a camera and microphone given its horrible track record?

Our need to trust and be trusted has a very real economic impact. More than that, it deeply affects the fabric of society. If we can’t trust other people, we’ll avoid interacting with them, which will make it hard to build anything, solve problems, or innovate.

Startup founders can’t build trust unless they understand the three fundamental promises they make to investors and the resulting responsibilities: economic – to provide value to customers that enhance their lives; legal – that they will follow the letter and the spirit of the law; ethics – investors want founders to behave with integrity.

To investors, if founders repay the trust of investment made by delivering the above promises, it means returns; and to society, it means growth and prosperity. But trust is fragile, it waxes and wanes. It means being competent, playing fair, and most of all, acknowledging and, if necessary, remediating, all the impact your decisions have, whether intended or not. Of course, it’s not always possible as a founder to make decisions that completely delight investors, but it is possible to make decisions that keep faith with and retain the trust they have in you, by being authentic and acting with integrity at all times.

Being authentic means that the gap between who you are and who you portray to be as close as zero as possible. In other words, being authentic means bringing the ‘real you’ wherever you go, in every situation and conversation. You can look at it from a moral angle, but I’m particularly interested in making a business case for being authentic.

Let’s start with what happens when you are not authentic. You will start with creating an image of yourself that is different from who you really are. It takes an effort to do that. Now, you will have to act out that image and make everyone believe that what you act out is who you really are. It takes even more effort to fulfil that. Once you act this out, you need to remember this image because you need to behave consistently with your image with all the people that have seen you portraying that image. That seems like a burden that you have chosen to carry to me. That you are interacting daily on a superficial level is odd, as betraying trust means betraying yourself.

Thinking about authenticity made me aware of my own conversations I’d been involved in as an angel investor, and recall the awkward situations where I considered my trust had been abused. Trust in humanity will only continue if we cultivate authenticity and sincerity in face to face conversation, and once these behaviours have lapsed, trust is broken and I’m done with that relationship.

Authentic’ is derived from the Greek authentikós, which means ‘original’, but just being original doesn’t mean you will be perceived as authentic. You could be an original phoney. At its heart, authenticity is about practicing your underlying principles and values – being totally clear about who you are, your purpose and what you stand for. When your rhetoric gets out of sync with your values, you lose your integrity and future persuasiveness suffers.

So I’ve used trust as a key part in assessing my appetite to work with startup founders, and my experience is that it is a hallmark of high-performing startups – employees are more productive, more satisfied with their jobs, put in greater discretionary effort, are less likely to leave, and are healthier than those working in low-trust ventures. Startups that build trust among their customers are rewarded with greater loyalty and higher sales, and negotiators who build trust with each other are more likely to find value-creating deals.

I’ve developed an approach to assess the trustworthiness of founders on five dimensions: competence, motives, means, impact and sincerity. I’ve found that founders who demonstrate these five dimensions can deepen the trust others place in them and foster stronger relationships. Conversely, founders who don’t pay attention to them can easily behave in ways that undermine trust, often without even realising it.

For me, motives and sincerity are the essential qualities I look for, they make up the moral or ethical domain of trust, the areas where I judge founders on the choices they make, whether it’s whose interests they serve (motives), how they go about achieving their goals (means), or whether they own all the effects they have on others (impact).

By understanding the behaviours that underlie trust, startup founders are better able to elevate the level of trust that investors feel toward them, and for me this can be captured into the following three elements:

Positive relationship trust is in part based on the extent to which a founder is able to create a positive relationship with investors. To instil trust a founder must:

  • Be empathetic to the concerns of investors
  • Be open minded and listen to advice
  • Respond to feedback in a constructive way

Good judgement the extent to which a founder is able to show balanced judgement, shrewdness and perceptiveness gives an investor confidence. This means:

  • They show balanced judgement when making decisions
  • Creating conviction when expressing their ideas and opinions
  • Can anticipate and respond quickly to problems, offering solutions

Consistency The final element of trust is the extent to which founders walk their talk and do what they say they will do. Investors rate and respect a startup leader highly if they:

  • Are a role model and set a good example at all times
  • Follow through on their commitments and keep promises.
  • Act in the best interests of everyone, not just themselves

Watching the current political discourse (and deadlock and chaos), I experience a longing for an authentic discussion of the core values that ought to be guiding us as a society. I feel that we are morally adrift, that we do not have a clear sense of how to ground our identities and actions to ultimate values that transcend time and place.

That is not to say that our society is largely immoral. Just amoral, lacking a clear compass or foundational guide at a critical time. Instead of a moral compass, people are constructing their own moral decisions. They don’t seem to know where they belong. They don’t seem to know that they are doing the right things with their lives. They don’t seem to know what the right things are.

And that’s a parallel to startup culture, where founders pursue their own unilateral agenda, failing to ground their perspective in a moral perspective and the legal and ethical commitment they made to angel investors who gave them their first chance. I’m seeing founders following a loose, poorly defined moral individualism that, for many, bleeds into an extreme moral relativism.

The emerging reflections on right and wrong generally reflect weak thinking and provide a fragile basis upon which to build robust businesses. Moreover, founders behaving like this do not rely on any moral traditions or philosophical ethics to make decisions. Instead, the basic position is for each individual to make up their own rules and do what is good for them.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal integrity, the state of being honest, and respecting trust given. The golden rule: don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want someone to do to you. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong or right, that is determined by each person, their experience, their perspective. And of course, we have laws. They pretty much cover it.

I believe that in healthy humans there is an inner compass that guides right from wrong. It may get modified through various lenses of philosophy, religion, and culture, but I think integrity and not causing harm by breaking trust are pretty universal. Unfortunately, it is also possible to get estranged from that compass, the influence of others, circumstances and opportunity may divert us from the path we know to be right.

For founders, it can be hard not to diverge from the path guided and shaped by trustworthiness with their early stage investors if they can see a quick personal gain. However, look in the mirror, and can you reconcile breaking the trust given to you? For certain, it is good to stay in balance and in touch with being a founder your investors trust, as much as you can.

For me, I am never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again, and tell myself that the mended whole is as good as new. What is broken is broken, and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it, and see the broken pieces to remind me that you broke my trust.

There’s no room for ego driven Machiavellians in your startup team

One of the key drivers of an effective startup is the alignment, collaboration and shared values of the team. There is no room for slackers, know-it-alls, passengers, backstabbers or Machiavellian egos. But what happens when the behaviour of one individual puts themselves and their personal interests above the business and team?

We all know the damage and acrimony they can cause to a team’s morale and reputation, but how do you repair and recover from the destructive action of such an individual? Boris Johnson is a good example of such a renegade. He’s always stood outside from his collective responsibility, even at the top table in Government as Foreign Secretary. With his cultivated air of toffish buffoonery, he was a man out of time and place with C21st team oriented culture.

Last week he saved us further damage from his grotesque incompetence, showing flagrant disregard for cabinet collective responsibility and exposing himself as a self-serving charlatan, making even his resignation a set piece of rhetorical bombast for the British public.

A man of remarkable gifts, flawed by an absence of conscience or scruple, his ambition and superficial charm far outstrip his judgment or principles. Characterised by a calculated appeal his own self-worth, he will always be remembered as the man who made promises on the side of a bus that he had no intention of keeping. The casual dishonesty has had devastating consequences.

His resignation serves as a perfect metaphor for the tragedy and hypocrisy of Brexit, leaving the Government and its strategy up the proverbial creek, a recklessness that looks like courage in the eyes of his supporters, but which destabilises and sabotages the work of policy making and diplomacy.

Johnson has a long-proven record of mendacity, duplicity, dishonesty and careerism – he merely saw another opening in his Ophidian career and took it, never knowingly taking a leap into the abyss. Just as a fragile basis for Brexit negotiation emerges, his selfish drive for attention threatens that.

So how do you counter this sort of behaviour if it was to happen in your startup team? Say your maverick sales leader, always temperamental and prone to doing their own thing and frequently at loggerheads with you, storms out over a spat over pricing on a sizeable deal – the final act of a dysfunctional relationship, claiming a ‘disagreement over strategy’ yet in reality, the intimacy of a startup required more humility and collegiate thinking.

It creates unrest and destabilises the team – just like the Government, a bunch of people who are individually all smart and competent, but somehow as a team just aren’t together. So why is it that things come off the rails? The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni describes the many pitfalls that teams face as they seek to ‘row together’. He explores the fundamental causes of organisational politics and team failure, and identified five dysfunctions of teams:

  • Absence of trust: an individual is unwilling to be vulnerable within the group, and creates a sense of self-imposed isolation from the team
  • Fear of conflict: seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate, ultimately is not bought into the team based decision making process or outcomes
  • Lack of commitment: feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organisation – everyone knows it, but it remains unspoken, thus creating discord and fractured trust
  • Avoidance of accountability: ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behaviour, which sets low standards – again, looking to protect their own position and not sit alongside colleagues
  • Inattention to results: focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success

Recognise these traits? So how do you regroup and reunite the team when a rebel causes such a self-destructive explosion? For me, whilst it’s the individuals operating with different mindsets within the team that causes the dysfunctional schisms, the place to start is with results.

Talk to your team about the results that they need to be getting that it isn’t getting, removing discussion about the disruptor, and you develop agreement among the team on the outcomes, which is what a team is all about – working together to achieve something. And then you get to ask the question, what’s happening in our team that prevents us from getting the results that we all believe we need? You need to instigate a transparent dialogue on performance.

So, you start to work backward, and from results you go to the question of behaviours: how are we acting in a way that is preventing us from getting the results we need and the work relationships we need? You start to identify the behaviours that are associated with an ineffective mindset.

Then you work backward one more step, which is to help the team identify how the mindset that they’re operating from is generating these behaviours which is getting them the results different from the results we’ve agreed we all want. So it’s a two or three step process, but it starts with the results.

Leaders are generally better at being transparent than they are curious in terms of looking to address these mindset issues, better at sharing their point of view than expressing curiosity about how other people think about the situation, or what they think about what the point of view is that they’ve just expressed.

The reason that it’s so important to ask questions is that’s the way in which you begin to surface what is on everyone’s minds, helping shape and opening up the new team culture as to what their concerns and motivations are. If you don’t do that, you’re just guessing that what you have in your head about your team is right, and if you plan a strategy based on that, it’s very easy to be off the mark and for your strategy to fail.

Part of being transparent is sharing what you’re thinking, and sharing how you got there, essentially, making your private reasoning public so people can share their reasoning with you and react to yours. Having removed a poisonous ego from the team, don’t replace that ego with yours. Leadership is about helping the team identify where they need to go to next, not imposing your own solution.

Having started an open dialogue to repair the broken culture, you are on the way to reestablishing trust in the organisation. Trust is everything, it is the bedrock when building a high performing startup team. Trust is the knowledge that people can be trusted to do the right thing when things go wrong.

Creating a culture where bravado is absent builds a continuous self-appraisal and peer review of how things are being done, and is a powerful way to increase accountability that will drive performance and trust. As the leader you want to get the balance right – you are taking charge without taking over, giving a sense of purpose. There are some specific actions to accelerate the recovery into your startup, such that the walk out of a big ego is soon forgotten.

1. Set the vision, and establish milestones to achieving the vision As leader, it’s down to you to set the goal for the group. It doesn’t have to be a vision with a capital ‘V’, just paint a picture of what you want to accomplish over the next few years.

You don’t want you’re team saying what the heck are we doing? Where is this leading us? The vision also needs milestones. People want to know how they’re doing in relation to their goal. Milestones let you tell them.

2. Agree on ‘rules of the road’ Basically, how are we going to run his business now we’ve got the bad egg out of the way? Try out new ways of talking and listening, routines and styles. Refresh to remove the old chunky ways of working, put some personal freedom of voices, choices and space into the working environment and set a new rhythm, whilst also focusing on the results everyone has signed up to deliver.

3. Build new structures and processes that enable creative collaboration When attempting to carve new realities, explicitly encourage your startup team to start experimenting again with different thoughts, relationships, and actions in order to learn what happens and what works. The emphasis is less on getting things right the first time and more on being attentive to feedback, adjusting, and trying again. Put learning back into the heart of the business agenda.

4. Think of your work as a craft, not an assembly line Maybe things had got tense and too serious, and the pressure valve opened up as a result of pent up anxiety. In describing China’s transition toward a socialist market economy, former Chinese Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping used an evocative image of discovering, rather than planning and solidifying everything before starting: We are crossing the river by feeling for stones.

This is a lovely analogy of thinking about progress, so maybe take a step back and refocus more on creativity and innovation than simply ‘getting stuff done’ and scaling.

5. Sense and respond In a startup it’s important to ‘feel the pulse’, being in touch with everyone to have a sense for the hidden and silent things. Schedule regular informal face time with each of your team, don’t underestimate the importance of ‘checking in’. When it doesn’t happen, you can see the team start to gradually drift into their own quiet corners.

In a startup team there is a high degree of flux at any moment in time. There is no paradigm, no precedent, there is nothing. You have to carve it. To carve a new world means to bring forth something new by patiently and gradually working, with a sensitive hands-on connection, with the particular reality in front of you. It means the opposite of imposing a fully formed idea of what you think must be. Don’t lead the metaphorical charge, lead the thinking.

When we collaborate, by sharing ideas we strengthen relationships, joined up thinking creates momentum and a sense of purpose. Working together, we achieve so much more. Losing a Machiavellian personality, no matter how selfish and destructive they are, will cause immediate challenges and uncertainty, but in reality, many like Boris Johnson are energy sappers, not energisers to the team. But you can recover, and move forward.

Everyone matters in a startup. If you’ve got a Boris Johnson in yours, just reflect on their real impact on results, morale and teamship. Read the signals above the noise. Remove the egos. For Boris, what passed for disarming eccentricity was ultimately exposed as cringemaking incompetence. Long ago, it became that the veneer of faux levity and badinage encased no hidden depth in a constant night of the long knives. His ego saw himself in Churchillian terms, whereas for me, I cast him as a character for a remake of Blackadder, in a blond wig.

Why should anyone be led by you?

Why should anyone be led by you? This is a great question for self-reflection for any leader, focused on your leadership identity, values and purpose. It’s also the title of a book of Rob Goffee & Gareth Jones, and a piece of research I use when working with startup founders to help shape and articulate their leadership style.

More and more people and organisations are on the quest for authenticity of leadership. People want to be led by people they trust, respect and who are sincere. Goffee and Jones identify some key concepts – know and show yourself often, get close to your people but also keep your distance, and communicate with care.

The recipe is to get connected to one’s inner self and to start talking and acting in a real, emotionally connected way to enhance engagement and creativity. Organisations want more sincere leadership, more initiative. But leadership isn’t easy. It requires focus and practice.

The tumultuous result from last week’s General Election was as much about the leadership credentials of May and Corbyn as their opposing political ideologies. May’s frequent tortured physiognomy haunted me like a Spitting Image retrospective, contrasting to Corbyn’s calm, principled style of communication, which confused me when set against the narrative of his seemingly naïve and unclear approach to leadership we’ve seen historically.

When May called the general election, Corbyn was widely regarded as the weakest leader the Labour Party had since Michael Foot in 1983 or perhaps even since George Lansbury in 1935. Today he is the comeback king, undisputed leader of the Labour Party.

Whatever your politics, May’s leadership will be remembered for one big, disastrous gamble. She called a snap election, seemingly to bank a bigger majority against an apparently shambolic Labour opposition, characterised by Corbyn’s weak leadership, a safe one-way bet to a landslide and renewed five-year majority term. But there followed one of the most dramatic collapses in British political history.

Corbyn’s conviction politics caught the imagination, his principles overtaking the doubters who stalled at May’s lack of personal empathy and engagement. There will be no ‘strong and stable’ government that May said the country needed when she called the vote. Things fell apart for May, despite Diana Abbott’s mathematical malfunctions.

Whoever becomes British Prime Minister will have to lead a fractured country and grapple with three crises. Firstly there is chronic instability. We are a divided and confused country – between outward and inward-looking Brexit voters, gapping polarity between young and old, the divide between cosmopolitan cities and the rest (don’t get me started on rural broadband in Rossendale versus 4G in Manchester), and the gulf between nationalists and unionist perspectives.

Secondly, I anticipate economic turbulence ahead. Whereas in 2016 the UK economy grew the fastest of the G7, in Q1 of 2017 it was the slowest. Unemployment remains at its lowest in decades, but with inflation at a three-year high and rising, real wages are falling. Tax revenues and growth will suffer as inward investment falls and net migration of skilled Europeans tails off. Maybe it’s just me, but the economy was given little visibility in the Election and voters are blissfully unaware of the coming crunch.

The third issue is on the next page of my diary: in just a week’s time the most important and difficult political negotiation Britain has attempted in peacetime will be upon us. Brexit involves dismantling an economic and political arrangement that has existed for over fifty years, linking Britain to the economic bloc with which we send half of our exports, from which come half of our migrant population, and which has helped to keep the peace in Europe and stability beyond.

May or Corbyn – neither has given any clarity how to negotiate Britain’s trickiest-ever divorce, neither fully answered the question of how the economic pain of Brexit will be shared. We seem resigned to the fact that we were duped by promises of a Brexit dividend of more cash for the NHS, but no one has been held truly accountable. May’s demise is more of a lack of confidence in her personally than retribution for the Bullingdon Boys’ private spat spinning out of control.

From an apparent position of strength and boasting the fatuous slogan that I am a bloody difficult woman, May’s leadership credentials unravelled, undermined by the reluctance to face voters directly, such that a beleaguered May now faces a backlash and is fighting for her political life, seeking a coalition of convenience to bolster her chances of keeping her Government alive.

She’s a hostage inside the Tory Party and in an invidious position, isolated and waiting until someone knocks on her door and tells her to sling her hook. I’m sure those grey men in grey suits at the apex of the Conservative hierarchy are putting their heads together and trying to stitch up some sort of a way forward.

Meanwhile Corbyn started the Election looking like a partisan rebel, supported largely by a small group of faithful hard-leftists in his office, and, outside Parliament, by Len McLuskey, boss of the Unite trade union, and by Momentum, a grassroots pressure group of activists.

In contrast, many have had a fundamental rethink, as Corbyn demonstrated clear values-based leadership, standing for what he really believes in, always been proud of his socialist record rather than cleaving to the middle ground. He has also demonstrated that the tabloids are no longer the influencers to be feared, reaching out to the younger constituency with his manifesto of #forthemanynotthefew and inspired a new cohort of voters.

Corbyn fought a strong campaign against all expectations. He may not have won the Election but, unlike the leader of the Conservative Party, he now has the aura of a winning leader, whereas May looks to be a floundering leader. As it’s a choice between the two, let’s ask the question of May and Corbyn – why should anyone be led by you? – and look at the detailed research from Goffee and Jones, and see how they shape up.

Their research found that successful leaders modify their behaviour to respond to the needs of their followers and the circumstances they encounter – while simultaneously remaining true to who they are. They produce results by being crystal clear on their unique differentiators and by addressing four critical needs of their followers:

·     Community: followers long for a sense of belonging, to feel part of something bigger. Leaders must help them connect to others (not just to the leaders themselves) as well as to the overarching purpose of the organisation.

·     Authenticity: followers choose to be led by humans, not titles or credentials. Leaders must be able to identify and deploy their personal differences, foibles, and strengths to inspire employees to apply their energy and talents.

·     Significance: followers want to believe their efforts matter. Leaders need to recognise contributions in a meaningful way, with highly personalised feedback.

·     Excitement: followers need a spark to trigger their exceptional performance. Leaders who articulate their own passion, values, and vision provide the energy and enthusiasm employees hunger for.

Besides the above skills and attributes, everyone agrees that leaders need vision, energy, authority, and strategic direction. That goes without saying. But Goffee and Jones also discovered that inspirational leaders shared four unexpected qualities:

·     Vulnerability: by exposing some vulnerability, they reveal their approachability and humanity. By selectively revealing their weaknesses (weaknesses, not fatal flaws), this lets employees see that they are open and transparent, building an atmosphere of trust which helps galvanise commitment.

·     Intuition: inspirational leaders have a heavy reliance on intuition to gauge the appropriate timing and course of their actions. Such leaders are good ‘situation sensors’, they can sense what’s going on without having things spelled out for them, acting on gut instinct.

·     Tough empathy: managing employees with ‘tough empathy’ is the third quality of exceptional leadership. Tough empathy means giving people what they need, not what they want. Leaders must empathise passionately and realistically with people, care intensely about the work they do, and be straightforward with them.

·     Personal uniqueness: the fourth quality of top-notch leaders is that they capitalise on their differences. They use what’s unique about themselves to create a social distance and to signal separateness, which in turn motivates employees to perform better.

All four qualities are necessary for inspirational leadership, but they cannot be used mechanically, they must be mixed and matched to meet the demands of particular situations. Most importantly, however, is that the qualities encourage authenticity among leaders.

The main body of leadership thinking focuses on the characteristics of leaders, giving it a strong psychological bias, seeing leadership qualities as inherent to the individual. The underlying assumption is that leadership is something we do to other people. However, in Goffee and Jones’ view, and one that I subscribe too, leadership should be seen as something we do with other people.

You can’t do anything in a startup business without followers, startup leaders must find ways to engage people and rouse their commitment to company goals. It should be noted that effective leadership is not about results per se, the focus is on leaders who excel at inspiring people, in capturing hearts, minds, and souls. This ability is not everything in business, but great results may be impossible without it.

So, May or Corbyn? Who knows themselves and shows themselves enough with authenticity? Who makes it personal, always present in the moment as a person? Who shows the most ‘tough empathy’, managing their social distance, use bandwidth to shift from distance to closeness as needed? Finally, who communicates with care?

It’s not about the cult of personality, the perceived strength or weakness, rather facing the schisms in our country, the drifting performance of the economy and the challenges of Brexit, political leadership must always be viewed as a relationship between the leader and the led. To be a true leader, be yourself.

Maybe neither are the leaders we aspire for, when compared to Justin Trudeau, the current Canadian Prime Minister, who captured his leadership ethos with these words:

Connecting with Canadians isn’t about what you say, it’s about what you’re listening to. It’s about what you understand. Who cares about winning? We should focus on serving. It’s important that people understand who I am and where I come from and not just have it shaped by purely political discourse.

What organisations need – and what followers want – are authentic leaders who know who they are, where the organisation needs to go, and how to convince followers to help them take it there. So, May or Corbyn, who gets your vote as the next leader of Britain? And how does this thinking speak to your own leadership virtues and values?

The new tech startup landscape: the impact of Trump as POTUS

On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President, a man of vision, integrity, dignity and generous spirit, and witness the inauguration of President Trump. It is impossible not to react to this moment with anything less than profound anxiety. This almost puts the toblerone fiasco into perspective.

For the party of Abraham Lincoln, Trump is a profound embarrassment. The folly of the masses has overtaken the wisdom of crowds. Trump’s manifesto was hollow on content but overflowed with hyperbole and bombast. The campaign mirrored the EU referendum, marked by intense polarisation and absence of civility. ‘Political integrity’ – words which repel each other like similar ends of a magnet, has lapsed for a generation.

However, let’s set aside the political polarity and consider what Trump’s presidency could mean for one vital section of the economy – tech startups, both in the US and in the UK. Here’s my take from reading a number of articles, and my own thoughts.

Investment There is a maelstrom of uncertainty as many investors did not anticipate this outcome, and if there is anything that investors hate, it is uncertainty. However, some of the best companies have been created in times of economic turmoil, and, because of that, some of the best startup investments have been made in times when everyone was risk averse.

I am certain that investors will continue to invest in disruptive tech startups where their innovative value proposition offers product-market fit. While the financial markets may be volatile, there is no correlation between startup success and strong financial markets. Investors who understand what makes a startup an investible proposition will continue to act accordingly and be rewarded over the long term for doing so.

That means entrepreneurs looking to raise money in the coming months may have to wait it out and be conservative with cash as the senses settle, possibly hampering near-term growth, preserving cash and find a way to survive. But a great startup is a great startup. Startups encourage an equilibrium shift towards investment-driven growth, that wont change.

Entrepreneurial attitudes Entrepreneurs don’t confuse uncertain times with a lack of opportunity. If you were excited about your business two weeks ago, you should be excited about your business today, but don’t be blind about the macro environment you are operating in. It’s going to be choppy for a bit.

It would be unfathomable to think that someone who has been in business all his life is going to do anything that would hurt businesses and that the pendulum will swing to more realistic and sensible policies.

The platform business models, online businesses, Blockchain, crypto currencies – there is no reason why startups in these domains should not move forward. They are global businesses that know no borders, and innovation will continue to drive opportunity.

The US is the most entrepreneurial tech country in the world, and will keep producing Teslas, Googles, Amazons, Apples, Kickstarters, Twitters, Facebooks on the back of disruptive entrepreneurial thinking and behaviours. The globalisation of capital (in contrast to labour) means that when growth falters capital can go elsewhere, and equally, success will pull cash towards them.

Business ethics Startups fail, we all know the low probability of success and the cash burn of startup failures. No one sets out to fail, no one sets out to lose the cash and confidence of investors.

However, Trump’s behaviour – setting up businesses, letting them fail, using bankruptcy laws to avoid taxes, then setting up another business somewhere else – is the perfect symbol of the immoral asset-stripping form of ‘old style’ capitalism.

Tackling inequality and promoting opportunity should be a central objective of economic policy, for economic reasons every bit as much as social reasons. Startups offer an opportunity to reconnect a company with society, and instil a sense of broader obligation, rewarding value creation over value extraction.

Most startups operate with a strong community ethos, most startup founders are driven by making a difference, not money, money is the applause not the objective. Trump is not an entrepreneur as I would define one, he lacks the humility and operates to the indulgent capitalist stereotype of winner takes all as long as it is me.

Economic policy encouraging startup ventures While Trump was vague about his platform on the campaign trail, the broad strokes with which he painted his economic policy don’t bode well for the broader tech community. Trump is definitely a problem for that model. His economic policies are focused on punishing China for its trade abuses and returning manufacturing to the US.

If Trump moves ahead with his plan to impose steep tariffs on goods manufactured in China (rolling back more than twenty years of economic policy focused on increased economic interdependence), it won’t bode well for any US tech businesses that relies on the global supply chain and a global customer base – as most tech businesses, both in the US and UK, do.

Enabling free movement and diversity of labour markets Beyond tariffs, making tech products more expensive (and hypothetically forcing companies to return their manufacturing to the US), Trump is likely to have a significant impact on the issue of immigration, the free movement of labour and diversity in the workforce – all key drivers of startup growth.

Silicon Valley has made a huge push to support and expand the H-1B visa system, which enables talented workers from overseas to remain in the US and give them a path to a green card while filling the demand for highly skilled jobs. Trump said he would eviscerate that system.

For tech startups, the H-1Bs are a high-tech iteration of the message of compassion inscribed on the Statue of Liberty — Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free – except they’re highly educated, highly skilled workers rather than huddled masses yearning to be free.

It’s not the robots that are the problem Trump’s not a tech guy, that much we know. He also doesn’t know his economics. Robert Solow, the emeritus MIT economist, researched and developed a model which shows that around 80% of economic growth is down to technological progress, leaving capital and labour driven growth by the wayside.

I worry that for the sake of creating more American jobs, Trump might somehow slow tech, including self-driving technologies. Trump promises to bring back manufacturing jobs, but robots won’t let him. I don’t think he understands the tectonic shift that AI and robotics have reshaped the economy, and it’s not reversible. Indeed, robotics have already helped reduce reliance on labour overseas for US manufacturers in automotive, electrical and electronics industries.

If manufacturing returns to US per his aim, jobs aren’t coming with it in high numbers. Automation has left workers in developing nations without employment, and the US like other developed economies faces the same challenge. Startups creating interesting robotics that stand to replace jobs from people, both in the UK and US, will continue to attract seed and venture funding.

It’s not just startups innovating with AI and robotics, large brands like Nike and Adidas have shed staff and embraced robotics, for example 3-D printing of shoes. Large agricultural business deploy drones in the field and major companies like Amazon and UPS rely heavily on robots for logistics and warehousing.

And the robots aren’t getting dumber. Advances in VR and AI promise to make robots and the software-brains inside of them even more competitive with people. It is not the robots that are the enemy, Donald.

Curating and enabling entrepreneurial flair Trump reserved some special vitriol for the folk from Cupertino. He called for a boycott of Apple’s products over its encryption stance following the San Bernardino shooting and bombings.

He had harsh words that harnessed his distrust of China to announce his plans to quite literally make Apple manufacture its products in the US: We’re going to get Apple to build their damn computers and things in this country instead of in other countries. Tim Cook, a composed and thoughtful man responded in an articulate and reasonable manner to this threat. Just imagine how Steve Jobs, a more abrasive character, would have taken up the challenge.

While it remains unclear if these comments form part of Trump’s policy on technology and business, his rhetoric will be of concern to Apple. In response to that uncertainty, Cook told employees to be confident that Apple’s North Star hasn’t changed.

Tim Cook’s leadership message in response to Trump’s threats was an example of the stark contrast to be made of intelligent liberalism against Trumps thoughtless populist sound bites: Our company is open to all, and we celebrate the diversity of our team here in the United States and around the world regardless of what they look like, where they come from, how they worship or who they love.

He’s also focused on Jeff Bezos and Amazon – If I become president, do they have problems, he said back in February, taking specific issue with Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post and his support for Clinton, and for swaying political influence to benefit himself and Amazon. For his part, Bezos reserved Trump a special (one-way) ticket on one of his Blue Origin rockets.

While Trump was vague about his platform on the campaign trail, the broad strokes with which he painted his economic policy don’t bode well for the broader tech community. Sam Altman, president of startup incubator Y Combinator, and Shervin Pishevar, co-founder of Hyperloop One, even suggested that California secede.

This leaves the US tech industry in an uncomfortably uncertain position. Total contributions to the Clinton campaign from the Internet industry came in at 114 times the level they did for Trump. High-profile figures in US tech such as Zuckerberg, Benioff and Hoffman, all took unusually public anti-Trump stances. The notable exception was Peter Thiel, the billionaire PayPal backer and Silicon Valley’s resident contrarian.

However, it was Dave McClure of 500 Startups, a startup accelerator and seed fund – who made his feelings known on stage at Web Summit, which perhaps showed the schism potentially opening:

We provide communication platforms for the rest of the f—— country and we are allowing s— to happen. It’s a propaganda meeting. Even if people aren’t aware of the s— that they’re being told, if they’re being told a story in fear, if they’re being told a story of ‘other,’ if they’re not understanding that people are trying to use them to get into f—— office, then yes, a—— like Trump are going to take office. And it’s our duty and our responsibility as entrepreneurs, as citizens of the f—— world, to make sure that s— does not happen. This s— will not stand, and you’ve got to fight for your rights and… stand the f— up!

Quite how a flawed personality, a populist billionaire, a hotel developer, won election as POTUS, for a country seen as a ‘beacon of hope’, based on his manifesto, defies analysis. We can only believe that the driving force of passion for entrepreneurship and innovation, from economic, technological and sociological perspectives, carries enough momentum against the voices of the Trumpkins.

Outgoing President Obama today visits Athens as part of his ‘farewell tour’, partly to talk about democracy in the place in which it was born. There’s a lot for us all to consider. In Ancient Greece, not far from the Acropolis, populist speakers used to rouse crowds with the promise of action against the state’s enemies.

Those speakers were known as demagogues. You have to wonder whether or not that will remind the outgoing president of the man who will succeed him. In turn we have to hope that Trump gets educated in the business of technology and the technology of business, to enable our tech startup cultures to continue to thrive, and that any economic policies do not constrain because of a flawed, stale and utterly misguided set of ideological principles.

Brexit and the oxymoron of political leadership: why should anyone be led by you?

On a recent Friday morning, I awoke shocked like many to find that UK electorate had chosen to exit the EU. As an advocate of Remain, I am still struggling to come to terms with the idea of a ‘divorce’ from what I regard to be a positive relationship with our fellow Europeans on social and economic issues. On the surface, Brexit has all the flavours ranging from nostalgia of self-rule to xenophobia.

Some have attributed Brexit to a political error by Cameron in holding a referendum, poor management of migration policy by the EU and downright misjudgement on how inflammable the issue of migration into the UK has become, such that it became the single-decision issue for most Leave voters.

It is worth reflecting on what caused this surprise result and what we can learn from it from a leadership perspective, as for me, the leadership vacuum on both sides of the debate is my overriding takeaway. As a consequence, the subsequent fall-out from the leading voices in both the Remain and Leave campaigns has left us with some dramatic short-term adverse and unexpected challenges.

The fallout is huge. The Prime Minister resigned with haste and no obvious successor, and the Leave campaign leadership exited themselves with equal undue haste, opting to save their own skins. Multiple Tories crept out of the woodwork murmuring their leadership credentials, whilst the Shadow Cabinet is in open revolt in an effort to oust Corbyn, struggling to survive a coup yet stating he’s under no pressure.

Meanwhile, the ‘rerun the referendum petition’ reached over four million signatures seemingly overnight, and the pound hit a 31-year low against the dollar. And there is talk in Scotland and Wales of total secession. It has been a painful experience to watch events unfurl on such a seismic scale, the like of which we have never seen before.

In business, when something happens of such significance – loss of a major customer or project, a strategic shift in the market, or a factory closure and a round of redundancies, we expect a clear sense of authority and direction to be communicated by the leadership. Someone steps up and reassures us that all will be well, and that this moment, like others before it, will pass. Heads come up, we face the challenge, we adapt, shrug our shoulders and move on.

In the case of Brexit, weeks after a vote demanding a significant change of direction, there remains a total leadership void. Precisely no one has stepped up. Neither side advocating their point of view had a clear game plan in the event of victory or defeat.

If you take one constructive lesson from Brexit, it is a stark reminder of the absolute imperative of genuine leadership. The political turmoil of the last few weeks offers many lessons about how to fail and succeed as a leader. Here are my thoughts on the leadership takeaways from the referendum.

Focus on your people first and second It is clear the Remain leaders failed to create engagement, and build trust. Employee engagement is one of the defining issues in current management debate. With the impact of the millennial generation joining the workforce, more people are simply showing up to pick up a paycheck, while their passion for the business and commitment has waned. They are cynical about business and are more focused on ‘what’s in it for me?’

To turn around these attitudes, business leaders need to stop trying to please their investors, who will never be satisfied, no matter how strong the results, and engage and inspire their people. They should invest in them through training, creative and flexible benefits packages, and create an empowering culture.

Business leaders who ignore their co-workers’ emotions and sentiment do so at their peril. Discontented employees lead to disengaged, fractured workplaces, poor customer experience and consequently mediocre results. The lack of engagement delivered by the Remain campaign showed in the results.

Spend face-to-face time with customers There is no greater place for learning what is going on in your business than being in the marketplace with customers. Leaders who apply all five senses to customer interactions learn more first-hand than they do from reading reports or looking at PowerPoint presentations.

When he became CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman asked his leaders ten questions to see how much time they were spending with customers. Their responses were so embarrassing that Polman challenged them to refocus their entire strategies on customers. This type of customer engagement signals to the entire organisation that the company puts customers first.

Remain discounted the apathy of the millennial generation, which favoured Remain, but only 36% voted. The lack of direct contact, creating real opportunities for listening and sharing concerns, was a weakness.

Think, act and behave with transparency In today’s digitally connected world, anything less than complete transparency creates a lack of trust. Employees expect their leaders to keep them informed about what is going on, no matter how negative the news. When they are not treated with this respect, they turn to external sources and internal rumours for information, which undermines leaders even more.

For example, following staff layoffs, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh wrote to employees: ‘Remember this is not my company, and this is not our investors’ company. This company is all of ours, and it’s up to all of us where we go from here.’ Hsieh’s communications are authentic, transparent, and informal. Honest conversations helped to heal issues. Rather than frowning on problems, Hsieh used them to come up with solutions.

Emotion beats logic, and hope beats fear This is a headline I saw in response to the way in which comments from Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, were dismissed. Carney, like those of us with a technical background, default to logical argument an analysis of the risks that might be faced. However, the Brexit campaign showed how little influence this approach carries with many people.

Since Aristotle’s time, effective leaders have recognised the power of emotional appeal (pathos) as a complement to rational argument (logos). The Leave campaigners focused their message at voter’s hearts not their heads, on patriotism, freedom and fear. The Remain campaigners peddled Aristotle’s third way (ethos) to win an argument, citing the expertise and credentials of their advocates.

However, voters ignored the experts. The underlying point here is that whilst we need to rely on the knowledge of others, in instances like Brexit where the arguments are complex and it becomes unfathomable to determine true ‘facts’, people give up trying to get to the truth, and fall back on gut feel and beliefs overcome conflicting evidence.

Indeed, both sides of the debate offered various ‘facts’ to support their arguments. The pile-up of competing promises and predictions left the public confused at best, cynical at worst. The Leave campaign won over by speaking to the anxiety and pain of people who felt ignored. In the end, it didn’t matter to working class voters that Johnson attended an elite Eton School, what counted was that Johnson’s statements resonated with their own grievances and anti-establishment sentiments

The implications for business leaders is that developed expertise and analysis only gets you so far, if you want to bring people with you, you also need emotional conviction and harness intuition effectively. People care less about facts per se than the implications of these facts to their well-being.

It does no good to deny that humans are emotional as well as rational. A campaign that elicits both emotional engagement and intellectual understanding has a huge advantage over one that appeals mainly to rationality.

A leader is a dealer in hope The importance of being an authentic leader – with alignment of thoughts, actions and feelings as enabling trust to inspire collective action – was clearly shown. Leaders advocating change must speak with sincere heartfelt conviction rather than using rhetoric to demand an obligation.

For me, the leading personalities on both sides were frequently manifested as double-dealing hypocrites, masking their ambivalence about the EU for their own self-promotion and careerist convenience. Credibility and authenticity are closely linked, and people are aware and sensitive to the slightest suggestion of hypocrisy.

Both sides of the debate engaged almost solely in fear-based leadership and scaremongering, reminding us constantly of all the short-term problems and issues associated with the opposing campaign. The Leavers focused on problems and issues with immigration and bureaucracy while the Remainers focused almost exclusively on speculating about the economic fallout from Brexit.

Be a positive, visionary leadership Leadership on both sides failed to provide any positive, coherent vision for the near or long term future of staying or exiting the EU. Their performance lacked vision, cohesion, passion and confidence.

To fully appreciate the power of a unifying vision, recall the powerful example provided by the late South African president, Nelson Mandela, who unified the country with his vision of a ‘rainbow nation’ for post-apartheid South Africa. He never resorted to the tactics of scaremongering and fear of change, rather retained an optimistic and positive vision of a future for all, replacing the dogmas of the past.

To deliver change, leaders need to create trust by addressing the real challenges and dilemmas in a positive, transparent and solutions-focused manner. Leaders should deliberately adopt a more intentional approach about their words and actions and how these impact their business.

Why should anyone be led by you? Formal authority counts for almost nothing in those moments of truth. Leadership is a function of what you say and do that attracts others to follow you. Farage had influence but no authority, following Brexit Corbyn has a formal mandate but no influence within the parliamentary Labour party.

The lesson for business leaders is clear, as recounted in Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones book Why Should Anyone be Led by You? It is a question all leaders should all ask themselves – do people have any reason to follow you, above and beyond what their reporting line tells them to do?

Watching Boris Johnson deliver his speech on the Friday morning exiting his challenge for Prime Minister, you could see from his body language that he was starting to wonder what on earth he had done. He had treated the campaign like an Oxford University debate – clever arguments and put downs, with no cares for the consequences – and now he reaped the rewards.

He once famously said he was in favour of having cake and eating cake as well, but despite being an attractive leader to some, eventually people saw through his ‘style over substance’ approach, at which point, a large chunk of his support dissolved away. He simply lacked credibility as a leader.

The leadership lesson here is stay true to yourself and stay on good terms with those around you. If you become too opportunistic, or if you start making empty promises, you will pay for it later. You aren’t a leader is you don’t have any followers.

‘Political leadership’ is an oxymoron by any measure – enduring and woeful unethical individual behaviours driven by self-interest, the absence of a credible ideology and rhetoric underpinned by convenient metrics just to name a few issues where there is no long-term vision that I’ve seen.

Leadership success always starts with vision. John Kennedy famously dreamed of putting a man on the moon. Eleanor Roosevelt envisioned a world of equal opportunity for women and minorities. Compelling visions can truly inspire people. But there is actually nothing mystical about vision, simply, a vision is a picture of what an organisation could and should be.

A hallmark of great leaders is that their vision includes big ideas. Big ideas get people excited. Nobody wants to do something small. Leaders want to feel that what they do matters – Kennedy’s vision for the space programme was ‘We choose to go to the moon . . . not because it is easy, but because it is hard’.

Great business leaders also know how to paint a vivid picture of the future. They make it look easy. However, most of them have worked hard to develop and articulate their thoughts. A powerful vision, well-articulated, attracts people, motivates them to take action toward progress, unites them to a common purpose and drives breakthrough business results.

A leader’s core vision provides the glue that holds an organisation together through time, consisting of core values and core purpose, ideology shaping the vision, the raison d’être. You discover core ideology by looking inside, and connecting with sincerity, humility and authenticity. You can’t fake it.

What Brexit showed what is needed in our political leaders is this big commitment to emotional and intellectual transparency, and robust validation, such that when people see what their vision is, there is almost an audible gasp, creating an emotional connection to sharing the vision.

Brexit should be a wakeup call for all business leaders. The result and feedback showed Britain’s leaders were out of sync with its voters. Could the same thing be happening with your workers in your business? Are you connected and in touch, creating engagement, creating and sharing a vision? Or are you too intent on achieving your own personal agenda and progress? Ask yourself, ‘Why should anyone be led by you?’

The rise of the digital business model in the on-demand economy, and the demise of The Independent newspaper

The final print edition of The Independent newspaper went on sale Saturday, ending its 30-year appearance on British newsstands. A poignant wrap-around front page carried the words “STOP PRESS” in red lettering on a white background, followed by the words Read all about it in this, our final print edition – 1986- 2016.

Journalists earlier posted footage online of the team ‘banging ourselves out’ – an old tradition of banging the desks to mark the departure of a colleague. Today the presses have stopped, the ink is dry and the paper will soon crinkle no more it said.

The Independent is to become the first national newspaper to move to a digital-only publication. The move will capitalise on its position as the fastest growing UK quality newspaper website, its monthly audience has grown 33.3% in the last 12 months to nearly 70m global unique users. The site is profitable and is expected to see revenue growth of 50% this year.

The Indy was launched 7 October 1986 by Andreas Whittam Smith, Stephen Glover and Matthew Symonds. Reaching a circulation of 400,000 in 1989, it has been characterised by a number of innovations introduced by a succession of talented editors, which have included Andrew Marr and Simon Kellner:

  • Originally published as a broadsheet in a series of celebrated designs, from September 2003 it was produced in both broadsheet and tabloid versions. The tabloid edition was termed ‘compact’ to distance itself from the sensationalist reporting style usually associated with tabloid newspapers in the UK.
  • In 2010, a new format featured smaller headlines and a new pullout Viewspaper section. October saw the i launched, for 20p, and The Independent printed on slightly thicker paper, ceasing to be full-colour throughout.
  • The Independent became known for its unorthodox and campaigning front pages, which frequently relied on images, graphics or lists rather than traditional headlines and written news content. For example, following the publication of the Hutton Report into the death of British government scientist David Kelly, its front page simply carried the word Whitewash?

At the peak of its popularity, it had a circulation of 450,000, but this slumped to 40,000. It had suffered from dramatic changes to the advertising market, notably the shift to social media sites. Great newspapers, which have survived for centuries, find their business models challenged as never before. It becomes the first British daily national to close since 1995, when Today folded.

I’ve been an avid reader of The Indy since 1986, it has often left me feeling uplifted and informed, and with at least one thought-provoking idea itching at my brain from its contents everyday. It may be unfashionable to admit it, but I love my paper based daily newspaper. I know I get the same content on my iPad but for me, nothing quite beats the thrill of sitting down and savouring the experience ahead of me and reading a newspaper.

I now realise that this was down to the talent of the writers, journalists, and editors. Well written paper newspapers are something special, digital is not quite the same as turning the pages and appreciating (albeit subconsciously) the pace of the articles, the alternating weights of the pieces, the contrasting light and depth between stories, the different tone and style of the writers. The paper is paced in such a way as to lead you on, to keep you turning the pages, ever onwards until you reach the end.

I don’t think people realise the very different experience between the product you hold in your hand, tuck into your bag, pull out again to read over tea, tuck away again, and then take out again later for a last read before you go to bed, and the thing you call up on your computer screen for a quick scan.

There’s an entirely different level of engagement. While digital versions enable updates as new stories emerge, most online readers spend probably ten minutes scanning the stories, whereas paper based readers are likely to spend anything up to an hour reading and re-reading the articles – and, if you’re like me, cutting out interesting snippets to keep for future reference.

Social networks now dominate media distribution, but we forget that’s just a return to the way things used to be before newspapers, TV, radio or Internet. News was a social activity. Information spread person-to-person, group-to-group. People chatted in the village square or around a campfire, spreading stories and information to each other. This was word-of-mouth, social distribution. News moved through networks of people – vegetable prices were relayed among farmers – few people could read, so news spread face to face.

All that changed with the newspaper, which first appeared in trading cities in the 1600s. As society learned to read during the 1800s a formula emerged: the information was gathered by professionals, formatted by editors, and distributed to shops or to our door. The resulting information-rich package was far more useful than any fireside gossip.

Today is all about social media, with people sharing stories with their friends and instantly broadcasting them to their followers as latter day town heralds. News spreads person to person, just as it did around the village, back in the day.

In the modern village square of social media, there’s so much stuff that we need social signals like Twitter to navigate, and we trust our friends to pick out relevant stories – plus we can get our friends’ opinions, and generally do all the things people did with news back in the pre-newspaper days of the village square. So we’ve come full circle, social distribution is back.

With the digital and social media distribution for everyone, the major obstacle to the newspaper sector is finding a new economic model. A decade ago newspapers built web sites and offered free access. Thus began the pervasiveness of free online news, whose lasting effect will be that only the very best news organisations will be able to charge meaningful prices for their content.

Tablet devices have changed the face of media, offering publishers both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is that tablets allow them to seamlessly integrate text, video and interactive graphics and create more engaging products, but also via video output gain access to the TV budgets, and do so in a personalised, intelligent way based on a reader’s digital footprint.

The Internet brings news to the consumer faster and in a more visual style than newspapers, which are constrained by their physical form. The competing mediums also offers advertisers the opportunity to use moving images and sound, and to tailor their pitch to readers who have revealed what information they are seeking – an enormous advantage.

Paper is dying, but it’s just a device. Replacing it with pixels is a better experience said Arthur Sulzberger Jnr.,  Chairman and Publisher of  The New York Times. We will stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future. As pixels replace paper, the ‘newspaper’ of the future, may resemble The Huffington Post an online news aggregator. It’s like people still have horses, but it’s not their primary way of travelling, or that we use candles – but for romantic dinners and birthday cakes, not for lighting.

The New York Times has managed to prove many naysayers wrong. In 2011 it introduced a ‘pay meter’ that limited the articles casual readers could access, and successfully convinced people to pay for content. It has two subscription offerings, the more interesting is NYT Now, a mobile app that is free and available to iPhone users and offers readers a more limited selection of articles, all hand-chosen by editors.

Perhaps the analogy is that The New York Times newspaper is a full, sit down meal, and by contrast, NYT Now is more like food-on-the-go, appetising to those hungering for curated news on their mobiles. Users of NYT Now will access news analysis and articles from The New York Times, but editors will also link to their favourite articles from other publications. The strategy is that it will go some way to reducing customers’ reliance on other sites and social networks for news and thus become an online digital aggregator of choice.

I’m always interested in changing business models, new and evolving value propositions, and innovative pricing strategies. Research into other sectors offers insight and can spark innovations in your own thinking, stimulating at a time when you’ve become moribund in how online models are cannibalising your business. It needn’t be so, the lesson is keep a positive mindset, learn and leverage, and be creative. You have to innovate your business to make your own headline news today, or face being in the obituary section tomorrow.

The Internet is an isolating, solitary experience; reading a newspaper is the opposite. While digital may be clever, quick and flashy, for me nothing will ever quite match the imagery and power of the printed word, like the smell and anticipation of an unopened new book.

So that’s the last time I’ll see the paper boy stumbling up our drive with his heaving bag, the last time I hear the newspaper crashing through my letterbox. It will also be the last time I swap a smile, chat and coins with the man in the paper shop in town and walk out having paid the papers. This change has been driven by the readers, so the business model must change. It is estimated that one in five journalists lost their jobs in the first decade of the millennium as a result of the demise of printed newspapers.

New tools, new markets, new business models and new audiences are consuming volumes of information once unimaginable. Digital technology makes reaching them easier than ever.  As a result, The Indy’s journalism reached nearly 500,000 readers in print, and three million readers online – a third in America, over half through social media and also more than half on their mobiles.

The business model for printed general news from Monday to Friday is broken forever. Where the Lebedevs go, others will follow. One future for journalism is specialism, but for providers of general news in a landscape dominated by the BBC, free is the future. The simple fact is, there just aren’t enough people who are prepared to pay for printed news, especially during the week. With circulation and advertising very substantially down, the future of a print edition was inevitably one of managing decline.

Today, journalism, with its integrity, intelligence, courage and wit is reaching more hearts and minds than ever before, as we are hungry for news – but they are reading us digitally, through their mobiles, and via social networks. It is news in a flash, literally.

The online, digital news model offers convenience, speed and cognitive ease for consumers and is part of the on-demand economy. The tech companies competing in this arena have developed new models that are transforming industries which have historically been slow to innovate – taxis, hotel accommodation, grocery, and restaurant industries are prime examples of hyper-growth categories in the on-demand world.

Welcome to the uberification of our service economy. A dramatic increase in the number of smartphone connected consumers, simple and secure purchase flows, and location-based services are a few of the market conditions and technological innovations propelling the explosion in on-demand services.

The always on, always connected smartphone has made convenience, efficiency, and simplicity critical ingredients in purchasing decisions. Everyday purchasing driven through smartphones is creating one of the most transformational shifts in consumption patterns in history — never before has a consumer been able to buy anything they want at anytime with simply the tap of a button. Uber is building a digital mesh — a grid that goes over the cities. Once you have that grid running, in everyone’s pockets, there is a lot of potential for what you can build as a platform.

Uber is in the throws of building a unique platform that will enable instant demand-supply servicing. Fast-followers have quickly capitalised on opportunities in this marketplace by extending to new geographies and through tailored service offerings. Regional clones (Delivery Hero, Just Eat), specialty food providers (Hello Fresh, Sprig), and up-and-coming delivery services (DoorDash, SpoonRocket) are opening up new fronts in the personalised food delivery market.

Aided by the playbook of Uber, and Airbnb, service providers in newer categories are anticipated to reach scale rapidly. Creating a memorable, efficient and frictionless user interface is the focus, addressing consumers’ appetite for greater simplicity and convenience.

The remote controls we use to navigate our daily lives, are transaction engines that never leave our pocket. Never before have consumers had this simple of a way to transact — and never before have businesses been equipped to satisfy this mounting demand, hence the demise of the printed newspaper – I feel like so many existing experiences can be reinvented with the right simple gestures on mobile, and the needs and wants of Generation T (Generation Touch) are going to become the foundation of many massive companies of the future said Josh Elman, partner, Greylock Partners

Hopefully the spirit and quality of The Independent will endure. I know that is of little comfort to folk like me, print readers. I love the rustle and whiff of paper, the thud on the doormat when it arrives, and the geography and serendipity of each edition. However, as Uber and Airbnb illustrate, you need to embrace a digital business model if you are to compete in the on-demand economy.

Recruit high potentials who have a purpose for your startup

Having a team of high potential people is the greatest asset you can have to build a startup business. When you pitch investors, the first thing they’ll usually look for is the team, yet many founders lack experience in both finding talent and criteria on which to hire. Although hiring is one of the most important jobs a founder can do, many don’t take it seriously enough. Simply going out for drinks and chatting is not the way to hire a rock star team.

Startup growth is challenged by finding the right talent to grow the team, yet too many founders hire on gut-feel and regret it down the line. All startups should have a set interviewing process, check candidates based on hard and soft skills, but also based on how they fit in with the team and the culture.

Many startups hire people when they don’t know what they need them for. This weakens the team culture. The people you hire directly impacts how and when you take your business to the next level. But to find the right fit, hiring employers need to ditch the long-held belief that experience trumps all. Instead of looking for what a candidate has previously achieved, you should consider high potential – what applicants have the ability to accomplish.

For me, core competencies that are indicative of potential include business acumen, composure, compassion, passion and ability to deal with ambiguity – in startups, the most critical skill is the ability to think, operate and learn on the fly. If you can create a team full of passionate individuals who can operate and learn in an agile manner, want to achieve something together that makes a difference in the world, you’re going to have a higher chance of success.

Using this new paradigm, focus on hiring for high potential instead of experience, as in my view, past performance is not an accurate proxy for future success in a startup – the environment requires different attitudes and behaviours.

So how do you identify and predict high-performing potential? Douglas Ready, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, has undertaken research on high-potentials. His results showed that the top 3% to 5% of talent can be defined as ‘high potential’, with intangible factors that truly distinguish them from the pack, as follows:

A drive to excel High potentials are driven to succeed. They are more than willing to go that extra mile and realise they may have to make sacrifices in order to advance. Sheer ambition may lead them to make hard choices. They are explorers and take on the challenges of leaving their comfort zones in order to advance. They fit the startup culture with these traits.

A catalytic learning capability The high potentials identified by Ready possess what he calls a catalytic learning capability. They have the capacity to scan for new ideas, the cognitive capability to absorb them, and the common sense to translate new learning into productive action. High potentials are always searching for productive ways to blaze new paths. Again this reflects the day-to-day reality of startup life.

Dynamic sensors Successful high potentials have a well-tuned radar that puts a higher premium on quality results. Beyond judgment, high potentials possess an instinct for timing, to quickly read situations, and a nose for opportunity. They have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. They are anticipatory.

They are willing to endure hardship Work isn’t always easy, there are times when a customer is grinding away, and they need someone to stay late to render assistance. High potentials make self-sacrifices at that moment, they don’t walk away. The never enough mentality delivers focus to generate a buzz and goodwill to dig in when it matters.

A knack for seeing the bigger picture. Folks with high potential tend to be engaged at all times and show an interest in learning beyond the immediate scope of their role. They are curious about the organisations’ goals and wish to help in achieving those outcomes. In their mind, they see their own success as being directly tied to the success of the organisation.

The perspective, direction and clarity in thinking, behaviours and attitudes that a high-potential brings, highlighted above, clearly matches the traits of startups. In addition, from my own experience and research into startups I’ve worked with in the last eight years, I would add five further attributes:

Focus on soft skills ahead of hard skills. Shift the focus onto the ability to offer insight, their style of engagement and tone of voice in conversation, evidence curiosity, and propensity to lead. Do they fit with, and can articulate, your cultural values? Hard (technical) skills can be taught.

Look beyond what you see in front of you today, and envision a picture of tomorrow. The question is not whether candidates have the right skills, it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones. Don’t evaluate candidates just for today, look at their potential alongside the future vision of the startup, and potential as a long-term asset.

Learning agility. This is a key one. Think about it, how long it can you wait from appointing someone you assess has high potential, before they start to show you this? In a startup, weeks matter, so look for folks who are quick and effective learners. This aptitude for rapid development reflects levels of curiosity and determination, essential attributes for everyone in a startup team. For a high potential who shows ability for quick learning, give them stretch assignments – let them realise their potential in demanding projects.

I’ve looked into this further, and studies have repeatedly shown that the ability to learn from experience is what differentiates successful high potentials from those who fail to grow. Those who do so have strong and active learning patterns from key job assignment learn faster, not because they are more intelligent, but because they have more effective learning skills and strategies. They were learning agile.

Startups need high potentials with openness, willingness to learn, and flexibility to execute complex strategies. Startups need folks who are curious about the situations they find themselves in, willing to learn and experience new things, and have high ambiguity tolerance and innovation coursing through their veins. The concept of ‘learning agility’ has been used to describe individuals who possess such skills.

Learning agility is viewed as a key indicator of potential, with seminal research from Lombardo & Eichinger, who identified four key facets of learning agility:

  • Mental agility refers to individuals who are comfortable with complexity, examine problems carefully, and make fresh connections between different things.
  • People agility refers to individuals who know themselves well and can readily deal with a diversity of people and tough situations.
  • Change agility refers to individuals who like to experiment and can cope effectively with the discomfort of rapid change.
  • Results agility refers to those individuals who can deliver results in first-time situations by inspiring teams and having significant impact.

Building on the importance of learning agility, my final three attributes to high potentials relates to seeing the purpose behind the intrinsic motivation of high performers. I took this from Daniel Pink’s book Drive, and the role of intrinsic motivation, the kind that comes from within yourself. Translating high potential to high performance is the essential growth and transition you’re looking for in your startup hire, and it’s the ‘do it for yourself’ inner drive that makes entrepreneurs make a start in the first place.

Pink identified three elements of the motivation formula we can find in high potentials – autonomy, mastery, and purpose – as to why folk find themselves pursuing achievement in something new to satisfy an innate internal desire:

Autonomy Our self-direction is a natural inclination. Pink asserts we’re all built with inner drive, some folks are just in a higher gear than others. I’ve never been passive and inert, I’ve always gone hell-for-leather and go the extra mile as standard. Apparently this is because I have what Pink calls ‘autonomy driven motivation’. I’m curious about what I can achieve as a challenge to myself.

Mastery We want to get better at doing things. It’s why learning a language, new sporting technique or a musical instrument can be so frustrating at first. Mastery is the desire to get better at something that matters. Firstly, it is a mindset, in that we believe we can get better. Second, mastery is a pain, in that it involves not only working harder but working longer at the same thing. Finally, mastery is an asymptote, or a straight line that you may come close to but never reach.

Purpose People who find purpose in their life unlock the highest level of the motivation game. Pink says that it’s connecting to a cause larger than yourself that drives the deepest motivation. Purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning and into work without groaning and grumbling — something that you just can’t fake.

Purpose provides a context for autonomy and mastery. It addresses the situation that even when we get what we want, it is not what we need. It’s connected to the drive to be different. Purpose-oriented people view work through the lens of personal fulfilment and contributing to other people’s lives, according to the ‘Workplace Purpose Index’ a new report from Imperative, a career platform and consulting firm, and New York University.

For these employees, purpose is not about a specific cause, job, or company. It is a mindset. They’re the 28% of the workforce the study describes as purpose-oriented, and they will be the most valuable employees you can hire into your startup.

Across a range of measures, purpose-oriented workers outperform those who focus on money, advancement and competition – the majority of the workforce. You can find the survey here, and how entrepreneurs can hire and retain purpose-oriented employees.

Of course, you want your recruits to be engaged in what your startup does, but engagement is paternalistic, beginning with the premise that work is medicine and engagement is something companies do to sugar-coat it. The data on engagement hasn’t changed despite what companies have been doing to encourage it, but the science tells us that people who are more purpose-oriented are more engaged.

So, if you have two candidates for a role in your startup, regardless of what the job is, you want to choose the one with a purpose-orientation. Hiring with a focus on purpose will do more for a culture than the most poetic mission statement. A purpose-oriented worker is always going to find purpose, but to what degree depends on the culture an entrepreneur is building.

One of the key things for purpose-oriented workers, it is not about the organisation’s image or mission, but the day-to-day in the job, the impact they can have, and their relationships. You have to make clear that purpose matters to success. A lot of entrepreneurs come out of broken systems and want to show that companies don’t have to be that way. If you look at tech, they are some of the best companies to work for according to employees on Glassdoor. This is because entrepreneurs are creating something as well as rejecting something they don’t want. Purpose is a great way to build something your own way.

High potential isn’t easy to observe, it is often drowned out by the less obvious attributes and behaviours that characterise people’s capabilities. However, based on the research from Douglas Ready, Dan Pink’s three attributes and a real focus on ‘purpose’ as highlighted by the work from Imperative, we can distil the dna of high potential to make a difference to our startup.

We sit in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.

England completed their fixtures on Saturday and exited the World Cup. It was a massive let down and a glazed Stuart Lancaster looks as if he doesn’t know what’s hit him. The previous Saturday’s painful 13-33 defeat to Australia, three tries to one and a 20-point winning margin, was a fair reflection of the two teams’ performances on the night, and followed the previous week’s 25-28 capitulation to Wales.

The Group of Death was always going to yield a high profile eviction. It may yet prove terminal to Lancaster’s coaching position. He has been jeered and ridiculed in the subsequent scrutiny and knee-jerk calls for his head on the spikes outside Traitors Gate. It’s been a cruel and unwarranted treatment for a decent man, a miserable way for four years of optimism, planning and dedication to come crashing down around him.

Did we buckle under the pre-tournament expectations, did we lack the mental toughness for the ‘winner take all’ battles, or simply, did the better sides beat us? England’s failure poses questions about the coach, captain and tactics, and the very quality of English rugby, after our elimination from our once-in-a-lifetime home World Cup.

Returning to Manchester Saturday morning having attended the Friday night All Blacks v Tonga game in Newcastle, I eyed with envy the blokes in the golden Wallabies jerseys crossing my path at Piccadilly Station on their jaunty journey to the Pool A decider with Wales at Twickenham. I felt passionately we’d make the final and have a do with the All Blacks.

On Saturday we showed glimpses of a potentially bright future – Jack Nowell – one of six England players making their first appearances of the World Cup – Henry Slade, Dan Care, Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph showed what they could do, but often England fumbled instead of popping over through gaps.

When England did break through, the game settled into a pattern of carelessness and imprecision, as we have all tournament, labouring to clear out at the breakdown and so finding ourselves hemmed in, struggling to take flight and soar, seemingly lacking the slickness and adroitness needed to win at the highest level.

But when you look at it in the cold light of day we were beaten by two sides who were ranked higher than us so there may have been an expectation the team might have struggled. You have to look at it objectively rather than having emotions running and drawing the wrong conclusion.

Winning at Under-20 level, as England Saxons have done in recent years, is one thing, but we’ve had five defeats in the past 12 months in the big games: Ireland away, and South Africa, New Zealand, Wales and Australia at home. In this oft-quoted ‘results-based business’, that sequence represents serious questions about our mentality, capability and leadership. The fifteen-minute defence by Australia v Wales, when down to thirteen men, showed the gap.

The selection, the tactics, the captain, the balance. Too slow in thought and deed. Regret and sombre soul searching for what might have been, or baying for blood and wholesale changes? My view of Lancaster is that he is a decent man, meticulous with detail, good with young players, but struggling to get the best from the teams in their defining contests. For now the feeling is emotional rather than analytical. A return to the everyday routine, no more England games.

We seem to have lost a bit of what makes England good: the audacity and the tenacity of having a real crack. When a team doesn’t perform to expectations, it is clearly reasonable to question the leader, but is it all Lancaster’s fault? Plainly not. Before the tournament we knew that England lacked one World XV player, and the absence of sufficient quality when competing at the highest level makes life very tough sooner or later. So why the undignified rush to queue up and berate Lancaster?

Lancaster has crafted a clear long-term talent development strategy as head of elite player development and coach of the Saxons, producing a generation of young players like never before, but they haven’t hit the mark as anticipated. When young talent doesn’t succeed as expected, should you simply throw in the towel and start again, or perhaps be more reflective – it’s not all about why England lost, why did Australia win? Australia was outstanding on consecutive Saturday nights against Wales and us.

Yet after all the hope, it wasn’t even close. The sooner we acknowledge the Wallabies were technically, tactically and individually better than England, then the hullabaloo for recriminations will be more considered and a more sensible tone of voice emerge as to what to do next. After all, no one bemoaned the preparation, squad picks or management before the competition.

The currency of sport is simple, binary and stark. Winning is what matters. Lancaster’s England side fell short. The hanging, drawing and quartering of Lancaster and his fellow coaches has been under way for over a week, without any reference to the potential remaining. England must avoid being too hasty in the final analysis, I’m refusing to get carried away in the inquest and I will not jump on the Lancaster-must-go bandwagon.

I confess, I have soft spot for Lancaster, I’m an advocate of his strategy and approach to long-term development of youth, but the unrelenting calls for change? Enough, let’s reflect a little.

Talent Pipeline

Lancaster has overseen the development of a talent pipeline like we’ve never had before. We potentially have an unbelievable group of players. Twenty-four of the squad were in their first World Cup, the majority will be around in 2019, if not 2023.

Ultimately, a lot comes down to players maturing, developing and getting more experience. Lancaster tried to develop the team for 2015 but ultimately that’s not happened. Australia had 750 caps in their starting team and we had 450. We can go through the whys and wherefores of that, but the fact that we had so many players over 30 in the 2011 squad means he had to focus on youth.

We have been successful in the U-20s World Cup for a reasonable amount of time. If we continue to develop, England will have a far better chance of winning in Japan in 2019 than they had on home soil. By then, the likes of George Ford, Henry Slade, Anthony Watson and Joe Launchbury could and should be among the best players in the sport. That is in no small part due to the current coach.

Build on the experience

World champions New Zealand came into the tournament with an average 48 caps per player and with a total of 269 tries between them. South Africa average 42 caps and 220 tries; Australia, 40 caps and 191. England averaged 25 caps and had a grand total of 67 tries. It showed.

As you looked around the pitch at the end of the game on Saturday, there was at a side with youthful potential but lacking a defining style and the experience to cope. Subsequently we’ve seen the alternative argument being played out in the starkest fashion, the clash between the pressing need to pick a team that can win the next match, and the expectation to create a side that might thrive in the future.

At the end of the 2011 World Cup, stalwarts like Mark Cueto, Lewis Moody and Jonny Wilkinson retired. We’ll be a lot more resilient for what we’ve come through. The team have had lessons in the harshest of environments.

I see good young players who have been well developed by good coaches in a good environment. Small margins and big consequences are the reality in games that count. Lancaster will look back on the experience of the World Cup. Those experiences will make him a better coach. You learn more from defeats and failures than the successes.

Talent pool

Ultimately, England were technically below par in many areas at a hugely competitive World Cup where almost all other teams are raising their game. Fiji and Japan have shown the smaller nations are catching up with the big beasts.

What happened to England’s forwards when collective push came to shove? The scrum did not do as well as expected. Against Australia, England conceded five scrum penalties to a team they mangled up front less than a year ago. They were forced to replace both first-choice props with less than an hour gone.

Coaching can only develop skills and talent to far. Lancaster went into this World Cup still unsure of his best XV. He picked a rugby union novice in Sam Burgess and selected a young talent in Henry Slade who started one game. A winning team cannot be built on such foundations, yes our selections weren’t consistent, yet perhaps the reality is that other teams have more skills and talent.

Continuity of leadership

Clive Woodward endured a rough first World Cup in 1999 and was roundly condemned by people who would later reinvent themselves as his greatest supporters. He was retained, largely because no one was kicking down the door to replace him, and he duly laid hands on the Webb Ellis Trophy four years later.

When the All Blacks were sent packing at the quarter-finals in the 2007 tournament, coach Graham Henry was deemed a figure of ridicule. Again, he was reappointed and led the All Blacks to victory four years later.

Martin Johnson stepped down as England manager in November 2011 after a World Cup quarter-final defeat by France. I thought that was wrong. He hadn’t got experience and would have grown a great deal.

Lancaster is a good man and has produced a side with good values. All leaders who have been in their job for a while have rollercoasters. Those times are extremely difficult.

Too often we burn our leaders because of public opinion and media opinion, rather than informed judgement. Continuity of leadership is vital if you want to produce something special. They know where they have been and where they are at and what they need to do to get better. If you bring a new person in, it starts all over again and takes someone new two or three years to get their feet under the table.

Set realistic success targets

Truly, England was never going to win the 2015 World Cup despite home advantage. We have to acknowledge that the gap between the Southern and Northern Hemisphere teams has grown bigger, they have better, more talented players than we do. That’s the yardstick and challenge to throw down to Lancaster and for him to continue in his role for a further four years, nurturing and developing the talent he has created. Judge him then.

Along the way to 2019, we must target immediate success as stepping-stones, in the Six Nations and on the 2016 summer tour to Australia. We have to set the goal of becoming the best team in the Northern Hemisphere. Let’s win a Six Nations, win a Grand Slam as a near-term target.

This is not to suggest that things should remain the same, there needs to be a proper review as to why England failed to achieve more, but we must think very carefully before jettisoning Lancaster, if we accept we have the nucleus of a good side, his knowledge of them as people as well as players, is invaluable.

 Individuals in a team game

Mike Brown has set the standard for the review of our performance, with a pithy appraisal of where the England’s players stand in the global pecking order. Asked for the principal lesson he would take from the tournament he said: Individually we need to all strive to be the best player in the world in our position. Looking at the New Zealanders, most of them would get in a World XV, and that’s what I’ll be aiming to do, because at the moment, if you’re honest, which one of our players would be in a World XV?

If we focus on individual performance, it will come together as a XV on the pitch.

One of the biggest causes of the knee-jerk calls for Lancaster’s dismissal is the hell-bent need to ‘get it right.’ We strive for perfection and success, and when we fall short, we feel worthless. What we don’t seem to realise is that striving for success and being willing to put ourselves out there is an accomplishment within itself, regardless of how many times we fail.

Share, listen, reflect and learn. England must avoid being too hasty in the final analysis and submit to the backlash. Focus on progress rather than perfection and on how far we’ve come rather than on how far we have left to go. Long-term thinking in a short-term world. As Einstein said, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. We sit in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.

Set your inner voice to ‘authentic’

I was at an RSPCA Summer Open Day on Saturday, the lure of a glass of home made lemonade and ginger cake for £1 on the chalked sign was too much to walk past, so I popped in out of the cold.

One of my previous dogs was a shaggy, doe-eyed bearded collie cross, an RSPCA rescue dog. A more loving, loyal and hairy Wookie look-a-like hound you could not wish for. She had paws and a heart the size of a lion. I’ve been a sucker for supporting any dog sanctuary, stray or care charity ever since.

The great pleasure of a dog is that you can make a fool of yourself with her and not only will she not scold you, but she will make a fool of herself with you too. My last dog, Tess, a golden retriever who passed on aged 14 last November, liked nothing more than a good play fight and cuddle, and next to my wife, she was the best kisser ever. She was also great at cleaning your ears with her big wet tongue. Thoroughly. But let’s move on.

Dogs are miracles with paws, when they laugh they laugh with their tails, they share our lives in a way that most other animals can’t. Each evening Tess waited for me by the front door, face smiling, mouth open and tail wagging, ready to dote and bark for around twenty minutes to announce to the entire neighbourhood that I was home from work and we were off for a walk.

Dogs’ lives are too short, their only fault really if you ignore the chewing of the occasional CD or loss of cakes from the carrier bag on the kitchen floor as you fetch the shopping in from Tesco. We all long for affection altogether ignorant of our faults, and we get such unconditional love from dogs that we take it for granted.

I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren’t certain we knew better.  They fight for honour and territory, make themselves heard without inhibition when they need to, and self-clean body parts with no moral restraint. You would think that for all their marvelous instincts that they appear to know nothing about numbers, but if you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then giving out only two of them.

The most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog, happy to share the entire experience, but in order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train her to be semi human.  The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming a dog. But enough about the dog, my reason for writing this blog was partly about the authentic behaviour of dogs, but really this blog came about because of a number on experiences this week where the unauthentic behaviour of humans really made its mark on me.

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit and lack of authenticity everywhere. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his or her share, but we tend to take the situation for granted and totally ignore it. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognise bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it.

So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern. We have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves, and we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. But set against the honesty and sincerity you get from your dog, the polarity of dog behaviours when compared to some humans led me onto thinking more about the meaning of authenticity.

Being authentic means that the gap between who you are and who you portray to be as close as zero as possible. In other words, being authentic means brining the ‘real you’ wherever you go, in every situation and conversation. You can look at it from a moral angle, but I’m particularly interested in the simplicity for being authentic.

Let’s start with what happens when you are not authentic. You will start with creating an image of yourself that is different from who you really are. It takes an effort to do that. Now, you will have to act out that image and make everyone believe that what you act out is who you really are. It takes even more effort to fulfill that.

Once you act this out, you need to remember this image for a long time, because you need to behave consistently with your image with all the people that have seen you portraying that image. That seems like a burden that you have chosen to carry to me. Politicians across the entire spectrum have consistently fallen into this trap.

I always believe in the best in human nature, and trust most people to be generally honest. Indeed society is built on trust. However the last week saw the culmination of a three-year legal case I was involved in as the primary witness for the prosecution on a  business fraud case, and this has been illuminating.

I fully appreciated I was one of the key elements in bringing an offender to justice, supporting the victim of economic crime and provide them some closure if no recompense for losses suffered However, my overriding thought is the lack of authenticity in the justice system, both the people and the process.

It is adversarial. The focus is on winning rather than discovering the truth. Criminal justice should be inquisitorial – the prime focus should be on discovering what happened and then on punishing or rehabilitating appropriately, surely? Listening and watching the interaction of both sides of the legal and moral divide tell me the system has given up on rehabilitation and simply focused on creating the most enormous and costly bureaucracy possibly.

Lawyers are motivated by wealth, yet recall In the Ancient Roman Republic, it was illegal for lawyers to accept money or gifts from clients as it was felt to be a corrupting influence. This has dire consequences and certainly corrupts the entire system as far as I can see, there is no authenticity in any aspect of the dna pervading. Victims are ignored, if not often forgotten.

This lack of authenticity in the process quickly set the tone for my daily interactions with most of the staff in the judicial system. After a week of missing authentic communication with the people I usually spend the week with, this a new theme that is becoming the cornerstone of everything I do. It all started with noticing how I greeted and responded to the court staff.

It usually went something like this: Hello, how are you today. Good, you? Good. Alright, see you later. Not only did I not really care about how the person was doing, I also played along with his fake enthusiasm, but it wasn’t just me! When other staff asked me How are you doing? they kept walking without waiting for an answer. How are you doing? has become the new Hi. Most people don’t really want to know, nor do they really mean it.

The idea is that we are interacting daily on a superficial level, but very few of us want to snap out of it and have a genuine conversation. Naturally, talking about authenticity made me hyper-aware of my own patterns and non-genuine conversations, and I tried to stay true and present at all times, even if it made for awkward situations. Trust in humanity will only continue if we cultivate authenticity and sincerity in face-to-face conversation.

With the domination of the digital marketplace, everyone is banging on about customer experience, customer engagement and customer loyalty, but the latest I reckon is customer romance. I say this as I was lashing on the Aloe Vera gel to my thorn-filled hands after a Sunday in the garden, the Holland & Barrett gel for bio active skin treatment was just the job, but the subtle we’re good for you struck me as an example of authentic branding.

Maybe an unfashionable brand, maybe I was just recoiling from being grumpy all week, but a visit to their web site gave me ideas around customer romance as a strategy, the authenticity of their style of communication is contagious, and there’s no better way to connect with a customer than to be sincere, transparent and honest.

We need authenticity now more than ever, and I must admit I’ve been an advocate of President Obama since day one, admiring his openness and evenhandedness, underpinned by his purpose and beliefs. This week his handling of a heckler at a LBGT event in the White House, and his presence and leadership at the Charleston memorial service for victim Clementa Pinckney, where he lead the singing of ‘Amazing Grace’, showed once again the authenticity of his leadership and character. It makes a difference.

One way out of this hall of mirrors is to insist ever more loudly that oneself is really, truly authentic, and innumerable products now advertise themselves as ‘real’, following the lead of Coke’s slogan ‘the Real Thing’. Even my Marks & Spencer’s underwear is branded ‘authentic’, posing the question of what an inauthentic pair of boxer shorts would look like.

However, too persuasive a performance of authenticity will be taken as a sign of falseness. In my authenticity-obsessed mindset I want something to be real, but I’m on a hair trigger to cry foul if it seems too real to be true.

It also reifies a simplistic notion of what is fake to begin with. A blanket privileging of the concrete and the in-person, an indie disdain for post-production or Photoshopping I just don’t get. The fetish for authenticity, here as in the realms of food and vintage clothing, shows itself to be inherently nostalgic, always looking back to an imagined, prelapsarian nirvana. Maybe it was just an easier way of life in Hardy’s rural idyll.

And then we have ‘reality TV’. To define a person’s authenticity as the perfect conjunction of outward seeming and inward being is not a new idea. But what matters most now is that such personal authenticity be performed plausibly, yet paradoxically, contestants routinely accuse their rivals of being less than genuine. If we all looked at each other through the same lens, what would we see – but let’s not go back to the Criminal Justice system.

Yet it is precisely in high-end product brand marketing that we can perceive the key aspect of the modern authenticity mania and yet the diametric falsehood that sits just below the surface. Such commodities are positioned as ‘aspirational’, because that is now how society has silently agreed to redefine aspiration – a yearning desire to control more wealth and to own more expensive objects.

It’s the same for the ‘Selfie’ and the taking of photos with your smartphone. Why do people take so many mundane photos and share them via social media? I think they’re trying to show their authenticity but it’s stimulated by the redefinition of authenticity.

So what is the implicit bargain when we buy an ‘authentic” Hermès bag? Or a Hublot watch, a clockwork marvel costing tens of thousands of pounds, which prides itself, like all luxury analogue watches, precisely on the amusing superfluity of its engineering? We are being sold the assurance that nimble-fingered workers in a French leather-working atelier or a Swiss horlogerie laboratory have sunk hundreds or thousands of man-hours into its making. It’s a classic timepiece.

It tells the time, unlike Stephen Hawking, our interest in time doesn’t need to extend to the nanosecond measurement.

The authenticity of such an aspirational brand’s product boils down to the promise that artisans have laboured personally on your behalf. A similar fantasy underlies the ferocious insistence that a coffee shop be ‘artisanal’ or at least ‘independent’. The self-appointed guardians of authenticity, it seems, want desperately to believe that they are at the top of the labour pyramid. In cultural markets that are all too disappointingly accessible to the masses, the authenticity fetish disguises and renders socially acceptable a raw hunger for hierarchy and power. And don’t get me on the ‘authenticity’ of Glastonbury. People go just to say they’ve been there and come home smelling for three days of the authentic perfume of mud.

Authentic’ is derived from the Greek authentikós, which means ‘original’, but just being an original doesn’t mean you, or a brand will be perceived as authentic. You could be an original phoney. At its heart, authenticity is about practicing what you preach, being totally clear about who you are and what you do best. When a brand’s rhetoric gets out of sync with customers’ actual experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers. It’s the same for people too.

It was a long, tiring, frustrating week. Weekend was good, I love the RSPCA, it’s purpose, vision, values and people, the event made me sad for my lost dogs, and simply highlighted what I truly value in my life, and that includes dogs over people. Institutions of State, or Holland & Barrett? I’ve become obsessed with authenticity and differences between echt and ersatz. Why bother doing anything if it’s not for real?

Authenticity starts in the heart. We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen. Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing – consistently.



How to be a trusted leader: a response to the agenda of power, corruption & pies – FIFA’s deficit of trust in football

Generations of top-ranking FIFA officials have engaged in ‘rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted’ corruption which has poisoned world football for decades, it was claimed last week, as two separate criminal investigations sparked the biggest crisis in the history of the sport.

Nine officials at football’s governing body accepted bribes and kickbacks over more than 20 years, in return for awarding lucrative tournaments to certain countries, rigging FIFA’s own elections. On the same day, Swiss authorities announced a separate investigation into ‘criminal mismanagement and money laundering’ surrounding the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, throwing the future of both tournaments into doubt.

A 47-count charge sheet filed in a New York federal court detailed 12 separate corrupt schemes allegedly carried out by FIFA officials. In total, they are alleged to have accepted bribes amounting to more than $150m over a 24-year period beginning in 1991.

It was the ugliest day in the history of the beautiful game. Football’s theatre of the absurd has been located firmly in Zurich these last few days. It began with the Feds marching into the five-star Baur au Lac hotel to drag FIFA’s executives from their beds. The choreography of the arrests brought to mind the climactic baptism scene in The Godfather, except that on this occasion it was the mafia that was on the receiving end.

At a press conference, Chief Richard Weber of the IRS Criminal Investigation unit described what the men had done as ‘the World Cup of fraud’. It developed into the hugely restorative spectacle of US Attorney General Loretta Lynch laying out in detail precisely the kind of kick-backs and dirty money, stating that the officials had used their positions of trust to ‘solicit bribes over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament. The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted’.

Outside the FIFA bubble, there was nothing unexpected about what happened last Wednesday. The only surprise is perhaps that it has taken so long. There has been little secret for years about the high-living corruption of the self-perpetuating freemasonry that is FIFA. Corruption is, quite simply, what they do. Corruption is tolerated as long as the money is spread around.

The impunity of FIFA, against the backdrop of skulduggery, saw the arrests provoking Schadenfreude as the extent of the racketeering unfolded. American extraterritorial jurisdiction is often excessive in its zeal and overbearing in its methods, but in this instance it deserves the gratitude of football fans everywhere.

And then it collapsed and got worse into what we witnessed on Friday – the noiseless, compliant procession of FIFA delegates into voting booths, to the backdrop of anaesthetising elevator music, where they calmly re-elected the man who has presided over the dismemberment of the notion that football is the people’s game.

Welcome to Seppocracy where the name of FIFA’s president is a joke across the world. Things fell apart. The centre held. With FIFA’s top executives locked up in detention centres, world football’s governing body voted resoundingly for four more years of the same. Against a backdrop of US authorities warning of further charges in their investigation, president Sepp Blatter was re-elected despite the crisis engulfing the organisation.

Blatter defied critics and opponents to secure a fifth term at the helm, and vowed to fix things ‘Starting tomorrow. I’m being held accountable for the storm. I will shoulder that responsibility’ – Blatter appeared to discount his own responsibility for the scandal. It could yet prove a pyrrhic victory for Blatter, but what happened to the notion of a leader taking responsibility for everything that happens on his watch?

FIFA could have responded to the arrests of many of its top executives by showing that it grasps what has finally happened to the credibility of world football, and stood Blatter down. Instead, most of FIFA put its fingers firmly in its ears. Having it both ways may not be high-minded or noble, human beings are conflicted and contradictory. Gambling and graft have always been sporting competition’s bedfellows, and sport from Pericles to Putin has always been shot through with politics, but this goes beyond the pale.

But it didn’t matter. FIFA doesn’t do opinion polls. It didn’t break. Not enough people, in the end fancied washing their hands of complicit guilt and starting afresh. A handful of blazers behind bars was never going to be enough to persuade them. What cancer reacts to the sudden severity of its own symptoms by curing itself?

The name of FIFA and Blatter is a joke on every football terrace in England, but it can make no difference. The fan, after all, is only where the money comes from, but who has been cut out of the process. FIFA, with its lunches and watches and private planes and five star hotels, exists as the tax on their passion, and it comes without representation.

Trust, a leadership virtue and a core trait of any organisation culture, is patently missing here by some margin, and for me is the most striking issue we need to consider. A fish rots from the head, so it’s no surprise. There is an absolute unspoken trust deficit in FIFA. Certainly frequent headlines reinforce scepticism about who is worthy of trust closer to home, from lying politicians and corrupt bankers, to cheating drug-taking athletes and misdeeds from senior police officers and boardrooms, it’s no surprise trust levels continue at historic lows, but Blatter and FIFA have set new moral lows.

The law in ancient Rome required the engineer who built an arch to be the first to stand beneath it. Perhaps if the impact of the actions of our leaders were as publically visible, we wouldn’t be facing diminishing trust levels in most of our workplaces.

The unspoken toll of the leadership trust deficit in any business impacts productivity, engagement and creativity. Fortunately, most leaders aren’t involved in deliberate trust deceptions at work, for most of us, the good news is that authentic trust, the kind we need in our workplaces, is sought by the vast majority of leaders. If your culture is right, relationships matter more than outcomes to those who practice authentic trust.

A recent study found that 82% of employees say being able to trust their leaders is crucial to their work performance. Yet as important as trust is to high performance, engagement, and innovation, trust workplace levels remain low. The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer found ‘an alarming evaporation of trust across all institutions, reaching the lows of the 2009 recession’.

Yet, when it comes to the people we work with and for, most of us ignore these headlines and judge for ourselves. By observing what organisational leaders say and what they do – their behavioural integrity – we decide to give, or not give, our trust to them. We also perceive through their actions if we’re valued and trusted by them, or not.

As a leader, you need to grow an awareness and sensitivity about everything that matters when building trust. What if you could start by seeing your actions from the lens of those you lead and need to influence? Or listen in on their thoughts? How much trust currency do you have with those you lead or influence? What do your actions compared to your words communicate? What trust-enhancing or trust-diminishing messages are you sending by how you do what you do?

Let’s look at the key trust issues in terms of leaders and followers, and from a leadership perspective, how do you create trust? I think there are just a handful of key issues to consider.

The whole-self Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric identified ‘three appeals of the heart’ to influence others and to build trust:

  • Ethos – your credibility and trustworthiness. If others don’t buy you as a person and believe in you first, they won’t buy you as a leader. Convince them you have the soundness of character required.
  • Logos – it’s about the logic and reasons you put forward to appeal to the rational mind. It’s not just facts, but a sound structured basis to what you’re saying. Simply, do you show common sense?
  • Pathos – the emotions you express when communicating with others, and the emotion you elicit in them, are key. You need to win hearts as well as minds, so be passionate, energising and enthusiastic.

Besides the ‘whole-self’, trust is then built by a combination of credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-awareness:

Credibility People are more likely to trust a leader who they regard as a credible, authoritative individual. The language used helps to assess your credibility, as does your level of confidence when talking about a particular subject. When faced with someone who is well regarded as a leader, we defer to their experience and place credence on their views.

Leaders can strengthen their personal credibility by continuing to develop their knowledge and skill set. Demonstrating continual professional development is a key element of showing credibility. Credibility and credentials are important.  Authority is one of the major recognised factors of influence – but don’t feel the need to try too hard.

Be like the Roman engineer, whatever your work and its associated actions, operate as if you must publically stand for your results. Trust can’t be built without personal accountability grounded in consistent and trustworthy actions. That includes acknowledging when trust was broken.

Reliability This one’s obvious isn’t it, so I don’t need to say much. As a leader, say what you’re going to do and then do what you say you’re going to do. Deliver on your promises, even the small ones, and don’t let people down. Flaming enthusiasm, backed by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success – Dale Carnegie.

Genuine passion and enthusiasm about your work, evidenced by being consistently reliable to your people, and your desire to help, are attractive qualities. Everything about you either says or doesn’t say ‘reliable’. You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.

Own your role in what happens. We all make mistakes unintentionally. We all impact relationships from time to time by our actions at work. But the difference in creating openness for trust to be restored is the difference between seeing yourself as a passenger along for the ride or as the responsible driver culpable for your missteps. Own what’s yours.

Intimacy A good leader connects emotionally, building sincere, long-term relationships, not seeking short-term ‘speed dating’ encounters. You have to be prepared to invest genuine personal time in with your folks beyond the reporting line. Show your folks you have genuine interest in them as people, not simply you being their manager. Listening is the key skill here. This naturally strengthens the relationship as you are making them feel valued. People will then feel comfortable talking with you about difficult agendas.

Even though your co-workers won’t all become your best friends, it is a good base point that they know you as a person. Likeability is a huge factor of influence. Making emotional connections is a key tenet in creating and sustaining trust – people are persuaded by reason, but moved by emotion.

The power of intimacy, shown by behavioural integrity, the alignment of actions and words, can’t be overstated. How will people perceive your actions from this point on? Don’t give anyone any reason to doubt your trustworthiness, or your intentions.

Self-awareness Be yourself; everybody else is taken, said Oscar Wilde. A trusted leader sincerely places others’ interests in front of their own. There is no greater source of distrust than a leader who appears to be more interested in himself. We must be sincere, have our self-orientation under control, and focus on the person in front of us as an individual.

As Steven Covey said, Seek first to understand and then to be understood. People can sense when you lack self-awareness, relationships never develop beyond the civil stage. Transparency is a critical factor in building trusted relationships, folks will warm to you if you are true to yourself and are straight with them in expressing your views. If you want people to reveal their true feelings and their thoughts you need to start the ball rolling by being your authentic self, being self-aware and saying what you really think.

Operate with an inner mirror. Watch yourself be yourself. Are you operating from good intentions or manipulative self-interests? Are you honouring your commitments and fulfilling your promises? Would you trust you?

Trust is not a matter of technique but of character. We are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exteriors or our expertly crafted communications. The glue that holds all relationships together, including the relationship between the leader and the led, is trust based on integrity.

Abraham Lincoln, being no Sepp Blatter, only ever won the right to give two inaugural addresses, not five, and is acknowledged as one of the most trustworthy leaders of all time. Perhaps he should have been better at dodging bullets like Blatter. Hypocrisy was the winner as FIFA voted for yet more Blatter, and a vacuum of trust. Yet for me it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest, that holds human associations together.