Sally Henderson
Powerful change from the inside out



How to help turn brilliant managers into effective leaders

Atif Sheikh, Founder & CEO of businessthreezero, on how to overcome an absence of bespoke leadership development

The son of a successful entrepreneur himself, Atif founded businessthreezero four years ago, supported by the advice of a coach who helped Atif keep his ambitions (and impatience) in check, along with the realisation that he had a strong network of potential clients and employees that would endorse him in a new venture.

Father of two young children and now with an established organisation winning exciting client contracts, Atif is keen to ensure that the business continues to grow commercially.  He believes there’s a straight-line relationship between growth and the personal development and growth of the team. With each employee getting better at what they do, taking on more responsibility and having more senior conversations, the better the work will be and the more clients will be won.

Key pieces of advice to evolve your leadership style?

1.       Leadership is about ‘horses for courses’ - there’s no perfect leader for every phase of anything. The required leader for a circumstance is determined by who is involved, what the situation is and what needs to be done. The context is constantly evolving especially with large change early on, whereby the role changes every six months and where the way you’ve being leading suddenly stops being effective. This is when it’s time to revaluate your leadership style.

2.       Recruit people that challenge you. Being the founder and CEO people can treat you like a god. We need to be challenged and to discover a bit of humility to be a strong leader. Reopen yourself up to what you’re not getting right and therefore need to change. As a leader, your job is to unleash your team, simple things help such as changing your language to ‘this is how you might want to think about it’ rather than ‘here’s the answer’.

3.       The realisation that the business will only grow if we all take it on our shoulders together. The person at the top can drive a business so far, but they need multiple people beyond that level to continue to drive it.

4.       Practise vulnerability. There’s a common leadership feeling of needing to be there for everybody, support everybody and take responsibility for everything.  Practise allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open up to your team, otherwise it can all become overwhelming very quickly.

5.       Keep going. There have been times when it has been tougher than usual, such as right after Brexit when a big client was lost and work went quiet for three months, which coincided with an intake of new hires. I went to a leadership conference and my name badge was missing making me feel about a centimetre tall. I suffered a huge crisis of confidence but after a few hours of time on my own re-evaluating the situation, I came back and told the team what had happened and how it’s vital to be kind to ourselves There’s a fine line between being authentic and vulnerable, and managing the pressure of needing to be being a constant source of confidence, clarity and direction.

How do you encourage leadership values within your team?

We’ve had a leadership development programme in place since year two for the team, because we knew it would take years to develop the next generation of leaders, so we wanted to start early,

Having leaders learn together about how to lead is important because it is a bit of a team sport, you do need to teach and educate, you do learn from other leaders who are next to you and who are your peers.

Leadership is a complex individual challenge which draws on individual drive and judgement. It’s important to have a shared definition about what you think leadership means. I think different organisations have different leadership philosophies, so you need some kind of shared construct, to understand what you mean by leadership and what’s expected. Particularly if you’re doing what we’re doing, which is taking quite young people, and training them to be leaders. You need to give them some core foundation stones.

“Don’t ever forget, no matter how well you hire, that it’s your responsibility to get the best possible performance out of those people”.

You can listen to the full recording with  Atif by subscribing to The Leadership Series Podcast on iTunes, visiting acast or Spotify.

 The Leadership Series Podcast is a weekly podcast, based around inspiring, honest conversations with interesting people in senior leadership roles, to help fellow leaders join in making the modern world of work, work.  Find out more at 

How are you and your senior team coping with finding the right leadership style for your current business needs? Do you find it easy to judge that line between being open to vulnerability and keeping a strong steer on the ship? If you are looking to maximise the leadership and energy of yourself and your senior team, drop Sally an email to find out more.


sally henderson