The Secret Entrepreneur: Keeping calm, carrying on

Our successful CEO on the art of leadership – and how one ‘grade-A lunatic’ entrepreneur lost it all

From faking it ’til you make it last week, our hidden identity boss reveals how business owners that don’t keep calm get it catastrophically wrong.

“One of the tougher tasks as an entrepreneur is holding things together.

I view it as my job to remain calm and composed in front of my team, no matter what happens. Nothing good comes from losing it, especially when things go pear-shaped and you need to take action quickly.

Being an entrepreneur means being a leader and the only way to lead is by example. If you don’t want your team to worry, but instead to knuckle down and solve the problem at hand, then freaking out is not going to help. Nor is aiming the blame cannon at your team.

This is a lesson I learned from my time spent sharing an office building with an older entrepreneur running a high profile business in his industry. I sub-let office space from him for about a year.

I didn’t realise until a few months in to leasing the space that he was a grade-A lunatic on a path to career self-destruction, who would eventually have to leave the country because no-one in his industry would work with him anymore.

He became my anti-mentor.

It wasn’t a large office space. A small two floor industrial unit converted into offices holding no more than 20 people. I shared the downstairs unit with some of his staff and he based himself upstairs.

It was not an acoustically well designed office. Anything above a regular conversation volume travelled easily between floors. When things weren’t going well, this chap got loud.

Things started out fine. When I moved in his firm was going great guns and making millions. Then slowly but surely the cracks started to show and his business took a turn for the worse. I had a front row seat as he began ranting at his team, panicking and then publicly blaming individuals for screwing up.

He sowed the seeds of his own destruction. Every time he panicked and lost it, his team recoiled in fear and didn’t take any action. Things that could easily have been fixed weren’t. People waited to be told what to do and when, for fear of being next in line for a roasting. Those who tried to be proactive quickly learnt it wasn’t in their best interests if they wanted an easy life.

Word spread quickly about his style, and the firm’s problems, and his best staff quickly left. Then the blame cannon got directed even further afield, to suppliers, advisers and friends. In the space of eight months he lost all support, his business failed and he went from a respected industry figure to someone everyone actively avoided for fear of being next in line for his wrath.

Shortly afterwards he left London and set up shop on another continent, over 2,000 miles away.

When you’re successful, you can get away with being a poor leader and an asshole. The moment things go wrong, you can’t.”

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