Kubair Shirazee is a startup expert with a history of building businesses to sell on. He uses his wealth of experience to coach individuals and businesses on adopting Agile principles, values and using agile ways of working for defining and meeting outcomes through his company AgiliTea. Kubair is also the co-founder of Peace Through Prosperity, a self-funded charity which enables and empowers individuals from marginalised communities to use their skills for personal and community development.
Could you please share a bit about yourself, your background, and the journey that has led you to become an entrepreneur? What makes your perspective unique on the subject of leadership and navigating uncertainty?
My childhood was spent in Britain, Pakistan and UAE, so I had a rich and varied upbringing which I am forever grateful for. As a teenager I developed a passion for politics, but I also focused on academic success and entrepreneurialism and by the age of just 23 I had graduated from City University in London and already launched and sold my first startup - UKGunindex.com - an outdoor sport online portal. My passion for politics remained, though, and I believe my sense of justice guides much of my business life and many business decisions. In my mid-20s I founded Ikonami Ltd - a healthcare-focused company that brought a number of successful digital products to market in the UK. Ikonami played a significant part in the implementation of NHS’s Agenda for Change, by introducing Agile principles, values and frameworks to the Department of Health and the NHS. My business success continued, but in 2010 a personal tragedy pivoted my raison d'etre. My brother Abid was murdered by extremists in Pakistan. This tragedy re-awakened a commitment to social justice and a desire to understand the motives. In an uncertain world I set about researching the motives and causes of extremism and terrorism through primary and secondary research including interviews with individuals holding extremist views or positions. It was this experience which prompted me to co-found Peace Through Prosperity with my wife Sahar Zaidi-Shirazee - a not-for-profit enterprise enabling micro entrepreneurs from marginalised groups to work their way out of poverty and away from vulnerability to radicalisation.
You and your business have presumably faced some interesting challenges and changes over the years. Can you describe a key moment when you felt uncertainty was at its peak?
On top of the list it would have to be 2010. Facing an existential threat I had to reflect, prioritise and pivot to what is of greater value, my world had changed, and our world needed to change. The decision would impact 80 odd people employed between two countries in two interconnected businesses, 500+ hospitals and close to 1.3 million users of our products and services. Not to mention years of close relationships, clients, users, and stakeholders, many of whom I still count amongst close friends. I led with transparency, informed all stakeholders that would be impacted by my decision to exit and pivot, we had many long, many short one to one discussions, I was transparent about my motivations, shared what their future looked like, my commitment to finding that right partner to sell to, shared what my own journey would look like and the vision to bring social transformation to life. With continuity of relationships, services and their growth prioritised, I was able to amicably exit and retain the majority of those relationships to date.
From your experience, what are the core principles or values that guide a leader during uncertain times?
As a leader, I expect courage from leaders to have transparent conversations that are respectful of people, focused on learning and demonstrate their commitment towards the continuous improvement of all concerned. In uncertain times, I've found that the principles of transparency, respect, a focus on learning, and ongoing improvement are vital for my decision-making:
1. Transparency: By prioritising open dialogue, I ensure that all stakeholders are well-informed, which builds trust and reduces misunderstandings. Feedback has been key for refining my choices. This is easier said than done, these can be difficult, yet necessary, conversations.
2. Respect for People: By valuing everyone, I foster a collaborative environment. When people feel respected, they offer valuable insights, leading to more informed decisions on my part.
3. Learning Focus: I view challenges as opportunities for growth, allowing me to adapt my decisions based on new insights.
4. Ongoing Improvement: I see decisions as part of a continuous improvement process. By always seeking ways to improve, I ensure that I remain agile in my approach. In essence, these principles have helped me foster trust, teamwork, adaptability, and resilience, all of which are crucial for making sound decisions during uncertain times.
How do you cultivate a culture of resilience and adaptability within your team? Can you share a practical example where this culture made a significant difference?
Fostering a resilient and adaptable culture in my team involves:
1. Leading from the front, and by example: I navigate challenges with positivity and adaptability, setting a standard for my team. I don’t expect and accept anyone to do anything I am not prepared to do myself.
2. Continuous Learning: I instil a growth mindset and provide training and resources, turning challenges into learning opportunities. I ensure everyone is afforded equal opportunities to learn and grow.
3. Open Communication: I ensure an open dialogue environment, holding regular check-ins to address any concerns, with teams and individuals, I keep a pulse of my team’s emotional state and address it directly.
4. Celebrating Wins: I highlight small achievements to boost morale and underscore the importance of adaptability. I call out people who go above and beyond, and encourage those who are uncomfortable to leave their comfort zones.
5. Providing Support: I equip my team with the necessary resources, from mentorship, coaching to mental health apps and tools.
6. Encouraging Innovation: I allow my team to experiment with new ideas, fostering adaptability through trial and error, I celebrate failure.
7. Being Patient: I understand that growth and change take time, so I exercise patience, allowing my team space to learn and evolve at their own pace, and communicate this to them regularly.
Many aspiring leaders struggle with the fear of failure, especially when the path ahead is unclear. What strategies or mental frameworks have you developed to overcome this fear and embrace uncertainty as an opportunity?
In essence, embracing uncertainty requires a paradigm shift. Accept uncertainty and view challenges as opportunities, equipping oneself with the right tools and mindset, leaders can navigate the unknown with confidence and grace. We will all have our own mix of strategies and frameworks that work for us, we’re all unique and thereby our strategies too will be unique. Navigating the fear of failure and uncertainty is a challenge we all face, here's how I approach it:
● Growth Mindset: I see challenges as chances to learn. Mistakes become valuable feedback, not setbacks. I make the possibility of failure transparent to all involved, committed and concerned.
● Reframe Challenges: I view uncertainty as an opportunity, I’ve found this approach leads to innovation and growth. Explore the multitudes of dimensions in context to the uncertainty.
● Accept Imperfections: I know I'm not perfect. I embrace mistakes as part of the learning journey. ‘Good is good enough’! Lead with that, inspect and adapt.
● Risk Assessment: Before making a decision I weigh risks and benefits, preparing for worst-case scenarios, and don’t be afraid to involve others in the process.
● Visualisation: I picture success and the path to get there, I draw it out through analogue visualisation.
● Mentorship: I seek guidance from experienced mentors to gain insights.
● Feedback: I value feedback, using it to refine my approach and gain clarity. Inviting others critics and active listening is key.
● Stay Positive: I surround myself with positivity and avoid constant negativity. We all have our own dark clouds, accepting them and learning to navigate and channel them is key.
● Mindfulness: I practise mindfulness to stay grounded and tackle challenges calmly.
● Celebrate Wins: I acknowledge and celebrate victories, and failures!
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes leaders make during uncertain times? Can you offer a real-life example where recognizing and avoiding such a mistake led to success?
When I launched Peace Through Prosperity in Pakistan I recruited from the leading academic institutions. I sought out highly educated and dynamic candidates, the real ‘cream of the crop’ to join our team and bring our programmes to life. My four winning candidates went through three months of training and were all high-flyers, but when it came to entering the communities we wanted to work in, they were too afraid. They could do on paper what they were not willing to do in reality. I needed people not just to deliver the programmes but to understand what life was like for those we were helping and build relationships with those communities as coaches, mentors and consultants. When they realised the localities they would be working in - deprived areas, high crime rates and presence of extremist organisations - all four resigned. I had to rethink my recruiting strategy. This time I went directly to the communities we would be working in and with. I sought out literate candidates, but more High School level than graduates. I recruited people who not only had the intellectual capacity, but the learned experience of living in marginalised communities. The four successful candidates who joined our team, did and continue to do amazing work, and are still with us 12 years later! The mistake I made was thinking academic achievements could outweigh experiential ones. That agents of change can be parachuted in as opposed to being nurtured from within. I won’t make that mistake again. It is as much about the person, and their intrinsic motivations as their academic prowess.
Looking towards the future, how do you plan to continue evolving your leadership style to meet new uncertainties and challenges? What advice would you give to others looking to do the same?
In the face of an ever-changing landscape, I plan to continuously evolve my leadership style by embracing a growth mindset, actively seeking feedback, and prioritising open communication. I've learned the importance of viewing challenges as opportunities and the value of adaptability. For others looking to navigate uncertainties, my advice is to remain patient, invest in continuous learning, and surround yourself with diverse perspectives. Remember, every challenge presents a chance to learn and grow. Embrace it.
You've clearly demonstrated a willingness to learn and grow through experience. Are there any books, mentors, or resources that have particularly influenced your leadership style? How would you recommend others to approach their leadership development journey?
Finding and convincing the right individuals to share their valuable time to mentor, coach, guide and be committed is a tall task. While some mentors shied away calling me too ‘free spirited’ others have remained committed over decades and their guidance has proven to be indispensable in my journey. A good mentor has the courage to have transparent, respectful conversations that remain focused on our continuous improvement. I have been fortunate to have a few good mentors in my corner over the years guiding and facilitating me achieve my target outcomes. Once you’re afforded the privilege of having good mentors, it is essential that you give back as much if not more. I have been told that my mentoring has been key for many successes my peers have achieved and that makes me immensely proud and privileged to enable and facilitate others to achieve their outcomes.
For those who want to learn more about your leadership philosophy or explore the products and services offered by your company, what's the best way to connect with you or find out more about your work?
LinkedIn: Kubair Shirazee Twitter: @kubair