What my Bonsai tree taught me about leadership - Vusi Thembekwayo

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Vusi Thembekwayo 03 May 2019

Scaling anything is hard. Scaling a family comes with the disruptions of the growth, the noise of the newborn, the pain of childbirth &the discomfort of forming new habits and embedding new behaviours are some of the experiences that you must live through.

Scaling anything is hard. Scaling a family comes with the disruptions of the growth, the noise of the newborn, the pain of childbirth &the discomfort of forming new habits and embedding new behaviours are some of the experiences that you must live through.

Scaling is hard.

So imagine then the idea that you want to scale a business. Scale a “thing” that exists only as a juristic person and must be given life every day by the actions, habits and behaviours of the people in it. Carrying for the infant child, there are instincts of parenthood honed over millennia of evolution deeply embedded in your DNA that guide your decision process. There is also the guidance of society where people with whom you have proximity have taken that path before. Friends and family have raised children before. So then, information, best practise, mentorship and standard procedure are all freely shared in the daily market for human information exchange, conversations.

But how do you scale a business? Consider here the “proximity theory” doesn’t hold: few of us have people around us that have scaled businesses readily & infinitely available to share their insights, learnings and pearls of wisdom.

Equally short of supply is the “evolution theory”. Few amongst us can boast a membership of the exclusive club of the global 0.00001% of the human race that boasts ancestry with deep insights and rich history of building businesses. Often, you are version one of your family & your community.

So then, what do you do? 
How do you know that you are on the right path?

Here are some truisms that have helped in my journey to building an exponential growth business.

1. Be prepared to execute

The adage in the lips of wise men the world over rings with the words,

“Ideas don’t change the world. Ideas made concrete through the judicious application of effort, time, skills and talent change the world”.

Okay. So that is not the saying of wise men around the world. Those are just my words.

When I was younger I used to believe that ideas change the world. As I grew older and studied the relentless dedication to executing their ideas that leaders throughout the pages of history have had, I realised that the idea is like the seed of a Bonsai tree. Planted and not watered, pruned and cared for, the tree will not either not grow, not keep form or worse corrupt its potential by growing to an eyesore.

But there is no beginners guide to keeping a bonsai. The tree is impossibly sensitive, painfully slow to grow and hard to care for. But, and this is the point, its beauty is realised in the delicate hands of its keeper who carefully looks for anomalies in its growth path, prunes them off and then leaves gashes of open wounds for the tree to grow anew, a branch or leaf.

There is no straight line in growing a bonsai. There is no 1-year plan. There is no rule book or beginners guide.

There is only the eye of its architect, the process of nature and the instinct of the keeper. These must collude to make for the best bonsai.

2. Know the math

It may not appear so but the best bonsai keepers develop a system of math. Untaught but learnt through application and practice, they extrapolate from every angle the path of every branch, every leaf and every root. The keeper does not obsess over the miniature correctness of his calculations. They understand that the idea is simple, snip and watch the tree grow again.

Editing is perhaps the most empowering practice of leaders today. Rather than the alluring but often reckless accumulation more: more data, more tasks, more projects, more more more, editing is the second language of leaders, high-performance athletes and scale entrepreneurs.

They obsessively seek to eliminate the clutter, dumb down the noise levels, refocus their attention on what matters and delegates what influences it.

But to do this you must “know the math”. Run the calculations daily. Edit daily. Make the decisions daily: sharper focus, fewer elemental variables, deeper insights.

Dear entrepreneur, I wish the discipline of a bonsai keeper. 
Trust your instincts. 
Know the math. 
Be patient.