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7 Questions with Dante St James
7 Questions with Dante St James
Name: Dante St James
Current title: Digital Lead
Current organisation: Clickstarter
Dante St James is a Lead Trainer for Facebook Australia and the Blueprint Certified Trainer program, along with being an accredited advisor and presenter for the Australian Small Business Advisory Services Digital Solutions program. He contracts to the New Business Assistance with NEIS program for the Australian Government, founded his own digital services agency, Clickstarter and is the editor of The Small Marketer online magazine for guiding small businesses on the use of digital marketing.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
Maintaining an active pipeline, whilst being actively working on projects. And as part of this, understanding that economic downturns are not an adequate excuse for the pipeline drying up. If you're dependent upon one source of your pipeline for your revenue, then you're vulnerable to the shifts and changes of economic policy, global pandemics and other external factors. Keeping that pipeline primed and full of leads and prospects from many different directions is important for the resilience of the business.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
My last full-time job was with a company that had, in one year, shifted from lauding me as a golden child to wanting to push me out. After putting me in a position to protect the company's interests over the long term, I was suddenly at odds with sales teams nationally who were only interested in short term opportunities. It didn't take me long to realise that I had painted myself into a corner. The regional sales leaders had a very loud voice and I was just one lone voice. I was treated poorly and pushed out of the company rapidly after 13 years of service. I vowed to never work a full time job again. I also set up a direct competitor in one of their markets and, out of some kind of spite, proceeded to erode their revenue from that market. Then I went to another and another. At some point I forgot about why I had gone to those markets and matured enough to find my own lane. Now I have no idea what that company is doing in any markets because I am no longer interested in looking behind at where I had come from - I am looking ahead at where I am heading towards.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My first hour of the day is mine. I wake, I stretch, I walk, I spend a bit of time on the balcony watching the sunrise. I wake early because I value being ahead of the rest of the town. There is a unique perspective to watching a sunrise and witnessing a city waking up. It's like you're waking up with it gently, rather than suddenly running from home to work to having to jarr yourself into some kind of work mode. I work from home 50% of the time, and I travel with my business the other half of the time, so I try to maintain this morning habit wherever I happen to be. This means I miss most evening events, which is fine by me. I am at my most sharp in the morning, and at my most dull in the evening.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Understand that your greatest asset is how people remember you and your business. Even if the product or service didn't work for them, they'll remember how you tried to make things work or went beyond the call to ensure that they were ok. Even if you lose money on that client, you gain brand equity.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Creating a StoryBrand by Donald Miller. The prompt to understand that the customer is the hero, and that you are not, was humbling and enlightening. His methods of breaking down even the wireframe of a website into something that actually works for customers, rather than working for your own opinion of what "looks nice" has been a principle that I replicate with my clients time and again. It's like I knew all this stuff, but Miller's books gave me the methodology with which to execute that knowledge.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
Hire the right people and then get the heck out of their way. Let them find their own leadership style. Drop in every so often to help guide them where they need that guidance, but formalising leadership training or mentoring is cringe-worthy and doesn't suit the Australian way of doing business. We respect leaders who lead, not trainers who host leadership workshops.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
I recall a time when a manager of mine at my previous full-time job stood up for me in front of a hostile room of sales managers and explained my role, why I was a speed hump in their usual flow of work. He was in a hard position to back me and my role. The vibe of the room was against us, but he backed me, supported my arguments and put his own reputation on the line to show me that he was on my team. I always remember that as a time where, at least once, a leader didn't try to lead from the front, but saw a team member in trouble and actively got behind that team member and helped them to lead from the front themselves.