By Dr. James Eyring, Chief Operating Officer, Organisation Solutions
Start-ups often have entrepreneurial leaders with a vision they want to achieve and a passion to grow their companies. Microsoft had Paul Allen and Bill Gates, Google has Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Tesla has Elon Musk. These leaders innovate, take risks, and drive to achieve results beyond what others expect. They push themselves and their companies to the edge for growth.
These companies also develop leaders at different levels down through their organisations to drive growth. Like their entrepreneurial CEOs, these growth leaders have edge. They innovate, create business models that challenge the marketplace, and drive the organisation to take risks and grow. They build the capabilities and culture needed to deliver on their growth promise.
Growth leaders think, lead others, and drive the business differently than slower growth leaders. Research on entrepreneurs, high-growth leaders, and innovation point to some of the capabilities that make these leaders successful. Here are three things that growth leaders do differently to other leaders.
- Ambidextrous.Growth leaders practice both exploit and explore leadership. Exploit leaders focus is on execution; they use current resources and products to improve performance.They drive profits by selling existing products to new customers or by improving processes to lower costs and improve margins.
Explore leaders focus on innovation; finding new opportunities for the business. They drive growth by introducing new products or services, moving into adjacent markets, or creating new business models.
Growth leaders have both exploit and explore capabilities. For instance, Apple creates new products and services while working with their supply chain to drive efficiency and lower costs. Research shows that companies that master both exploit and explore leadership outperform other companies. To succeed, companies need to build leaders with both sets of capabilities.
- Disruptive.Growth leaders are disruptive.They push others to change, drive new business models, and push people to exceed expectations. In driving their growth agenda, they may disrupt support functions by placing more demands on them than they can handle.
Often, these disruptive leaders cultivate a growth mindset. They set targets above what the company expects and raise standards as these are achieved. Google has institutionalised this by constantly challenging their teams to look for 10x revenue growth. This pressure can sometimes lead to resistance when others feel they have pushed too far. To succeed, companies need leaders who are disruptive and who also practice Intelligent Restraint.
- Scale for Growth.Disruptive leaders with a growth mindset set seemingly impossible goals.However, they also quickly build capabilities needed to fuel that growth. While driving current performance, they put plans in place to ramp up hiring, people capabilities, processes and systems to enable their growth goals.They lay tracks for future growth as they drive the train.
Leaders scale for growth by building capabilities. They also focus employee effort towards a few key priorities. For example, Facebook helps scale for growth by limiting the number of priorities they tackle. They even have ‘unpriorities’ that are important, but they consciously choose not to pursue, so that they can devote resources on their key focus areas.
Growth leaders have edge. They set increasingly difficult challenges for their organisations. They pursue many opportunities for growth, including exploit and explore innovation. They build capabilities the organisation needs to achieve these goals. Unfortunately, most companies don’t look for leaders with this edge and some even discourage or fire leaders that push the organisation.
These are just a few of the capabilities that differentiate high-growth leaders from average and low growth leaders. To develop growth leaders, start by understanding all of the capabilities of high-growth leaders and by identifying those most important for your company. Then, examine how to better assess and develop growth leadership within your company.
For more information, please see our Talent Quarterly article - Ready, Set, Grow , watch the webinar, or contact us for more information.
Dr. James Eyring is the Chief Operating Officer of Organisation Solutions and leads the global consulting practice. In addition, he specialises in leadership and talent management and works with companies and executives to build capabilities they need to fuel future growth. As part of his role, he provides coaching to global and top regional leaders. Contact James