Date posted: 21/02/2017 4 min read

Adam Jacobs’ keys to better leadership

THE ICONIC founder Adam Jacobs reveals the simple habits that can make you a better leader

In brief

  • Taking part in exercise first thing in the morning can set a positive tone for the day ahead
  • Constantly checking emails can be a drain on productivity
  • Forcing yourself to get up – even when your mind is telling you to keep sleeping – pays off

Adam Jacobs, founder of online Australian fashion/sportswear retail success story, THE ICONIC, leads by example – in business, and in life. Discover how the self-confessed night owl became more of a morning person, and why rising early to work out has benefited his career. And in case you missed it, don't forget to read our recent interview with Anna Lee CA about her role as CFO of THE ICONIC.


When are you at your most productive – morning or night?

Admittedly, I produce my best work at night – usually well past midnight! There’s something about sitting down at a desk, lighting a candle and putting on an album that can really stir creativity. I think you can just lose yourself in the stillness of the night and explore trains of thought that would otherwise be disturbed.

However, to keep up with the growth of THE ICONIC, I’ve had to switch from being a textbook “night owl” to becoming more of a morning person. I’ve found that regular exercise – choosing to swim or attend boot camp three to four mornings a week – has been life changing.

By forcing myself to keep that time sacred, it means I've also had to be more organised with the rest of my day. So, there are twin benefits to feeling fitter and healthier and being more in control of my time as my role and our company grows.

Regular exercise – choosing to swim or attend boot camp three to four mornings a week – has been life changing.
Adam Jacobs, founder, THE ICONIC.

I think the net result is somewhat confused – the mad scientist in me still loves those still nights but the realist in me loves those early mornings spent outdoors. Unfortunately, sleep seems to be getting squeezed in between.

What time does your alarm go off?

Right now, I wake up at 6.43am. I subscribe to the school of thought that if you set your alarm at odd times – like at 6.43am instead of 6.45am – you'll think you’ve cheated the clock a bit and feel that much better about getting up. No idea if it's a placebo effect, but it works.

How did you train yourself to be an early riser?

I would say that I’ve successfully trained myself to be an early riser – at least I’d consider 6.43am as “early” since I used to regularly work right through the night until 2am or 3am.

I have to admit that when I first started with morning boot camps it was fairly hard to keep getting up. But, as many of us already know, discipline isn’t something you have, it’s something you do. I found that with simple discipline, showing up to an early boot camp session soon turned into habit.

Basically, forcing yourself to get up – even when your mind is telling you to keep sleeping – pays off. Pretty soon, I found it easy to get up. Strangely, I almost felt worse if I wasn't getting up at that hour. It's amazing how fast we learn and adapt as humans.

What are the three things you like to do before your workday begins?

  1. Scour the news. I'm a bit of a news junkie. I have a crowd of news apps constantly saying things to me that, in tandem, can be loosely interpreted as reality has now become surreality”. 

  2. I typically like to shoot off a few phone, WhatsApp and Facebook messages to friends living abroad. When else do you get time in the day to do it? It means we have an ongoing conversation punctuated by daily intervals, which creates a lot of suspense for jokes that take a day to complete the punch line. But hey, some things are better slow!

  3. Take a shower. I've often said that our best thoughts happen in our dreams and in the shower. It's when the outside world leaves us alone for a minute and we can put things together.


Constantly checking emails can be a drain on productivity. How long after waking up do you like to check your email? Is this intentional?

I'd say I'm checking emails within 90 seconds of waking up. I would not say this is intentional. They're only a fingerprint and a tap away. Who wouldn't want to know what's been written to them while they've slept?

Of course, I am aware it's highly unhealthy to be checking emails at both immediate bookends of sleep, so maybe I'll try the brave step of putting my phone in another room. 


How important is it for you to maintain a routine, especially in the morning?

For me, taking part in exercise first thing in the morning is really important.

Outside of that though, routines can feel a bit like a trap to me. How much of what we do in life is autopilot, and how much of what we say is just repeating things we've heard or said before? Thinking of routines makes me think of hitting repeat, rather than exploring and building.

How many hours do you manage to sleep at night?

My goal is eight hours but I usually succeed in getting between six and seven. In the first few years of starting THE ICONIC – when we were in a true hyper-growth stage, starting from nothing to managing more than 200 staff – sleep was neglected.

I was establishing our warehouse operations every day from 6am-8pm, and then spending 9pm-2am in the office working on everything else. For about a year I consistently had three to four hours sleep, six days a week.

The world is built by people no smarter than you or I. That idea is hugely influential in how I think about building businesses.
Adam Jacobs, founder, THE ICONIC.

While I would not recommend this (my vitamin levels suffered), my body adapted to it very quickly and I was operating fine on that amount of sleep. It seems from that “experiment” that the important thing is consistency in amount of sleep and waking times, rather than the quantity.

What would you say to those who aren’t ‘morning people’?

Eat some eggs! You can't be unhappy after some delicious runny eggs with avocado, cherry tomatoes, feta and mint – it's the best!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Steve Jobs once made the point that the world is built by people no smarter than you or I. That idea is hugely influential in how I think about building businesses that positively impact existing systems of industry and society.