The Enthusiastic Leader

Updated on 12 December 2016

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Every month SME South Africa will be interviewing some of South Africa’s leading business people to share their insights on leadership and strategy. 

Steven Cohen is introduced to us as something of a rock star. Many in his office had a story to share with us about how different he is from the typical founder/CEO, and we heard even more stories about the enthusiasm he injects in his employees.

That Cohen is the co-founder of Sage, a market leader for integrated accounting, payroll, and payment systems focused on the SME market, piqued our interest and we had to meet the man himself to find out his secret for inspiring the kind of excitement that he does.

Cohen is the head of Sage One International and oversees the growth and development of Sage’s cloud-based accounting and payroll solutions in Africa, Australia, Middle East, Asia and Brazil.

Cohen co-founded Softline Group, a business software company, together with partners Ivan Epstein and Alan Osrin. The company was listed on the JSE Securities Exchange South Africa in February 1997, and delisted in 2003. It was then acquired by The Sage Group plc in 2003. Softline changed its name to Sage in February 2013.

Today they have a team of 13,000 across 23 countries and Sage plc is listed on the FTSE 100.

SME South Africa speaks to Cohen about finding the fun in work and choosing the kind of leader you want to be.

LESSON ONE: Lead by example

“I am very aware of the challenges that my people feel,” says Cohen who says he prefers the term “my people” to staff, especially in helping to foster a collaborative environment. This comes down to having empathy for your team, says Cohen.

Watch: Steven Cohen on why his leadership style is about being part of the team and connecting with his staff.

LESSON TWO: Help your people find the joy in coming to work 

Fun and work do not have to be mutually exclusive, says Cohen, who adds that it is the employer’s job to ensure that their employees enjoy coming to work. “We have a lot of fun, but they also know that I have a keen eye for detail.”

Watch: Sage founder shares his thoughts on making an impact and changing people’s lives.

LESSON THREE: Diverse teams work

We don’t run a silo organisation, says Cohen. Which is why they work to ensure that there are no barriers to cooperation.

Watch: Sage founder, Steven Cohen on why a diverse workforce is good for business.

LESSON FOUR: Leadership is its own kind of journey
His journey to becoming a leader was never a clear cut one says Cohen, who adds that he has always hated planning. “My anxiety was always around what our customers thought of us and what our people thought of the business.”

Watch: Steven Cohen on why self-awareness and finding peace are the first steps to becoming a great leader.

LESSON FIVE: Make a difference
The goal, says Cohen, was always to have an impact on other people. “The only reason that we can be here on this planet is for the difference we make to other people.” What is not talked about often enough is that you get fulfillment from doing good, he adds.

Watch: Steven Cohen on the one thing he hopes to achieve as a leader.

LESSON SIX: Find something that drives you
It’s his love for software that continues to drive him to this day, says Cohen. “I do enjoy creating cool products,” he says, “for me software is like art.”

Watch: Steven Cohen on what still excites him about his work.

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