CEO Focus: Neil Robinson, Relate

Neil Robinson is CEO of Relate, a 100% not-for-profit social enterprise that creates income opportunities in local communities to make beaded bracelets. To date, the enterprise has raised over R46-million for social upliftment.

What makes an ideal CEO?

Vision, emotional intelligence, intuition, humility, an ability to get the right team on the bus (i.e. surround yourself with the right team), and a bit of sheer luck.

Is there any ideal preparation or learning a prospective or aspirant CEO should focus on?

They need to be passionate about the organisation they are leading and great communication skills (in order to sell in the vision) and to be able to get the team to work for each other for the greater good of the company.

What do you believe is the key to striking the right balance as a leader between being a visionary, an expert in your field, or an all-rounder?

I think it’s a bit of balance. The main thing is that no matter how specialist you are in your field, if you can’t rally and motivate people – including stakeholders – around a common cause no matter how much of an expert you are, very few will be passionate about where the business is going. For me, communicating and getting stakeholders excited about what the future holds – and the belief around the ability for the company to deliver on those goals – is the leader’s number one role.

For me, communicating and getting stakeholders excited about what the future holds – and the belief around the ability for the company to deliver on those goals – is the leader’s number one role.” – Neil Robinson, Relate

What advice do you have for young CEOs in terms of coping with the immense pressure and expectations that will be placed on them?

Be passionate about what you do and believe in your brand or company. You cannot ‘sell / build’ something which you do not believe in. Unfortunately, luck and timing also play a role in business so try your best and do not be too hard on yourself.

What are your personal leadership secrets?

Think long-term (short-term thinking never works in trying to deliver QTR results).  Have a defined / achievable goal – stick to it and get everyone behind it. Have fun while you work hard.  Life should not be dull and boring.

What has been the most important lesson you have learned in your career as a leader?

You will NEVER please everyone. Back yourself, believe in your ability to deliver results and value long term. Strategy is about picking the one scalable BIG thing and saying NO to the other 100 things that cross your desk.

How important has mentoring been to you in your career, and have you been able to mentor others?

Yes, it’s hugely important. Try to get advice from as many sources as possible in as many diverse backgrounds as possible. Learning is vital in leadership (none of us are perfect and will never be).  I try and impart to others what I have learnt through experience / lessons in succeeding and failing).

Any advice for leaders in terms of the mentoring relationship?

Use personal / first-hand experience. Practical knowledge helps far more than theoretical bumf.

Any other comments about leaders, leadership or anecdotes from your career that might offer a lesson or insight for other leaders or aspiring leaders?

In whatever you do, try to make the world better for people – in whatever product or service your business deliverers. Shareholder value should only be a part of the equation – not the be all and end all!