Leadership profile: Alan Laing, Sage

Alan Laing
Managing director, United Kingdom and Ireland
Sage

What are the key skills/qualities you need to run a successful business? Do you think these can be learnt?

Sage works with hundreds of thousands of business owners across the UK and Ireland and so we understand what it takes to make your idea not only a reality but a success. Many of us within Sage have experience of running our own businesses, or come from families who have ran their own enterprises, which is why we understand the journey and challenges involved and why we care so much about helping our customers achieve their business dreams.

Whether they are a joiner, coffee shop owner, consultant or a food manufacturer like one of our wonderful North East clients, Canny Milk, business owners need to acquire a range of skills especially as many startups are initially set-up and operated solely by the entrepreneur before they employ staff or seek the services of specialist advisors. Many of these skills can be learnt – but the passion and drive to make your business a success needs to come from within.

Management and organisation skills are essential – what you don’t already know, you need to learn. Businesses will have many goals and aims – but all need to be financially viable to continue to exist. My number one recommendation would be to understand your finances from the outset and continually be aware of where you’re at.

You need to be a strong leader – whether that’s motivating yourself or engaging a wider team. There’s no secret formula to this, it’s about leading your business in a way that is true to the leader and the values of the business, making clear what the business goals are to give everyone the same targets to work towards – and inspiring everyone to want to achieve these goals. The most successful businesses have the capability to think differently so don’t be afraid to challenge.

Once you have these building blocks in place, you need to regularly review your plan and have the ability to sell your vision. From personal experience, in my father’s family business, moving with the times and updating your plan is essential – don’t become outdated or you’ll be left behind!

How would you describe your own management style? Why do you think it’s successful?

I’m Scottish and we’re known for being forthright, honest and passionate, which describes me and my management style. It’s important that you are honest and clear giving instructions so people know what to expect and what we’re aiming for. You have a better chance of success that way.

I love what I do, love the company I work for and what we’re doing jointly with partners and accountants to support businesses in the UK and Ireland. Being passionate brings an authenticity to management; people are more likely to listen and act on what you’re asking them to do.

No matter what your management style is, it needs to be authentic to who you are and also mirror the culture of the business.

What’s the worst mistake you can make when leading a business?

Having focus is crucial. You need to be able to identify the important issues that are relevant to the success of the company, while not getting distracted by the ones that don’t add value. You need to build the confidence to make timely decisions – and where you do make mistakes, learn from them quickly and adjust your aims if you need to. Focus and knowing your goals inside out is key to avoiding big mistakes.

How do you get the best out of your staff?

Hiring your first employee is a major milestone for a business owner and then being able to keep this close communication going as you grow. Over the years, I’ve learnt that it’s essential that every person knows what they are there to do, how that contributes to the overall success and goals of the business and the value they bring. This creates the best two-way engagement and helps secure employee buy-in which plays a part to the company’s success.

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