At each business stage, leaders face new challenges and complexity. The Herculean effort to launch and grow a business to $1m revenue is different for CEOs, entrepreneurs, founders, key staff members, and investors than when operating at $5m. It follows that the level of challenge and complexity at $250m is different than at $500m. At each stage, you’ll experience a breakdown in the systems and processes that allowed you to more easily make it to this point – to put it simply, what worked to get you here won’t work to get you there.
Along the way, you accumulated multiple systems, developed workarounds, and put a few band-aids on any process that became strained with growth. At each stage of your business, you’ll experience stress on previous systems and processes. Whatever you did last year won’t get you to your next year plan, your 3-5 year targets, or your longer-term BHAG without a whole lot of sweat – and likely, not at all. To grow to the next level, you have to (once again) streamline your systems, processes, and reassess your talent. You cannot rely on memory, paper, or the systems that you used earlier in your career or business.
I’ve observed eight specific habits exhibited by successful leaders and CEOs as measured by consistent revenue and profit growth (fueling greater community impact), and each can be learned by anyone. Develop the following habits and you’ll be on your way to continued growth.
Here is each habit, in a specific order, with a brief explanation:
- Listen. The focus required in startup mode requires keeping your head down and your working hours up. Because you get used to such intense focus on getting things done, you likely haven’t exercised the habit of looking up and opening your ears. The bigger your company, the more sweat it takes to maintain your momentum. You must make listening a priority. Turn off your inner voice so you can be in the flow with the other person talking – so you can really hear what they are saying. Your questions and interaction should indicate that you’ve been listening and may reflect back some of what was said. This is just one way to exhibit that you’ve been listening and let people truly feel heard. It also allows you to target future leaders as your business grows.
- Care. In my experience working with CEOs and founding entrepreneurs, I find that (most) everyone says that their team is important and that they care. It’s much less often, even rare, that I see it exhibited consistently. Don’t expect dedication to the company without your showing compassion and empathy for your team. Ask yourself, “As a leader, what am I doing to bring out the best in each team member?” Do you celebrate the success of your team members' work and home life?
- Communicate Clearly and Often. Team members will not work at their best when they feel isolated from important information. The outcome will, in fact, be the opposite, and you’ll see team morale disintegrate. It’s easy enough to communicate with only 5 team members. It’s exponentially harder as you grow to 10-50-100-500 employees. Communicating clearly and often will help create a culture where your department leaders do the same. One company that I’ve worked with says it this way: communicate, communicate, communicate. Push your leadership message until you’re tired of hearing it yourself – and then, push it some more.
- Think Hard. When teams are reactive, there is unneeded waste, frustration, and pressure. Leverage your team’s brainpower before taking action. For long-term planning, leverage their thinking on revenue-generating ideas, or Winning Moves. For annual planning, consider a questionnaire and/or Start, Stop, Keep exercise in advance. This allows you to till the ground of their minds. For quarterly issues, plan 2+ hour monthly meetings to harness team brainpower. On a consistent basis, consider CANI (Continuous and Never-ending Improvements) meetings to rout out waste while you grow.
I remember one client CEO who mentioned that he didn’t know how we would fill 2 days of scheduled planning. Afterwards, he said that we could have taken 3 days for the great conversations that his team had and that he was exhausted from all the thinking. Use a process regularly to think through the important opportunities and challenges of your business. These Think meetings will reduce team perspiration and allow faster growth.
- Plan Often and Share the Plan. You spend money daily as talented people expend effort. “A” Players expending effort without clear direction is a fast path to lost profit (or worse). There is much less sweat when your time is invested up front to plan and account for obstacles. Have team members set milestones together and make sure the team knows how to work together.
Today I spoke with a CEO who was experiencing stress between managers. His company had a large client that was managed by one department we’ll call “engineering.” As the client learned of other services provided, they engaged another department for additional services. The engineering department revenue dropped as a result while the other department revenue increased. Overall, the company gained over 24% additional revenue from this one client. The engineering manager did not have a company level plan view and therefore experienced this department revenue loss as a negative. You’ll sweat a lot if your leaders don’t have a view of the company level plan.
- Do the Work. Expecting results without a scoreboard never works long term. You may have heard the old adage, “Have clear expectations and inspect what you expect.” Allowing a haphazard approach to doing work will derail your team. Incredible bosses know how to get the right people managing the right tasks so team members are utilized for their highest and best use.
Expect your company to grow so fast that you won’t have time or energy to create complete and up-to-date processes and procedures. You’ll have to count on team members to make smart adjustments while in flight. Hiring great talent is a given to make this happen (and the topic of another blog).
- Empower Decisions. A team dependent upon its leader for decisions will move slowly or even stall. Incredible bosses give power to the team members through information and expectations. Each person is given the authority to make critical decisions and the confidence to know whether he or she is right. You must teach others to make decisions on their own and then let them own the decision. As a basic framework, here is an approach: Have them determine the problem, offer possible causes, recommend every possible solution, and finally make a recommendation. You should coach and mentor at each step as needed.
- Motivate and Inspire. Money is not a sufficient motivator for top talent. Incredible bosses know that a clear vision, consistent examples and meaningful accomplishment are the key components for inspiration among the team. Begin with a clear company core purpose, core values, and a BHAG to inspire.
Begin to listen, care, communicate clearly and often, think hard, practice planning often and sharing the plan, do the work, empower decisions, motivate and inspire and you’ll develop habits to help you navigate each new business challenge. You’ll be prepared for your first ceiling of complexity. Do this with your current team and you’ve better prepared future leaders, ensuring that they can grow with you and your business. Although your previous systems and processes that worked, now won’t, you’ll have a framework (and habits) that are timeless!
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