I have come across a simple business truth: poor leadership leads to poor results and growth. I’ve yet to see a high-growth, thriving company that has poor leaders.
Leadership is at the heart of business growth, and yet it’s a skill that is ignored by many corporations. Instead, managers are expected to become ‘instant leaders’ the moment they are promoted to more influential roles.
There is another issue that gets in the way of effective business leadership: the notion that there is a single, best way. I’ve seen books such as Good To Great try to suggest that there is a particular style, which Jim Collins (the book’s author) calls “Level 5 Leadership”, which involves a mix of humility, determination and integrity that others have called “servant leadership”.
I don’t agree. I see many different styles working, and I think the good news is that there is no one single style that works best. I believe that the key question is what’s the style that works best for you? To help you answer this question, I have identified 4 broad types of growth leader:
1 – Innovation Pioneers – These leaders thrive on being different and finding something new. They often display contrarian personalities and can be business mavericks. They tend to be very hands-on, particularly with respect to new product and service development, and innovation is everything to these people. Example: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, James Dyson.
2 – Arms Length Analysts – These leaders couldn’t be more different to the Innovation Pioneers. For these people it’s all about the numbers, and they are constantly calculating risks and returns. For them, business is a cerebral, rather than an emotional activity. They are far less involved in the nuts and bolts of the business and are most successful running multi-business organisations, where doing deals (mergers, acquisitions and disposals) is the key route to success. Examples: Warren Buffett, Stefano Pessina (Alliance Boots), Alfred Sloan (General Motors).
3 – Determined Driver. Like Innovation Pioneers these leaders are heavily involved in their business, but they are far more focused on driving the nuts and bolts of the core business, not creating new offers. They are often found in businesses where there is a strong operational focus and where the company is growing by replicating a proven model. Examples: Jim Skinner (McDonalds), Jack Welch, Henry Ford, Terry Leahy (Tesco).
4 – Team-Focused Cheerleader. This leader is more focused on people than the detailed operations. They drive growth by engaging and inspiring their people to achieve more than they thought possible. They celebrate the achievements of teams publicly, creating examples for others, and spend the majority of their time on the front line explaining the company’s strategy, sharing stories of success and encouraging people to get involved. Examples: Richard Baker (ex-Asda and Boots), Paul Polman (Unilever), Sam Walton (the founder of Wal-Mart).
The point here is that you don’t have to be a certain personality to be a great growth leader. What you need to do is understand how you best lead and use that to your advantage. So – ask yourself – as you hear these descriptions which one strikes you as the most natural fit? Are you an Innovation Pioneer, an Arms-Length Analyst, a Determined Driver, or a Team-Focused Cheerleader?
You are, of course, likely to be a mix of all four types of growth leader, but you’re also likely to have a dominant style. Don’t shy away from it, or seek to change it. Instead you should recognise it, accept it, develop it and use your natural leadership style to your – and your organisation’s – best advantage.
© Stuart Cross 2011. All rights reserved.
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