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Tales of Our Time: Battling through isn’t good for you

This piece by Michael Hayman originally appeared in Country & Town House, January edition, see here

‘What do you mean, I am not actually a general?’ Incredulity from John Vincent, the co-founder of Leon, the healthy fast food business. The response provoked by a home truth shared that the life of an entrepreneur is very different to a life fighting on the front line. On being faced with this wisdom he thought carefully before his considered response, which was: ‘Are you sure?’.

He shares the anecdote as part of an interview I conducted with him about a new book he has co-authored, Winning Not Fighting. In time Vincent would come to desert the military as a metaphor for a life in business and it is this honourable discharge that he believes has been the source of his success since.

His message is that business has wrapped itself in the language of the battlefield and that this is stressing us out. He makes the point that the very word strategy — much loved in the boardroom — comes from the word ‘general’ in Greek and with it war as the predominant metaphor for describing business and ‘creating the fear’ — the number one way of inflaming consumer demand.

The result is a stressed-out experience for all involved. He draws inspiration from the ancient martial art of Wing Tsun, which provided him with the insight that fighting and winning are two very different things.

It is when you consider the effects of this approach on his business, Leon, that the argument is at its most persuasive. Since co-founding the firm in 2004 it has gone on to become one of the fastest growing food businesses in the country.

Given the speed of its ascent, it’s curious that a key message for Vincent rests on taking your time and enjoying life. But in applying this he found the business became not only much more fun but also more productive. So much so that he claims that, ‘all the great things that have happened in Leon have happened because we have stayed relaxed’.

But taking your time is easier said than done. Not least because the battleground has gone online. It puts Vincent’s laid-back message under stress as we struggle with the digital pressure cooker that increasingly controls so much of our lives.

But here’s the thing, in years to come our children will look back at this as a quiet and slow-moving time in the human experience. So, learning to surf the wave of change is absolutely crucial if we don’t want to be drowned by it. Vincent is adamant that to break the cycle we have to reject the idea of force as the route to success, with gentler lessons that inspire positivity, simplicity and, ultimately, wholeness.

Vincent is the very definition of ebullient positivity and I pose a final question to him that martial arts may have its doubters as a code for life. He answers, ‘I’m not going to overplay Wing Tsun. It’s just the solution to all of our problems.’ A suitable time to end hostilities.

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