Sowing the Seeds of Leadership
Originally published: 08.01.10 by Wade Mayfield
How to identify and cultivate natural leaders to support company growth.
Throughout history, success has depended upon great leadership. Over the past several years, I have been on a mission to understand this relationship. I have read about and studied great leaders. This article summarizes some of the key points I have learned that have helped me to grow our company by matching leadership ability with growth.
First, let’s look at a visual tool I use to keep leadership and growth in balance. I created this chart and the idea for the circle illustration using three dfferent books.
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell, (the leadership aptitude scale)
- Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do To Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm by Verne Harnish (the growth scale)
- Executive Intelligence by Justin Menkes
None of these made complete sense to me alone, but as soon as I read them all, I understood how to better judge key leadership qualities and then track the results along with growth.
The chart focuses on the growth cycles businesses go through. Sales and infrastructure (assets) are stair-stepped. As you can see, most U.S. businesses are $1 million in sales or less. These are entrepreneurs working in companies of one to 10 employees.
Successful growth for any company is directly proportionate to the leadership it possesses. Thus, the higher the sales volume, the fewer the number of companies at that level. Why? Because as a company grows, it encounters increasingly more difficult challenges. The challenges that a $10 million company encounters are much more complex than a $1 million company.
This is evident in a complexity multiplier of x12. (All expanding companies have a complexity multiplier because they are changing in order to keep a profitable pace.)
The Growth/Leadership Connection
Now let’s take a look at how these complexities relate to the leadership aptitude scale. The numbers represent the type of leadership the company has. The higher the number, the better the leadership. What makes a good leader? For the purposes of this comparison, the value of a leader is directly proportionate to the quantity of complexity and challenges the leader can handle as well as how they handle those challenges.
The lower a person is on the aptitude scale, the more likely they are to resist relinquishing control, so as more reports and responsibilities are added, the less effective they become. The higher a person is on this scale, the more apt that person is to allow others to grow through decision-making and the natural consequences/rewards cycle that is part of decision-making.
It’s important to understand that a valuable leader is valuable for both reasons — the ability to remain effective as complexity increases and the propensity to allow leadership to organically grow within their garden. Great leaders have a passion and a desire for personal growth, and so easily drive past points on the aptitude scale. I estimate that a “natural leader” is a 5 on the scale but holds the potential to grow to a 10.
Most others start below a 5 (2 or 3) and can grow to a 5-7. A 5-7 will be a great frontline leader and manager, but an 8-10 will be a strong executive leader that will take the company to another level.
Another key point — if a leader is a 5 on this scale, then 1s through 4s will be fulfilled working for them. If a leader is a 10 on this scale, then 1s through 9s will be fulfilled working for them. This is the most important point of this scale. In order to grow your business and handle the complexity of managing growth, you will need strong and competent leaders who will champion change.
This is why most businesses hit the wall when it comes to growth. The complexity of change surpasses the leadership’s ability to lead. Securing Strong Leadership So how can you prepare yourself to secure necessary leadership for your company? Here are a few tips.
- Read. Yes, you as the leader, must read. More specifically, find successful leaders and read about them. I am not big on theory. I am big on learning from people who are successful.
- Join peer groups. I belong to several. I have had the first-hand opportunity to surround myself with very successful leaders in my ACCA MIX Group, as well as our local trade association. In all of these groups, there is something to be learned.
- Evaluate people in your own company. I have many strong and talented people in our company who I learn from every day. Take input and advice from those with whom you surround yourself.
- Become clear in your goals and objectives and leave as much clutter out of your thinking as possible.
In your reading, you will quickly learn that all great leaders know how to make sound decisions with clarity of goals and process.
How do I look for leaders to help me grow my company?
I look for natural leaders. Watch to see which people in your organization others just naturally go to for guidance. Once you have identified these people, give them small tasks to manage, and watch how they perform. It is best to do this without a title of leadership. If you have to give a title to someone before others will listen, they are not natural leaders.
Natural leaders will take the opportunity — no matter how small — and go with it. (This happened at our company when we implemented our mobile-computing system. I assigned one of our brightest stars to be our test case. Once he grabbed on to this, I assigned him four other techs to mentor, and then four more, and then successively more techs.
He eventually became the field expert and championed this change in our company. He was able to naturally lead older techs as well as our younger techs through this change without a title. He became our residential service manager within a year after this.)
Next, evaluate the results of the task you assigned. How did they do? If they hit their mark and brought the results, they are now on your leadershipaptitude scale.
Finally, evaluate what I call clarity of thought process. This is where separation on the leadership-aptitude scale happens. You have three basic groups of thinkers:
- Cluttered: They see everything and so are overwhelmed and find change and decisiveness difficult.
- Semi-cluttered: They can sift through some of the distractions and have limited ability to make decisions and support change.
- Clear thinkers: Clear thinkers, the highest level, have an innate ability to sift through all of the clutter and facts and quickly determine what needs to be done. They present a very clear and concise plan. They know how to major on the majors and minor on the minors.
The most common place this pops up is in meetings. Some managers will “what if ” everything to death because they fear change. Any solution that is offered is quickly met with “what if . . .?” The sound thinkers will find the root cause of the problem and offer a simple solution.
One situation that comes to mind for me is when we were trying to figure out ways to increase our sales volumes. The easiest way to achieve this is through increased closing percentage. We stepped back and simply looked at our sales process and actually sold ourselves our own product.
We quickly saw how disjointed our sales process was to our customers, so we made a presentation book that simplified our interface with our customers. It was designed to address our customer’s needs, and we have seen our closing percentage increase, which in turn increased our sales volumes.
Cautions and Upsides
What are some of the potential pitfalls of using this leadership/ growth methodology?
- You will identify people in your company who are great, hardworking people who just do not posses the leadership necessary to grow. If you adopt this philosophy, all of your leaders must know going in that nurturing leadership is the No. 1 goal as growth occurs, and not everyone will be able to advance as they hit their limits on leadership ability. You will need to leave dignity in place for everyone while promoting the higher talent.
- You, as the leader, will be faced with tough decisions as I have just described.
- You will have to be open to personal growth and input from others. You must become comfortable in your own skin to accept this.
What are the upsides?
- An engaged and vibrant company that is poised for growth.
- Natural leaders will take on more and grow.
- The intellectual capital of your company will grow, and the problems will be solved. You will have clear-thinking leaders in place to think through the complexities of growing a strong and profitable business.
The work that you start today developing your own leadership-aptitude scale will be directly proportionate to your future growth and success. You must grow yourself and grow those that hold the most potential to lead in your company if you are going to hit your goals.
Wade Mayfield is president of Thermal Services Inc., Omaha, Neb.