If you follow the tech blogs and new wires, you’ll be very familiar with the law suits raised in silicon valley and other tech hubs every month in relation to patents and intellectual property. By intellectual property, I of course am not referring to real estate, which my recent article on Financial Expert: How to Invest in Property is concerned with.
On the contrary, investing in intellectual property requires a different type of capital: human capital, and smart human capital at that. Whilst conquering the global manufacturing stage, China has faced attacks on it’s lack of imagination and invention used by their workforce.
For small tech start-ups, intellectual property is almost the product itself. Often a patented concept, or a specific method of manufacturing can made designs possible that were previously cast from creative rooms on feasibility grounds. Thus, the right piece of intellectual property can propel a small business into a temporary monopoly, sometimes on a global scale. In such cases, it seems only natural that young CEOs have been fighting to the death in the court room to protect their profits.
However recently a new wave of suits have emerged, accusing large established giants of infringing on patents several years ago, before the mega success of the alleged infringer. One could argue that in such cases, the claimant is merely trying to piggy-back off the success of its rival, to compensate for the lack of success it has been generating internally. A case in point is Nokia v Apple Corporation, which recently settled on behalf of Nokia, who successfully argued that Apple had stolen some of their technology in producing the hugely successful iPhone.
The verdict in favour of Nokia, appeared to vindicate the CEO Stephen Elop, who could now officially blame the failure of his company, at least in in part, upon the unscrupulous and leaching activities of its competitors.
This legal triumph does concern me that a secondary wave of action may be launched, a wave of cases that were only spurred on by Nokia’s success, and have far less merit. Such time wasting and resource draining activities are great for the law profession, but damaging to an industry attempting to create their own bids to overthrow a new tyrant.
I believe that protecting intellectual property is important, but should be done on a timely basis when commercially viable and merit. In an industry where the talent pools flow endlessly between enough, it will be very difficult for leaders to ‘protect’ all the knowledge generated in the company, and instead they should focus on capitalising on innovation when it does occur, rather than taking a back seat and watching as a competitor takes the exact same technology and beats them round the head with it.
The subject of effective leadership styles is often debated by the press, academia and scores of management as well as leadership blogs & books. Most of these articles or essay focus on the following:
(1) Leadership styles adopted by successful businessmen and women in the past.
(2) Leadership styles required for the future in a business environment of accelerating organisational change.
(3) A slightly new leadership style based on the author’s experiences.
I believe that all these angles on leadership styles have their place in your ‘library’ of leadership knowledge. But if you’re a new or aspiring leader, you may not have developed many of talent exhibited by these ‘already honed’ leadership celebrities.
I’m talking about skills such as Charisma, Time Management, Initiative, Courage and other important leadership characteristics. These improve over time with focus and commitment toward personal development. In other words, you don’t jump out of a box as a pre-made leader!
The truth is that leadership is often thrust upon us for the first time when we do not expect it. Be it through sports, local communities, or trusting bosses giving us a hand up.
Therefore for your first leadership experiences, you won’t have many of the memories and lessons learnt from previous events and situations, and such, you may feel vulnerable and nervous.
Common Behavioural Mistakes
Let us take a look at the different options for leadership styles you could choose to take when taking the reigns for the first time. Naturally, the issue of Autocratic versus Democratic versus Bureaucratic versus Laissez Faire will rage on. However this topic has been sufficiently covered online already, so rather than run through what these styles are, I will only detail the behavioural elements that apply to new leaders:
A New Autocratic Leader
Autocratic leaders make executive decisions and pass orders down to their subordinates to be executed. The issue with being autocratic as a junior leader is concerned with your credibility.
An autocratic leader typically has detailed, technical experience in the business area, and as such, can be trusted by their followers to make effective decisions. Following these decisions is therefore a simple matter of course.
A classic risk for new autocratic leaders is to fail to gain such credibility in the eyes of followers. Without credibility, a leader will not see loyal, passionate action taken beneath them. How is one to fix this situation?
Some attempt to make up for this shortfall by making cosmetic changes to their behaviour. Examples include making decisions quickly to assert decisiveness, and even talking louder to appear more confident in their ability. Naturally one thing can lead to another, and the new starter can quickly find themselves constantly playing catchup with regards to their knowledge:
“I must look up that term used by the banker as soon as possible, I don’t quite know what I’ve agreed to, but I couldn’t risk coming across as ‘thin’ on my finance knowledge.”
It’s clear that an autocratic leader has three possible scenarios. One is that they successfully ‘fake it until they make it’, and sufficiently bluff their way through the first couple of years without making any tell-tale blunders. The second is that their cosmetic changes wear thin, and the leader faces an even greater credibility crisis than when they began. The third is that they’re frank about shortcomings in their experience, and use their experts to catch up as quickly as possible. Only one of these options is good for the business, but I’ll leave you to decide which route you want to take!
A New Democratic Leader
Democratic or participative leadership involves seeking and respecting feedback received from ‘below’. A common mistake of new democratic leaders is to interpret the leadership style too literally. A new democratic leader is at risk of appearing ‘weak’ involving those beneath them too much in the decision making process. While the title suggests it, a democratic leader does not simply use a vote from a sample of their workforce every time they wish to make a decision.
As a subordinate, when a manager comes to you and asks “What do you think I should do in this situation?”, this could have two effects. If this is the first time the occasion has happened, you will undoubtedly feel valued and empowered to get involved in ‘higher’ decisions. However if this was the 10th time this month a new leader had called to ask your advise – you may start wondering whether it should be you who collects the manager’s pay cheque! Keep in mind that empowerment and employee involvement has it’s limits.
A New Bureaucratic Leader
Bureaucratic leaders ‘lead through a system’. They setup processes and procedures in place that typically centralise decision making, maintain accountability and quality of work. Bureaucratic systems are good for negating risks to the business and also ensuring consistency across a large organisation. Employees that rise through the bureaucrat hierarchy will almost certainly experience the many pitfalls of such a system, be it slow processing times, wasteful activities and an inability to deal with extraordinary situations. A common mistake of newly empowered bureaucratic leaders is to then ‘revolutionise’ the way things work in an attempt to solve all their personal gripes.
While it has many enemies, the bureaucratic system has a neat purpose and achieves many of its objectives, even with all the infuriating problems and waste. If it is employed in local government, central government or extremely large organisations – a bureaucratic system has evolved for a reason. It’s now large, it’s complex. and guess what – many previous leaders have been in the exact same position you have. Has it been solved to date? No.
The fact is that bureacratic systems are a necessary framework for several types of important processes. If you turn the whole system upside down, and shake out all your niggles, then after several years of firefighting and implementation, you will likely find that your new system is almost as complex as the last, and cost £’000s, if not £’000’000s to implement. The habit of attempting to revolutionise bureacratic systems comes more from a desire to change things, than a rational evaluation of the business case for such a change. I would suggest that you weigh up all your options first, including incremental changes to existing systems, before sprinting towards the drawing board.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article. It of course contains only a small selection of the types of mistakes new leaders can make, but hey! Mistakes are of course, all part of the process. But do try and make sure you take most of your lessons from others’ mistakes!
If you would like a free downloadable copy of my report on ‘The Eight Biggest Mistakes Leaders Make, Costing Them a Fortune in Lost Time, Income and Opportunity‘ – just click here and you will see it in the left hand site of The Ultimate Guide website.
Stepping up his campaign against outsourcing, US President Barack Obama on Friday asserted his administration would offer tax benefits only to those firms which will create jobs in the country, a move that may hit Indian IT firms in a big way. Could this be the end of the recent globalisation that leaders have been firmly promoting over the past decade?
“We believe on tax breaks for those firms that create jobs in the US. So we are beginning to do that,” Obama said at a press conference here.
India is among the world’s top five outsourcing destinations, along with the Philippines, Ireland, China and Brazil, according to a Tholons report. India earned revenues of $40 billion from IT-BPO export services in 2008, with the US accounting for 50-60% of the Indian IT companies’ revenues.
“We can have a tax code that rewards wealth and hands out billions of dollars more to big corporations and multimillionaires. Or we can provide a USD 1,000 tax cut to 95 per cent of families in America, start rewarding work and not just wealth, and eliminate income taxes for seniors making USD 50,000 a year or less,” Obama said, adding that’s an agenda for change that we can believe in. That’s the choice that we can make in this election.
“Demand continues to be okay,” said S Gopalakrishnan, chief executive of Infosys Technologies, India’s number two IT outsourcing firm, at the World Economic Forum in China. “What is challenging is that companies are willing to commit for the short term but not the long term or the medium term. Because of that it becomes challenging to do medium- to long-term planning.”
One very interesting consequence of this is that Bangalore based IKIN solutions have refused to accept merger with Vuvuze Corp saying that “America is becoming a bad investment option for IT companies and markets like UAE , Singapore and Japan are fast becoming better options to invest in” , founder Jude Rosario also feels that “When you guys as a nation talk about a global village , why discriminate when it comes to IT services ? ”
Ahead of the US visit by a Nasscom delegation this month, its president Som Mittal says the visa fee hike and Ohio’s ban on outsourcing is “disturbing”, with long-term implications, writes NDTV.
“I think this is a disturbing trend. The measures that India is taking would bring to the notice of the US administration that for short-term gain, there could be long-term implications,” Mittal said on the sidelines of a CII event in New Delhi. Clearly the modern leaders in the world will need to weigh up the short term versus long term implications, both economically and politically, as this hot topic begins to enter a new round of leadership debate.
Christian Arno, founder and Managing Director of UK translation company Lingo24, gives his advice on cost-effective growth strategies.
It could be said that two of the biggest blunders many new enterprises make are as follows: trying to sell their products/services to the wrong people…and wasting a lot of cash doing so. This counterproductive combination can spell disaster for many budding businesses, which is why a carefully managed growth model is imperative from the start.
Christian Arno, founder and Managing Director of Lingo24, launched his translation company from home after graduating with a languages degree in 2001. Lingo24 now operates across four continents with over 100 employees worldwide and has a network of 4,000 freelance translators. Figures released this week reveal that Lingo24 has enjoyed a 30% rise in turnover in the past twelve months, with total revenue of £3.65m.
Having come so far in eight years, Arno has some advice for other entrepreneurs looking to market themselves and grow.
“In the beginning, I found that companies would contact me to sell advertorials which, at the time, sounded great…but they weren’t. After a couple of costly ones, it became apparent that the return on investment just wasn’t there. My first piece of advice for any new business is this: don’t throw large sums of money at things without knowing what the outcome will be.”
Indeed, online marketing has played a pivotal role in the success of Lingo24, allowing them to grow gradually and build an online presence without risking large sums of cash. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising in particular have been central to Arno’s marketing ethos over the past eight years.
“The internet has been a key driver in Lingo24’s growth, and online marketing has allowed us to connect with our customers in a way other medium couldn’t have done”, says Arno. “I discovered SEO and Google AdWords early on and there has been no looking back. PPC allowed me to test out online marketing techniques for very little money – I could set my monthly budget at a nominal amount, allowing me to gauge its efficacy without blowing my entire marketing budget. And as it turned out, it has brought us a lot of custom.”
Countless companies strive to optimise their position on Google, some succeed and some don’t. But Arno reckons the key to successful SEO is pretty straight forward: “The key to ranking highly on Google is not to be too clever about it. Forge relationships with industry partners, offer to contribute content to their sites/blogs in exchange for links and ensure your own website is kept up-to-date – there’s no substitute for fresh content and there’s no fooling Google.”
Online marketing certainly seems like the most cost-effective route for businesses to go in the current economic downturn. And for Lingo24, it has been an integral part of its global expansion plans, with websites now in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, French, German and a number of other key languages, helping them to tap into new and emerging markets.
“The majority of the internet is in English, yet most of the world’s internet users’ first language isn’t English, so there’s a clear gap there”, says Arno. “I researched key search terms used by local customers and incorporated them into the translated websites. Because the saturation is nowhere near what it is in the English-speaking market, I found that we rose very rapidly in foreign search engine rankings.”
Lingo24’s global expansion has seen business boom and he anticipates even greater success over the next twelve months. With an increase of 6,000% in turnover since inception, Arno has this final advice for entrepreneurs seeking to grow their business:
“Don’t try to get too big too quickly. You must understand your market and in doing so, you will intuitively know how to allocate your marketing funds. Talk to others who have succeeded before you throw significant funds at anything. Growth is still possible, despite the current downturn…you just have to work at it!”
Lingo24 is a global localisation and translation company. It has over 100 employees based in the UK, Panama, Romania, China and New Zealand, and a network of 4,000 translators. Its projected turnover for 2009 is £3.7m.