If you are a Founder or CEO of a $1M+ business, you’ve probably come to recognize how important your senior leadership team is to your success. You can’t do it on your own. You can’t make all the decisions or manage all the people. You need strong leaders who can share the load.
However, in my work and in my own experience, I’ve realized that the team who got you here is seldom the team that will get you to the next level, especially if they keep leading the way they are right now.
What was necessary and incredibly effective for your leaders until now was to be great at what we call vertical management. Someone reports to them, they report to you, and everyone is happy. They hold their team accountable for results, and when those results aren’t achieved, you hold the leader accountable.
This is a necessary management skill, but it is only half of the equation for leadership. To break the $10M barrier, or achieve whatever the next level of growth is for your business, you need leaders who not only manage vertically but lead laterally.
You need a team that can come together and make high-quality decisions that move the whole business forward rather than a group of managers who come together to lobby for their team’s needs and wants and opinions or even their personal leadership style.
In this article, I will share five ways you can take your leadership team to the next level.
1. The enterprise commitment
Inc.com called the enterprise commitment the 20 most powerful words in business. It goes like this:
“When working in a team or group environment, I will place the interests of the enterprise above my personal interests.”
Like most truths, this statement is easy to understand but oh so difficult to do. Yet, it is the first key to unlocking next level leadership from your team. It goes straight to the “management” problem we experience with our organic growth stage team.
In the meeting
Managers at this stage often only attend meetings because they have to or because the meeting is the best place for them to get what they need.
Leaders who live by the enterprise commitment see things differently.
They show up at meetings knowing they are responsible for leading the whole company, not just their individual division or department. They engage in those meetings whole-heartedly regardless of whether the issue affects their team or their position personally. They put their personal preferences and leadership style to the side to engage in whatever way is most productive for the team.
Outside of the meeting
The difference between vertical managers and lateral leaders is even more impactful outside of the team meeting. Vertical managers go back to their team to celebrate their win, bark out orders, or complain about the other leaders and their decisions.
Lateral leaders are bridge builders. They meet proactively with others outside of their team. They seek insight for others who may be affected by their decisions. They know their first responsibility is to be a leader of the enterprise, and managing their team is secondary.
2. Internal customer awareness
Businesses that excel in the organic growth stage typically do so by fostering a hyper-sensitivity and responsiveness to their external customers’ needs. Two informal departments form in these businesses: sales and sales support. The customer is king, and you win by bending over backward to deliver.
This is honorable, but it’s not enough to reach the next level of success. This same passion for delivering consistent quality to customers needs to be applied to other managers, employees, and departments. The head of sales needs to see the shipping manager not as a means to an end, but as an internal customer who depends on the head of sales so they can, together, ensure a high-quality experience for their external customers.
Still, we need to take this a step further. You have years of experience driving external customer awareness. You need to build the same degree of internal customer awareness and do it in a much shorter timeframe. To make up ground fast, you need to sit down and map out the most critical inner customer pairs. When I work with a team, we spend several hours writing out and define the pairings.
As you map out your internal customer pairings, consider why they are meeting and how often. Determine what decisions they can make together, and what decisions should be escalated to the leadership team. What commitments do the internal suppliers and customers make to each other? What information needs to be shared and in what format.
By engaging in internal customer pairs, your leaders will be able to start meeting pro-actively instead of reactively. When they do, their relationship will improve, collaboration will increase, problems will decrease, and the customer experience will improve dramatically. Best of all, since these pairings don’t funnel back to one person or team, you now have a highly scalable solution that will keep the business executing quickly while your senior leadership team focuses solely on issues of the highest importance.
3. Effective and efficient meetings
Do you find yourself bored in meetings? Overwhelmed by a packed calendar before the week even begins? Repeating the same debates and making the same decisions you made just a few months ago?
Few things will limit your capacity, slow your growth, and frustrate your people like lousy meetings.
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Yet, most businesses have nothing but terrible meetings. They start late and end even later. Each item runs long, and you end up pushing more and more issues to the next meeting. You talk about an issue for 20 minutes, and then all of a sudden, someone remembers a piece of data and shares it with the group, changing everything. You spend another 20 minutes debating the issue and make a decision, but in the back of everyone’s mind is the sneaking suspicion that still more critical information is missing.
To overcome these issues, I teach my clients a relatively simple but incredibly effective process called the 4D Process. The four d’s are data, debate, defer, and decide.
Start gathering and disseminating high-quality data before the meeting. This is a big shift from the “make it up as we go” agenda most teams are using at this stage, but it is a massive time saver once you get a handle on it.
I’d be willing to bet much of your debate right now (if you have vibrant debate) is whether or not the data is valid. Since we’ve dealt with the data validity issue in the previous point, we can now focus on debating the actual issue at hand and the recommended solution.
Often when reviewing the data or debating the issue, you’ll realize we don’t have all the information or all the right people in the room to make a high-quality decision. What most teams do is blow right past this point and spend another 20 minutes debating an issue they couldn’t solve. You need to defer the topic as soon as you realize a high-quality decision can’t be made in this meeting.
Talk about how decisions are made. Is it a vote? Does the CEO decide? There’s not necessarily any one “right” way of making a decision, but you do need to define “the” way the decision will be made. You also need to make sure the next steps are clearly identified and assigned to someone.
4. Decision-making and execution
Having a meeting is not the same as making a decision. Making a decision is not the same as taking action. Taking action is not the same as achieving results. Achieving results is not the same as creating change.
As the organic growth stage starts to level off and complexity inside the business increases, decision execution can almost completely stall. In some cases, you’re still making decisions faster than ever, but then when it’s time to take action, it’s like trudging through the mud. And it’s the deep, nasty mud that will pull a boot right off.
To help my clients overcome the slowdown and get their agility back while also building the capacity to scale, I use the 3i toolkit. The 3i toolkit includes three skills within each of the three stages of decision-making and execution: investigation, interpretation, and implementation.
You and your team may be aware of your implementation problems, but in many cases, these are just symptoms of problems in the earlier stages. If you try to ignore investigation and interpretation problems, you’ll be left scratching your head as your efforts to improve implementation fail to move the needle.
Together, you and your leadership team need to take a step back and look at the entire decision-making and execution process to identify where things are breaking down. This is incredibly hard for a leadership team, especially when its the first time they’ve led together at this level.
5. Personal core competencies
As a company grows, so do the demands placed on its leaders. A leader who excels at leading 12 people may not have what it takes to lead 120. To lead at the next level, Visionary, Operator, and Processor leaders need to develop a Synergist leader’s skills.
Few are born with these inherent qualities. Fortunately, all of these skills are teachable—none depend on natural ability, so no one is excluded from becoming a Synergist. Some of the skills will come more easily to Visionaries. Others will be more readily adopted by Operators. And some will seem more intuitive to Processors. However, all can be learned and deployed to some extent by anyone.
The nine skills of a Synergist leader fall into two categories.
If you can’t manage your own time and productivity well, you’ll show up late and stressed for meetings and fail to follow-through between meetings. The following skills are essential for any leader looking to lead at a higher level.
- Efficient time management
- Effective priority management
- Decisive crisis management
- Appropriate delegation
Leadership comes with the responsibility of managing others effectively. A growing organization cannot depend solely on the personal productivity of its leaders. Instead, it will become increasingly dependent on those leaders’ ability to maximize their team members’ personal productivity.
- Engaging in difficult Conversations
- Managing productive conflict and minimize unnecessary conflict
- Communicating effectively
- Vertical and lateral inclusiveness
- Consistent accountability
It’s in these core competencies, or more accurately, in the lack of these core competencies that we see the “Leadership Lid” that keeps an organization or department from growing as it should. Lack of competence in any of these areas is sure to surface as the pressure turns up within the organization.
A great deal of change is necessary within your leadership to reach the next level of success for your business. This can be an emotionally and mentally difficult transition. Having a clear path takes some of the edge off and will give you the hope and confidence that you are doing what is best for the entire organization.
The five strategies in this article will do just that. Together, these strategies will create a solid foundation for you to take your leadership team to the next level and keep growing from there!
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