How Strong Are Your Foundations? - Proteus Leadership
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How Strong Are Your Foundations?

On a return flight from Europe, I had a stop over in Dubai. Like everyone, I was very interested in seeing the amazing architecture and the massive high-rise buildings throughout the city, including the highest building in the world, Burj Khalifa. Their beauty was everything that I expected.

Speaking to some of the local taxi drivers, what was once seen as an amazing feat of architecture was now becoming an obsession and they were afraid that it would never stop. Already most of the buildings were half empty and yet they were still building.

It is very simple; every time a building became the tallest, then they immediately started work on a taller one.

As I observed these truly beautiful buildings I couldn’t help but think, why in the world do they not topple over? How deep and strong the foundations must be to support such incredible structures.

I happen to live in an apartment in Melbourne Australia on the 43rd floor. The view is amazing and it is indeed a great place to live. High-rise in Melbourne has become the norm and new buildings are being approved every month. Although not as tall as those in Dubai, it still staggers me how any of them stand.

A friend of mine works for an engineering company and his whole role is to determine and approve how much steel needs to go into each stage of the building process. Imagine getting that wrong!

Engineering is an art form and I must admit I have the most incredible respect for people that engineer, buildings, roads and bridges; it truly is a skill that I will never understand.

So, what about our own foundations, both in our personal lives and in our businesses, how strong are they?

Reinventing our life and our businesses is an ongoing process. Some people do it well and others do not. But there comes a time when the foundations that we have set years before are no longer strong enough to hold what we now want to build; so what do we do?

Do we just keep building until everything crumbles around us, do we stop growing and become cynical and critical or do we rip up our foundations, re-pour them and strengthen our structure with more steel?

Whatever decision we make it will determine not just our success as a person and business leader, but it also has the ability to add or remove stress and angst from our lives.

If we are continually struggling in our businesses and the same things are happening time after time, then maybe it is time to ask ourselves these questions:

• How long have the same foundations been there?
• Are cracks appearing?
• Can they support the structure/plans I want to build on them?

These three questions can determine what our future looks like if we are brave enough to ask them and then act.

You see it doesn’t matter how good our structure looks if it is always on the edge of crumbling to the ground. Maybe it is time to re-pour our foundations.

Rebuild your structure from the bottom

Although leadership is a key element to the success of any organisation, it is not the foundation that holds the business together, or keeps the machine going.

So often when an organisation is in trouble they look to just replace the senior leadership team; in some cases this may be enough, but in most cases it is not. All structures are supported from the bottom. That is where the strength is based that helps a great leadership team to lead and perform effectively.

So, rather than just look at the leadership team when things are going wrong, perhaps we should look at ways that we can support the foundations of the business, such as administration, client services, systems support etc. These are the people and functions that really determine the success of any business.

Please don’t think that in any way I believe leadership is not important. I wouldn’t waste my time running a leadership company if I thought that. What I do know though, is that unless the foundations are strong, it doesn’t matter how good you are as a leader, you will not be able to build the structure you want.
So, rebuild your foundations, resource the areas that grow your business and then you will find your ability to lead improves significantly.

So many organisations have amazing products, but their service and administration is abysmal, resulting in potential clients simply walking away. Don’t let this happen. Treat these roles and the people within them as being just as important, or even more important, than any leadership position within your company.

Build for future growth even if it seems like overkill

It staggers me that every time a highway is built it seems that they just get it finished and then start the process again, widening it to hold the traffic that now uses it. Why don’t they build it bigger in the first place? Sure I get that it will cost more at the time, but surely it costs a lot more to rebuild afterwards.

So when you re-pour your foundations make them stronger and deeper than you think you need because the rate of change will ensure that within a very short period of time, they will need to be stronger than you thought at the time of pouring.

The late, great racing driver Peter Brock said this, “bite off more than you can chew and then chew like hell”. In other words don’t continue to play catch up in your life or your business. Start to think bigger. Determine your future rather than letting it determine you.

Were your original foundations built for high-rise, or do they restrict how much you can grow?

This is a question that must be asked and acted on otherwise that beautiful structure you have in your mind will crumble to the ground.

Although this analogy applies to every person and situation, the important thing is to understand what it means to you. Is it time to rip up your foundations and rebuild? Do you need to just strengthen them by resourcing the right areas within your business? Or are you happy to continue to patch up the cracks?

Leaders will find it much easier to lead if the foundations and support structures are in place and they don’t have to physically and mentally hold things up as they initiate growth.

Just like my friend whose job it is to determine how much steel needs to go into each structure – this is also our job as leaders – not just to support the NOW but also to support the FUTURE and we do this by strengthening our foundations.

By Des Penny
CEO and Founder of Proteus Enterprises Pty Ltd.


Proteus Leadership is one of Australia’s premier leadership training and development companies. Proteus Leadership provides leadership courses and management training to a range of industries and assists organisations to build positive workplace cultures, implement change and Create Great Leaders. Proteus also facilitates a range of world-class management courses, workshops, conferences and events across Australia and beyond with the sole purpose of bringing leaders together to connect and grow.

“Our core purpose is to Create Great Leaders that will in turn build Great companies and develop Great teams.”

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