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What Leaders of Big Corporations Have to Learn From Start-Ups, according to Sattar Bawany

The CEO of the Centre for Executive Education says there's a few feathers to pick from the startup cap.

sattar Bawany wants to get one thing straight before diving into this month’s hot topic: all start-ups are small businesses but not all small businesses are start-ups. What defines a start-up or entrepreneur is the willingness to go forth into uncharted territory, guns blazing and passions overheating, surrounded by people who will follow them to the bitter (or sweet) end.

(RELATED: Can Singapore be the next Silicon Valley?)

It’s this infectious fervour that also distinguishes start-up businesses from large, established ones. “When people think of the start-up work culture, they imagine an office full of millennials running around in sneakers and jeans, scribbles on the walls, a break room full of snacks and a ping pong or foosball table,” says the CEO and C-Suite Executive Coach of the Centre for Executive Education. “They’re not wrong, but that’s the image of a tech start-up. Start-up culture in any industry is so much more than that, and it is based on the values and beliefs of the founder or core leadership team.”

(RELATED: Check out The Peak Power List 2014, where we celebrated resolve in the face of adversity and named 10 successful individuals that won out against all odds.)

When you get people to believe in your beliefs, the rest is smooth sailing, and it’s something MNCs need to learn. “The team at (online retailer) Zalora is a fine example. They have energy, passion and they want to make a difference in people’s lives. They are cooperative and always support one another,” he says. “The other quality that start-ups typically have is a relentless focus on success. Anything is possible to them. They will collaborate, they will work long hours, they will make their own rules and  then break them – whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Finally, he believes that start-ups can teach MNCs a thing or two about adaptability. “They thrive in chaos. They’re not afraid to reinvent themselves. They’re agile enough to manoeuvre this Vuca (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world,” he says.

Ultimately, it boils down to exemplary leadership. Under the right head, employees will never feel like they have to do something – they’ll want to do it.

“Define your purpose,” Bawany concludes. “Start with the ‘why’ of it all and see what you’re trying to accomplish and if your values are still relevant in this everchanging environment.”