The next stage of growth for your business is likely to result from you doing something differently as leader. So, what do you want from your business? And what does your business need from you?

This was the theme we explored in our first workshop in the second series of Cog:ent – quarterly thought leadership workshops for ambitious business owners in the Thames Valley. The theme was brought to life by interviewing the founder of a specialist contractor, whose business has grown from £5m to £10 over the last two years. This blog summarises the learning from those who participated in the workshop.

Over the years, alongside our work with large multinational organisations, we have been lucky enough to experience, observe and explore the journeys of over 600 ambitious business owners. Across those journeys there seem to be some common and interesting themes that differentiate those who lead successful, thriving businesses from those who struggle.

Developing the right mind-set

Somewhere on the journey, and before each and every stage of a business’s development, the leader’s narrative seems to shift. Frequently, before growth people say things like “I struggle to find the right people; my team is loyal but lacks the drive I now need”. After growth has occurred, and as a result of lessons they have learned, we hear people saying “I would have employed better people earlier on and let them get on with it”.

Consequently, we are intrigued by what creates this difference in thinking. It is often traced to a strong need to move away from something (“I’ve had enough of this”) combined with a desire to move towards something (“I want a more profitable business”) and a clear first course of action to enable the shift (“I need to get in an FD”).

What does success look and feel like for you? And, what is the mind-set you need to adopt, in order to lead your business towards this?

Doing the right things

We also see these leaders doing things a little differently. They move away from “I’m spending 60-70 hours a week working, it’s relentless” towards realising that “Some of the most valuable time I spend in the business is staring at a blank wall”. Successful leaders spend time outside their business with customers and the industry opening up connections, creating direction with a clear vision of success, nurturing and inspiring a culture with competitive advantage and building a team around them to manage and run the business and the people. They see this as their valuable contribution to the business and recognise that they need to spread their attention and energy across the right things.

Where are you placing your energy and attention? How is it influencing the success of your business?

Evolving and maturing the business

As the business grows, successful leaders enable the business to mature around them – grow up, rather than just grow. This typically requires a move away from everyone doing everything (the one man band) to increasing areas of specialisation and professionalism (creating an orchestra). Each move lessens the reliance upon the founder. Each transition is managed deliberately and effectively.

What is the context in which your business is operating? What is the shift required for your business to survive and thrive?

Learn to let go and evolve your role

Each stage in the development of a business requires the founder to adopt a different role, appropriate to the stage of growth. Activities need to be delegated and freeing up time in this way means that the founder can take on new roles. Successful leaders understand how their role needs to shift and adapt and are clear on where they can and want to add value.

Where are you in your leadership journey? What do you need to let go of? Where can you add most value next?

Build a team for tomorrow, not just today

Once you have established where you can add real value and what role you need to play, consider who you need in your team. This is perhaps the most crucial element of leading your business. Successful leaders recognise the importance of ensuring the right people are on the bus, and this often requires the need to confront the ‘wrong’ people. That does not mean they are bad people who perform badly, more that the business needs skills and capabilities in the future that it currently does not possess. That’s why, in successful journeys, we observe leaders recruiting people who are more experienced and more capable than themselves.

If you were already successful, what would your team look like? To achieve your ambition, who do you need in your team?

New ways need new behaviours

It is often said that a leopard cannot change its spots. But we have observed many successful ambitious business owners change their behaviours (not their values) in a way that is more conducive for the next stage of growth. Sure, old habits pop up time and again, but an approach that moves away from ‘driving the business and leading by example’ often evolves into ‘a more enabling and empowering approach that recognises the value of coaching and supporting people’ in the business. In short, they recognise that they don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and decisions.

How are your current leadership behaviours influencing the success of the business? What needs to change to unlock the next stage of growth?

Easy to say, but difficult to do

The need to align your business goals with your personal goals is an ongoing, dynamic challenge. The various roles that you play in life do not always interact neatly with each other. Frequently, they are a tangled mess! Successful leaders seem to have a canny knack of aligning these interests more effectively so that they work with, rather than against each other.

How are your various roles influencing your business transition? How could your business transition fit more with your personal goals?

Having explored these various themes in depth, what observations were made, what learning was experienced, what actions were provoked? Here is the essence of what we heard being discussed:

  • “It’s nice to realise you are not alone, the themes really hit home and feel real. Sharing and discussing how to address them with others is really cathartic.”
  • “Leading is more about people than it is about the task. How to enable performance and not tolerating poor performance is essential.”
  • “All of this starts with a clearer, more defined view of my role. I need to work out the value I can bring to the business.”
  • “I need to establish how to shift my mind-set and behaviour to strike the right balance of task, people, present and future.”
  • “I’m going to bring others into the decision-making process more, establish management meetings and share the responsibility more.”
  • “I need to observe my own behaviour more and understand the impact it is having on our people and our performance.”
  • “I’m better suited to doing the external stuff that the business needs, I need someone to help lead the internal stuff.”
  • “I think I really need a mentor, coach or board to help me shift and evolve the way I lead the business.”
  • “I recognise I can’t just delegate stuff and let go of it, I need to coach and support people more to be successful in their roles.”

So, how do these themes apply to you and your business? What shift do you need to make to unlock the future success of your business?

We encourage you to click here to read the notes from the meeting and to start reflecting. If you need help in thinking this through or support in making the transition to transform your business, please contact Adam Campbell on acampbell@telospartners.com to see how we can help.

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