Lowveld Big Change mentor and managing director of HL Hall and Sons Properties, Mr James Aling, shares the 10 points of focus he has come to believe in.

MBOMBELA – In business, creativity is key. Mr. James Aling, managing director of HL Hall and Sons Properties, the real estate business of the Halls Group, says the business world is continually changing, and you need to be creative to adapt.

Aling joined the company just over 21 years ago, and after spending the first three years in their fresh produce business as marketing manager has been in charge of building up their extensive property development ventures ever since.

“You have to be creative to improve your processes. Even if something is working at the moment, it doesn’t mean that it
will work well forever. You have to refine and improve what you are doing all the time.”

As one of the mentors in the Lowveld Big Change programme, this was just some of the advice Aling recently shared with Ms Phephsile Maseko, who was selected as the mentee in the programme.

This week he shares 10 points of focus he has come believe in by with Lowvelder readers.

Aling’s 10 leadership principles:

1. Self Awareness
“Be aware of who you are, what you want and what you can contribute,” he says, adding that it is best to follow your
“It is very difficult to be in a business or career or vocation that is not aligned to your passion or character or personality.”
From this self awareness springs an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.
“We inherently know what we’re good at, and other people tell us too. We are not usually that honest about what we’re not good at, but it is important to recognise it.”
He recommends that you play to your strengths and develop your weaknesses, or make sure there is someone in your organisation who is strong where you are weak, so you have a well-rounded team.

2. Stay grounded in your values and beliefs
Be comfortable with who you are and then be yourself, Aling advises. Strive to further build your brand, network and track record with everything you do both at work and outside work in the community.
It is also fundamental that you never jeopardise your brand, like compromising your values or principles as such things have a tendency to come back.
“Trying to fill a role that is not naturally yours is very stressful and very difficult.”

3. Focus on your vision
Formulate a clear vision for your business and don’t lose focus from it.
“What do you want to see your business become? Keep the big picture in mind, but focus on a few ideas. Keep it simple
and understandable. Focus your energy and attention on this. Do not get distracted from these.
“Others also need to share in the vision, their role and importance of their roles in your organisation and how it
contributes towards achieving the vision.”

4. Develop a value set
Developing a set of values and a culture for your business and your team serves to ground and align them while giving them wings.
It is also important for employees to have a sense of belonging at the company and feel part of the business.

5. Understand your business model
Make sure you understand not only your business, but also the environment and market in which you operate. Know your customers, revenue sources and value drivers and be aware of your opportunities but also the risks.
Some of your costs are fixed and others are variable. Addressing issues around the cost levers you can control can help you increase your bottom line.
“It is important that, as you grow your business and turnover, you don’t put a squeeze on your profit margin…
otherwise you end up working harder and harder for the same profit.”
Be aware of which levers you can control: If you import materials, you can’t control the exchange rate but you can control from who you source materials.
Importantly, watch your cashflow at all times. “Never run out of cash. Often people go out of business not because their
business is bad, but because they run out of cash. Watch your working capital carefully and plan your monthly cash flow ahead. If you are cash-strapped or time bound it becomes difficult to negotiate good deals because as the added

6. Develop relationships
Focusing on relationships builds loyalty among your customers and within your team. “Don’t forget those who helped you on your way up, and help others when you are i n a position to do so. Don’t be sacred or stingy to give a little because more often you get a lot back.”
He adds that loyal customers and employees are very valuable. “If a customer likes the value and experience you provide, they will recommend you to others.”

7. Use your leverage
The concept of leverage is to get a bigger output for a certain amount of effort. “You need to be thinking smarter,
you can only do so much in 24 hours.”
Aling says that as you grow you may be tempted to continue to do everything yourself, for expediency or to get it done right, but it becomes impractical.
“You have to invest in training people. Empower and train people to do the work you initially did. You can still have ideas and motivate, train and develop them.”
Also build your network and your influence. “If you have good relationships, people will assist you.”

8. Be open to change
“The business environment changes all the time. You have to be aware and keep up and adapt, otherwise you will get left behind.” Focus on, and reward, creativity and innovation. Have an open mind and be prepared to try new things and ways of doing things.
“Always look for new or better ways of doing things. If you don’t try newthings you won’t grow and develop,” Aling says.
Also don’t shy away from change because it is complex. Break it down into simpler parts which are easier to understand and handle. But don’t ignore complex situations, they might be a big risk or opportunity to your business.

9. Lead by example
Don’t expect from others what you won’t do yourself: set the example of what you expect in return.
There are two types of leaders: the “come on” and the “Go on” leaders. The latter takes a back seat, letting their teams push forward and take the lead. The former leads from the front, sets the example, and pioneers the way forward.
Aling says that if you do this, the team will look up to you and you will earn their respect.
“Grab any opportunity to continue to develop yourself. Push your boundaries – if you are too comfortable you know
you are not growing.”

10. Protect your sanctuaries
Seek and identify the sanctuaries in your life: your spouse or partner, your family, home, faith and friends all offer refuge from the busy demanding world we operate in.
Protect and use these and you will have a place to regenerate your energy and recalibrate your priorities.

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