The other day I visited one of my first clients. He admitted, “Sometimes I feel a bit bored.” Bored? With nearly 300,000 square feet of facility and a record growth spurt, how could he feel bored? The answer is that he has, over several years, worked very hard at building a management team that is eager and able to handle all the day to day issues along with aggressive growth. The boredom situation is easily and delightfully solved: This CEO will spend nearly all his time living in the land of opportunity, working to uncover strategic alliances, areas for diversification, new markets, acquisitions and other big picture strategies. What fun!
Imagine a leadership team several levels deep that is eager and able to pull the company up to the next level. All the CEO does is to align their energy. This dream of a team is too rare. Too often CEOs stay awake at night thinking about how to deal with a team that has some key managers topped out, some barely able to do the minimum and others in way over their heads. Insomnia would be running rampant.
To grow to the next level, you need leaders that are eager to dive in and able to perform well. If you have them now (good job!) you’ll need more leaders to get to the level-after-next. You must always be developing leaders throughout your organization.
Small businesses get stuck when the founder runs out of bandwidth. A few of them are able to leverage teams of helpers/managers to get more work done. But those businesses get stuck again at the next level, when the chief executive must have leaders on the top team who lead the managers. That is the subject of this article. Managers like/need to be told what to do. Leaders (executives) create momentum on their own, making decisions as needed to achieve an objective.
I want my clients to develop an abundance of eager and able leaders in their company; in fact more than they need at any given moment, so they have several great choices when the call for leadership comes.
The first, most important concept is that good enough is not good enough. Too many companies retain good managers & good executives. I know it is hard to fire an executive that is good. But the standard for a growing, well run company is higher. You need excellent leaders, who are excited about stepping up their performance, about getting to lead a project, a department, a division, and someday, the business unit. It’s no different than for my 12-year-old daughter’s soccer team. She’s a great goal keeper but was sad when two of her teammates from last season got cut from the competitive team. The two are good girls, and good players, but not good enough for competitive soccer. Not good enough to win the cup. Yet they are fine for the recreational league. Is your company in the recreational league, or are you playing at the competitive level, for the cup?
I’m not saying to fire all your good executives at once. Just fire the worst ones every year. Fire those that are not likely to be a key part of the medium or long term success of the organization. Replace them with leaders that are ready and able. Executives in your organization that aren’t part of your future are blocking your way, impeding your progress. They are choking out great leaders that might rise up from the ranks or are waiting to be hired. Clear the way.
But don’t “train” your future leaders. Real leaders aren’t taught. They train themselves. They are learners, looking ahead to their own future and enrolling themselves in classes, reading books, finding mentors, and managing their own learning. If they ask for help, all you’ll have to do is point the way. But if you have to push training on someone, cajole them and explain why it is important – then know that they will never be a leader. Clear the way.
Real leaders are very willing to prove their abilities. So when you think you see a leader, even at a lower level, make sure they get a chance to lead. Maybe it’s a project you ask them to champion. Or perhaps there is a problem that needs special attention. Giving them time-bound work is a great low-risk way to watch them in action and for them to both learn and demonstrate leadership. If they do well, find them their next challenge. They’ll thrive and so will your company.
Some of the biggest disasters I’ve seen is when someone is placed in a leadership position without being properly vetted. Bad leaders can create serious damage to a company in a short time frame. Sometimes it’s because they have overstated their experience or competence. Other times it’s because they want leadership for the wrong reasons, like power or a big salary.
Collecting and growing an excellent leadership team is one of the most critical aspects of a CEO’s job. Clogging up the management ranks with people at the apex of their career is a sure way to stagnate a company, and to choke out opportunities for your future leaders to engage. Make a special effort to identify and develop leaders within your organization so that your entire leadership team is eager and able to take your organization to the next level. You’ll be the kind of CEO that gets to flirt with boredom, yet focuses on strategic issues and future opportunities.