Founder and CEO of E2Exchange Shalini Khemka CBE reveals her top tips for budding leaders or experienced CEOs on how leadership should and shouldn’t be done
CEOs are having their worst year in decades according to CNN Business. Whether it is due to poor performance, or poor behaviour, the top levels of leadership are losing their grip on what it means to lead and drive a successful company. The consequences of bad leadership do not just affect the individual, but the wider company and customers. To be a leader who is capable of change and can react to any situation, there is a set of rules to follow. In this article I will share my top tips to be a successful leader and what you should avoid doing in order to not end up in a perilous position like we have seen this year.
Do Lead by Example
The art of being a role model is being lost as some of the biggest companies’ CEOs have resigned this year. Bloomberg Business reported this year that CEO departures have hit the highest level on record. The world is going through a turbulent time with much uncertainty. However, leaders must be able to respond to global challenges level-headed, practical, and optimistic. To be a leader who is respected you need to make difficult decisions empathetically. Your team will be looking to them for guidance and this must be considered at every opportunity.
One of the most difficult decisions that I and most other founders have when scaling their companies is knowing when is the right time to fully let go and allow the team to cope without your everyday guidance. This requires confidence and resilience as well the ability to take risk and empower your team.
Don’t neglect employee development
For fruitful leadership, there needs to be adequate training and support so your team will feel motivated and willing to do the work. Keeping an eye on your team is essential for the company to prosper. Training and support ought to be consistent so you can spot weaker areas and work on them with your team, so they don’t fall behind. Leaders need a strong team behind them and if you lose track, they in turn will begin to lose faith and resignations and loss of profit can soon follow. Organising one-to-one sessions, team-building exercises, implementing wellness checks and adapting how performance is measured to maintain productivity are all reasonable adjustments that can be made.
Do be open and transparent
Effective communication is the lifeblood of any successful organisation. Be open and honest with your team, share your vision, and provide regular updates on the company’s progress. Encourage two-way communication, listen to feedback, and address concerns promptly. Don’t ignore people when concerns are raised. Further, you could also implement a confidential whistleblowing system so employees feel assured they won’t be penalised. There are various software platforms that enable whistleblowing without much hassle.
Don’t fail to learn from your mistakes
No matter your position, you’re bound to make mistakes. You won’t be expected to get everything right, but understanding where you went wrong and approaching it with dignity and empathy is crucial to being a successful leader. Failing to adapt can hinder your company’s growth and make your position untenable.
Do foster a positive and inclusive culture
As a leader, embracing diversity in all its forms is part of the job, but should be approached as a vocation, not a chore. Diverse teams have been shown to benefit from higher levels of creativity, engagement, collaboration, and productivity. Further, they have a lower employee turnover rate. Maintaining strong values is vital for retention and happier employees make all the difference. In addition, a report by McKinsey found that “the greater the representation, the higher the likelihood of outperformance,”
As well as marginalised groups, leaders must take into account the younger generation when assessing how to improve. Gen Z are the most ethnically diverse group after Gen Alpha in the UK according to the most recent census. Company leaders must take note and implement communication strategies which are more in line with Gen Z employees so they can feel a greater satisfaction at work and feel valued regardless of their race or background.
Micromanaging your team can stifle creativity and demotivate employees. Trust your team to do their jobs and avoid the urge to constantly oversee every detail. Instead, focus on setting clear expectations and providing guidance when needed.
To end, companies now more than ever need stability and leadership that will weather the storm. Whether you aim to become a CEO or are already at that level, getting the fundamentals right as demonstrated is imperative for a functioning and harmonious team. I hope these tips have given you clarity and equipped you with a better sense of the way forward for effective leadership that you can carry no matter where you go and no matter where you work.
About Shalini Khemka CBE
Shalini Khemka (CBE) founded E2E in 2011, where she is the Chief Executive and serves on its Board.
E2E has developed into an exciting and ground-breaking powerhouse of entrepreneurs, investors, non-execs, and SME focussed corporate organisations.
Its mission is to develop the largest and most active entrepreneurial ecosystem in the UK to enable extraordinary entrepreneurship.
E2E’s current community consists of 24K SMEs who contribute £230bn in turnover to the UK economy and employ 1.15 million people.
E2E has built one platform focused on making extraordinary connections for Founders, raising capital for high growth businesses, securing talent and world class NEDs. As a part of this E2E champions entrepreneurship through access to human capital, corporate services, investment capital and creates peer-to-peer communities.
Shalini is a member of the Mayor of London’s Business Advisory Board and, alongside Baroness Kramer she is on the Supervisory Committee of Kriya (formerly Market Finance), one of the UK’s leading Fintech firms.
She is a Fellow of Burton and South Derbyshire College and believes that turning knowledge into wisdom is the elixir of life.
As former Chair of the Business Action Council’s Job Retention Scheme Committee, Shalini led the recommendation of policy changes to No.10 Downing Street and the Government. Her work during COVID-19 played a major role in the introduction of the UK Bounce Back Loans scheme, the introduction of Flexi-Furlough and Short Time Working Directive introduced in 2020.
In March 2021, both Shalini and E2E were commended at the House of Lords for their work on the Capital Gains Tax deliberations. In March 2022 Shalini became the Chairman designate of Funding Focus Investment Trust PLC, which is a new investment fund, currently in the process of being listed on the London Stock Exchange to provide equity financing for women and under-represented entrepreneurs.
From April 2022 Shalini became a Member of The Advisory Board for Globant’s Bekind Tech Fund. A venture fund that helps global start-ups in developing products focused on creating tech for social good.
Prior to establishing E2E, Shalini was an Investment Director at LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyd’s Banking Group and historically, she ran the Group’s ‘plain vanilla’ International Trade Finance business.
In 1999, Shalini co-founded the world’s first online ‘bank to bank’ trade finance company. She was a Management Accountant at Deutsche Bank and worked in various finance related roles for Bankers Trust, NatWest Bank and Coopers & Lybrand.
In 2022, Shalini was awarded The Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to entrepreneurship.