Redefining Leadership Roles as Your Company Expands
It’s exciting when a company expands. It’s also a time of transition for the business, for the employees, and especially for the leaders. But after the initial buzz wears off, you might begin to wonder, “What’s my job description now?” Leadership roles should change during times of growth. Otherwise, that growth is hindered.
As a founder and CEO, I’ve seen our company evolve from a startup to a rapidly expanding business to an established company that eventually became part of a global organization. Each phase we went through required change. Our talent and service offerings shifted, along with every aspect of our organization. We went from supporting a single company to functioning on an international level in a highly networked environment with multiple business partners.
Growing through different stages required our leadership team to redefine our individual leadership roles, too. In my case, my focus shifted from strictly day-to-day operations to more strategic initiatives such as evaluating possible mergers and acquisitions and forecasting future needs or opportunities. Many duties were new, but I embraced the challenges and opportunities that come with being a lifelong learner, and I enjoyed stretching myself.
The shift was harder than I imagined, but I knew I needed to execute to become the leader my team deserved.
The Challenge of Changing Leadership Roles
Job transitions can be tough, but not for the reasons you may expect. I’ve learned that shifting to new leadership roles isn’t just about mastering a learning curve or grasping different skills; it’s also about letting go of responsibilities you’ve become comfortable with and sharing authority and control with others. This is a challenge for any leader and can be quite a humbling experience.
Leaders are used to doing everything for a business in its early stages. They hire the talent, handle the billing, sweep the floors, and lock the doors. Clients are their top priority, and they know every move made in the business each day. But as an organization grows, so does its need for broader expertise and specialists who can meet the needs of a company at scale.
During our second growth stage at Mitchell, we grew more than 500 percent in five years, I knew my generalist role as CEO was coming to an end. The growth we were seeing was exciting and rewarding after years of hard work, but it was time for me to broaden our leadership team and delegate to experts to help us get to the next level.
Easy to say. Hard to do.
In the end, I realized while I was capable of doing nearly everything in the business, doing so wouldn’t move us forward. Worse yet, I could become a bottleneck that actually withheld opportunity from the company and from everyone around me.
How to Become the Leader Others Deserve
Expansion is, in a sense, like parenting. As we release our grown children into the real world, it’s not uncommon to feel both pride and trepidation. Similarly, as you plan for the next phase of your company’s growth, you have hopes as well as concerns about what you’ve worked so hard to build. While success is never guaranteed, you improve your chances for a good outcome if you put a well-thought-out transition process in place that will equip your team and your organization for expansion.
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Here are three tips to help you grow into the leader your team deserves:
Identify Your Spikes and Troughs
As our company changed and expanded, I not only had to become more knowledgeable about different countries, cultures, and business customs, but also more aware of what I could bring to the table as a leader.
Self-awareness is an important quality for leaders to have, and you need a healthy appreciation for both your strengths and your weaknesses. All leaders have “spikes” — strengths for which they’re often recognized and valued, those things that help them lead effectively. Do you know what your spikes are? How about your weaknesses?
If you need some fresh perspective on yourself, consider using a 360-degree tool to gain valuable feedback from those who know you best. This process should help identify where you’re strong as well as opportunities for improvement. Just recently, I took on some new responsibilities and found this process very useful in identifying what I could work on.
Challenge Yourself to Grow
Use your spikes as much as possible, but don’t rely solely on them. Especially during times of change, you must constantly challenge yourself to grow.
Build on your strengths, addressing any development areas and filling the gaps with the skills of your immediate team. No leader is fully “rounded.” It’s important to recognize what you lack and to mitigate the impact. Your weaker areas may never be your strengths, but you can prevent them from becoming problems.
This year, I’ve set goals for myself from both a personal and professional standpoint. I want to spend time with my daughter before she leaves for graduate school this fall, make preparations to launch my upcoming leadership book, and hone my conflict-management skills. My biggest goal of all, however, is to become a better listener. I want to ask more questions; adopt a more welcoming, understanding voice; and stay present in the conversation.
Have a Bias for Action
In his legendary business book “In Search of Excellence,” Tom Peters popularized the importance of execution over planning and analyzing ad nauseam — or, as he puts it, “the primacy of action over blah, blah, blah.”
This concept resonates even more today, as the pace of change in the marketplace has increased. Leaders stepping up to the next level often face new, difficult situations that have no clear answers. You can accelerate your growth in new roles by embracing these challenges and seizing the opportunity to take action.
To thrive at the next level, you need to set aside your fears and learn how to take calculated risks. Remember: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” With practice, you’ll be able to discern what information is pivotal to a decision, develop a keen sense of timing, realistically assess the challenges ahead, and gain a clearer picture of projected ROI.
Whatever you do, make sure you have plans B, C, and D at the ready should plan A fall through. It’s the only way you’ll stay nimble and flexible, which is crucial to success. Glean insights from every move you make — even the missteps — so your growth journey is always on an upward trajectory.
In doing so, you’ll start a domino effect. In a recent Gallup poll, 66 percent of Americans with bachelor’s degrees self-identified as lifelong learners. When you learn from every move you make, your employees will mirror that behavior and nurture that aspect of themselves, too.
Company expansion brings about a different kind of change, not only moving you into a new role, but also transforming you into an improved leader. As my CEO role shifted, I grappled with several challenges, but I ultimately realized that changing the scope of my position was in the best interest of my company. As your business embraces growth, so should you.