This time of the year is about reflection and adjustment in our commitments for 2017. I like to make public what I commit to because I find this keeps me “honest”. When your goals are private, breaking them is hidden and easier. Take the silencer off your gun when committing to 2017 goals.

Our Powder Keg vision for 2017 is unchanged, to be the best run and most respected shooting outfitter in South Africa for our customers. Our mission is to provide our customers with the highest value price-to-performance equipment and service. Accurate shooting requires a steady hold; we holding our vision and mission.

Family of elephants marching through savannah at dusk with glorious view of sunbeams breaking through impressive cloudscape

We are not the biggest in the industry so we will “shoot outnumbered and WIN“. People talk about wanting to win, we need to win.  Winning is defined in many different ways, this is the reason why we are clear about our vision and our mission. We will be “best in class” in chosen segments; you can be “best in class” with the proper shooting gear and practice. Most of us do not have the resources to be “best in class” in all shooting disciplines and definitely not the time; by choosing and focusing on a discipline you have a chance to “shoot outnumbered and WIN“.

I want to reflect on our team and teamwork, a reference often flogged to death; for me what is important is to be part of a winning team because who wants to be part of a losing team?  First and foremost in our team is the instilled family values like honesty, integrity and respect for others.  With this core we embark on continuous improvement in 2017.

staff

I got involved in The Powder Keg because of a passion in fine guns, the outdoors and the value I could bring by being resident in Europe. My reflections after 1 year – I am more passionate than ever about fine shooting gear but I do not like elements of the industry such as the licensing process and the prerequisite for employees to have a Competency to Trade which limits the pool of people available to hire.  I understand the need but it is immensely prohibitive.

I like to build a team balanced with experience from within the industry and new ideas of people from outside of the industry.  My last CEO came from another industry into our leadership team of many years experience within our industry, he said “look for those 2 things in the 10 things I say which could be materially beneficial to the business and don’t focus on those 8 things that might be nonsense given I don’t yet have experience within your industry”. I have seen people who never fired a gun before pick up a firearm and shoot accurately. 

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Paul Luff (managing The Powder Keg) and I are different in important ways; if we were the same then there would be need for only one of us.  The distance that separates us does create frustrations for each of us, but this is the reason that neither of us can afford to be average. We have to add value in different dimensions.  It is critical however that we share the same vision and the same urgency to achieve, much like a rifle where the most accurate barrel, the most effective receiver and the highest grade stock must be in perfect balance for optimum results

This brings me to straight shooting on leadership. I have strong opinions, my opinions your opinions I win, BUT your facts my opinions, YOU win.  Leadership tends to be biased to either an intellectual approach or a relationship approach. Although I qualified as a Chartered Accountant my style is more relationship than intellectual which probably explains why I only lasted 6 months in a finance role.  My role in The Powder Keg must be more intellectual (living abroad) because Paul Luff is more relationship, key to our customer value.

7x57R -K95 Stutzen -50cm barrel -120Gr GS Custom 2950 fts and Peregrine 150gr bushmaster 2600 fps

7x57R -K95 Stutzen – straight shooting

What I search in a team is urgency to act and a desire to learn and improve. Without urgency you don’t change anything.  Leaders who are self confident find it natural to lead; they don’t have a personal ego to satisfy and instinctively take responsibility for mistakes; giving others credit for successes. Confident leaders surround themselves with strong teams while insecure leaders hide behind weak teams. Professional hunters must have patience to succeed well; retail is alive and you need urgency to succeed.   

The leader of every function reporting to me had to be stronger in his function than I was. If I was smarter then it was not a reflection of my smartness but rather validation that I did not have the strongest players in key roles. I always encouraged vigorous debate, never personal, but at a time there must be consensus or majority vote. This eliminated the excuse or reason for passage talk. Toxic people did not fit our environment. If I hunt dangerous game the PH must be far more accomplished than I. 

Ego is a big cause of failures because it causes people to take positions, their ego gets deeper and deeper entrenched in positions and they become defensive of bad decisions.  I have a strong ego in the vision and mission of The Powder Keg but not in me personally, so I adopt to facts that reflect a better way to my opinions.  My advice when egos get entrenched in positions is to stop digging. Climb a tree and make sure you chopping in the right forest. Stop shooting, pause and reflect.

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Leadership by example is critical, never under estimate your impact on others. If you are not showing the way how can you expect others to get stuff done?  Effective leaders motivate their teams; I am yet to see a leader who does not lead by example motivate a team. We need to get staff to work to their potential and not to their compulsory minimum. I have not had success changing people, especially older people who are generally more entrenched in their habits. Fit a square peg in a square hole or find a round peg if you only have a round hole.  You cannot force a 30-06 round into a 308 just like you will not change a leader who’s profile does not match your businesses need. Change the gun!

Leaders have “balls”. Many employees in senior positions in large global corporations are followers (you need them also … sometimes).  I recall the HR Director of a $2B company I worked for answer to the question of a new incoming CEO about what we wanted to achieve under new private equity ownership and he said “to prove to the company that sold us off that we could make it”. I do not what to hunt Buffalo with a PH who is a “pussy cat”.

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I am very forthright, probably something I got from my mother; she called a spade a spade. I encourage everyone on my teams to be transparent and forthright. We all screw up (provided only once and we learn from it), there is no point to hide and try solve the mess yourself while risking much more in not getting help early on. Being too proud can have serious consequences.  Agree with your PH about how he will back you up before you take the shot.

I was sometimes a fish out of water in the American company I worked for because I said what I believed in while many said what they thought the CEO wanted to hear. I resonate with parts of Donald Trump, I find his break with the establishment refreshing. I am not agreeing with his policies but for the first time I see an American leader saying what he believes in vs. what would have been politically correct to say. I build teams who are kick ass and not suck ass. When shooting it is the result that counts and not how you got there.

This reminds me of when I said to my past CEO – many who agreed with his point of view on something were the same people who agreed with an opposite perceptive of the previous CEO, and without any debate. He told me that he liked that because it meant that he did not have to negotiate with them. There is no right or wrong on leadership styles but this behavior in my opinion sub-optimizes organizational value.

'I need you to be more decisive when agreeing with me.'

I rather be respected than liked (although both are often linked). Successful people “know how to say NO“. I find people with a personality bias of “to be liked” cannot say NO. They will, with good intentions, “give the house away”. I have experienced individuals with a “like me” personality to be trustworthy but mostly I do not have confidence in their ability to run successful operations because they cannot deal with tough issues. For them it is easier to say YES than NO.

Energy is vital and this is the reason I don’t like to be around negative people – they drain my energy. My advice is run away from negative people. Positive people are more proactive and therefore have a larger circle of influence. Every organisation is more or less divided into the 20% who pursue change, 60% who are not sure (on the fence) and the remainder 20% who flatly reject change. I focus on the undecided 60% to get them to pursue change and eliminate the toxic because they risk pulling the 60% their way.

My advice on change is get to love change because it is the only constant in life. If we do nothing then we going backwards because everyone else is going forwards. I often say “just do something because doing nothing is 100% wrong”.  All I am doing is emphasizing the need for change because there are always better ways to get ahead.  If you serious about shooting reload (if you don’t already), this is a sure way to get ahead and love it. 

When I want something done I give it to a busy person.  I find that busy people don’t want to be average, they possess drive.  For those less energetic I always encourage them to start because for them having started is to have done half the job.  Getting in the car to drive to the highest mountain in Slovenia was already half the climb for us. 2016 was our start and the beginning of a great era at The Powder Keg.

you not Slovene until you have climbed Triglav, the highest peak. Here I am with Jeff, the US Military Attache to Slovenia at the time

Triglav, the highest peak

I have a strong bias for discipline and process. I don’t tolerate exceptions, not for me nor for any of the staff. I dislike nepotism so prevalent in businesses today.  This becomes a cancer in business. Like in sport like in business, if you going to make a mistake make it quickly and get on with it.  Cancer in business must be cut out, it is better to cut too deep and come back vs. not being around to come back. When attacked by a lion it is better to shoot than not being around to explain why.

Discipline starts with oneself. I weigh the same at 53 as I did when I was 23. I am as fit now as ever in my life (not that I am very fit but I maintained a level). Off-course genes count a lot but as my dad warned me, we don’t have good genes.  I have never made my genes an excuse, it simply meant greater “grit” to get ahead.  I am pictured below after having cycled up to the top of a ski resort called Krivavec. I had to include the picture because I have never had the courage to repeat. Shooting is a great sport that you can improve in with age.

bicycle-krvavec

Success breeds success; the most successful people understand what matters and then they focus on what matters. It is important to empower staff and have them grow. I used to like hearing about other companies trying to poach our staff, that meant we were doing stuff right.  No-one poaches staff from a poor organisation. There are some people who you just cannot empower, don’t give up on that leadership skill, rather employ the right people. Hire the right PH if you hunting leopard or stick to hunting quail. 

When managing over 1000 staff and multiple global locations it was inevitable that you had to dismiss people. I found this “normal” because it was always for good cause and knowing unemployment is high there are many people crying out for employment privileges. Why would you keep a non-performer who jeopardizes the whole business while knowing that so many people need employment? Mostly when a non-performer is dismissed his coworkers would comment “why did it take them so long?” You find the best trackers with the best PH for good reason.

What I seldom find in people is balance, and here I am the prime bad example. My dad said it is in our genes, everything we do is over the top (good and bad). This is the reason I always have my last will and testament current; respect to my loved ones.  The more balance we have the more effective we will be.  We all have blind spots but here I fail so miserably that if I could not recognize this failing in me then there would be no hope for me.

I love to see people successful, the reason I like to share my life lessons. Why would I want others to take the same number of years I did when they could gain in a split second from my sharing? We must be guarded how we interpret “we are what we are”.  Our personalities are molded by the age of about 18, but we can influence if we choose to. Until we experience stuff it it does not really sink in. It took me this past year to realize that I must “stay” within the parameters of my nature and personality.  This helps me to get balance.

Make performance your security in life.  Make it happen or else it won’t.  Make your actions consistent with your words. I recall my Latin American boss about 15 years ago tell me “don’t sell me a dream and deliver a nightmare”.  I remember that like it was yesterday.

performance-matters

What do I mean when I say that at The Powder Keg we must shoot outnumbered and win. It means that we must differentiate our value, if we are not different then we are not going to be noticed. We must choose carefully what 2 balls we want in hand and ignore the temptation of 20 in the air.  We have a road-map of our future and carefully chosen bullets.

My final sporting clay … If the business cannot grow profitably without you then pause and reflect, reality is “you a shit leader”. Leaders who think a business cannot survive without them are generally insecure.  Great leaders build organizations that are successful long after they have left.

Don’t drink and shoot.  This hunter is a “fuckareweebird”.

drunked-hunter