Pragmatic Dreamers | The Harsh Truths of Leadership

The world belongs to those who dare to dream. When I read memoirs of world leaders and entrepreneurs, I am often struck by the sense of idealism they all embody in their early years. Perhaps it is fuelled by youthful exuberance, perhaps it stems from growing up in a sheltered environment, and perhaps too many just give up whenever things get tough.

The one trait that distinguishes those who dream from those who do–is that when push comes to shove, they surrender their long held ideals to deal with pragmatic realities. At some point in our lives, we all have to realise that life is filled with bitter and hard truths.

Reality tests us to see if we’re really worthy of the ideals we hold close to our heart. I have been following Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership journey in Myanmar for years now. She has gone from media darling to villain to ‘Myanmar’s greatest hope‘. The environment we find ourselves in can throw us punches, give us a hug and even put us in prison as we fight simply for the right to exist. How many of us have the stomach for that kind of journey?

World politics aside, I am always in awe of the all powerful zero. It is what new business owners and leaders of new countries start with. As their ideals temper, they realise that creating their ideals in reality is far tougher than just having them. The world will not bend to your will. Your will has to be strong enough to thrive in a competitive world.

Recently, I had many lovely opportunities to converse with Dipa Sanatani. She is the Publisher at Mith Books and the author of two fantastic books. I was particularly mesmerised by her second book and non-fiction debut The Merchant of Stories. In her book, she narrates a personal account of what it takes to start a business from scratch. Without financial acumen and astuteness, no business will ever stay afloat. In this interview, I speak with her on the pragmatism it takes to build a business that lasts.

Eugene: First things first, let’s talk about the customer. Without a customer, there is no sale and no real reason for a business to exist. How do you define who your customer is?

Dipa: First of all, I think the entrepreneur needs to be clear on the mission of the business itself. Who are they trying to reach and how are they going to reach them? Is it a physical product; is it a service—or is it both? For most businesses these days, I’d say it’s a bit of both. Then we have to break it down even further. For instance, if a business is offering a service—is it offering one-on-one coaching, workshops or an online self-guided course? We need to be specific in what we’re doing and who we’re doing it for.

In my experience, I’ve found that most businesses start off niche. Before a business can reach a general audience, it must first serve the needs of a select group of people. As a book publisher in the spirituality and cultural heritage genres; there are a wide variety of people with different interests.

For instance, in my work as an author and spiritual practitioner, I focus on ancient cosmology and mythological archetypes. But then there are others in the same space who specialise in working with spirit animals, past life regression, feng shui etc. The list is endless.

By understanding where a business would like to focus their energy and the impact they wish to make—he or she will be one step closer to identifying their customer and providing them with a service or product they need.

Eugene: One in five businesses will fail in the first year. What advice do you have for people in their early days who do not want to be a part of this staggering statistic?

Dipa: From an accounting perspective, a business is an entity that is engaged in commercial, industrial, or professional activities. Businesses can be for-profit or they can be non-profit i.e. a charity or a social impact cause. Businesses can also differ widely in range and scale: from a sole proprietorship to an international corporation. From both a legal and accounting standpoint, a sole proprietorship is very different from a large corporation.

The trend I’ve noted is that many people feel held back or end up getting stuck because they either do not possess the necessary business knowledge or simply don’t value investing in their own financial education. The first thing I would recommend to anyone thinking of starting any kind of business would be to hire an accountant, a lawyer; or both.

Once that’s done, it is needless to say that every entrepreneur will undoubtedly face limitations as they build their business. Some of these will be external and some of these will be internal. For an entrepreneur to build a successful business, they will have to overcome or manage these external and internal challenges in a resourceful manner.

Dipa Sanatani by Singapore’s Iconic Marina Bay Sands

Eugene: Many entrepreneurs and leaders start off with ideals that later get squashed. What do you think gets in the way of them actualising their dreams?

Dipa: To me, entrepreneurship—and by extension leadership— is about the efficient management of resources (labour, capital, skills and time) to benefit a maximum number of people possible.  

Is the business you’re running a for-profit or a non-profit? That will establish the purpose of the resources that an entrepreneur has under their care. Even if it is a non-profit organisation, an entrepreneur will still need to manage the resources that are under his or her stewardship.

In addition to being a trained accountant, I was an educator for four years. I am familiar with the business model that schools and educational providers use to generate revenue and manage expenses. From a budgetary perspective, a government-funded school (which is a non-profit) operates in an entirely different way to a private school. Similarly, a corporation will have a different budget (and purpose) for training their staff—as opposed to an individual who has decided to study a subject for the purpose of pleasure.

The key here would be to identify why a customer or a client is requesting a particular service—and what they are willing and able to pay for a particular service. It really boils down to understanding your clientele and having a firm grip on the math of how an enterprise actually works.

Eugene: You often say that we can’t please everybody and nor should we even try. How do you balance that with providing excellent customer service?

Dipa: There is one perennial truth that I learnt when I was an educator. A teacher cannot teach a student anything; all a teacher can do is provide a student with the tools they need to discover something within them that was there all along.

Another thing that’s really important is understanding that different people have different motivations and goals. Some may just be studying to pass their exams. Others may be looking to make progress in their careers. Another group may find joy and pleasure in studying the subject—but perhaps their grades are not great and they’re not ‘serious’ about what they’re doing.

Everyone has different goals and faces different challenges.

Similarly, a client who comes to me for a business consultation on how to improve the financial fundamentals of their business is different to someone who’s interested in a tarot reading on how they may improve their business. We need to be active listeners who empathise with our clients to help them reach their goals.

But one thing is for sure; you simply cannot work with anyone who has no interest or doesn’t believe in the value of your work. Whether your area of business is Accounting or Astrology—it is simply impossible to work with someone who does not see value in what you provide.  

If you ask me, the key to success comes down to focus. By focusing your energy on those who value you and what you provide; you will be setting yourself up for success.  


11 thoughts on “Pragmatic Dreamers | The Harsh Truths of Leadership

  1. The world belongs to those who dream… and who have the courage to make them a reality. World leaders are ready to lay their lives down for their ideals. All business owners must be made of metal.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Entrepreneurship—and by extension leadership— is about the efficient management of resources (labour, capital, skills and time) to benefit a maximum number of people possible.”

    I think these days people just think entrepreneurship is about chasing their dreams. And they wonder why they never achieve anything.

    Liked by 1 person

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