Uncommon Leadership Traits in Profitable Growth Firms

Arguably the most common failing of organisations in search of profitable growth is leadership. I am referring to leaders, who are disengaged in the implementation of the firm’s strategy. Leaders with values that are incongruent with the firm’s new growth strategy. Leaders, who by their actions are seen to demean the importance of or pay lip service to the new growth strategy. I find this is most common in the operational layer of businesses (mid-level managers) although it is not uncommon amongst peers at the executive level. Here is three recent examples I have seen:

Example 1: The COO of an insurance company, who loves to make grand announcements (ego) about the transformation of the brand’s positioning. He steadfastly absents himself from from the implementation process, where his or her credibility and example, is essential to gain the support of and change the behaviour of his peers and subordinates, in support of the new strategic direction. Unavailable for subordinate meetings, delegates all responsibility and becomes angry when results don’t happen as planned.

Example 2: The mid-level manager who says “I know Head Office want us to be seen as the “trusted adviser” of the client but frankly I see our future best served by selling more of what we know (existing products).” Surprise, surprise the client relationships never change. The top line revenue growth stalls. The organisation is merely known for its’ transactional capabilities and any “window of opportunity” to transform the business is lost.

Example 3: The sales executive, who is placed in the Regional CEO role (ego reasons) in a professional service firm. “I am sorry my diary is full with clients and prospects visits that I need to attend if we are to make this quarter’s sales figures. Let me get back to you when I have a slot to discuss this (strategic decision). I don’t feel comfortable without having everyone around the table and discussing the merits of each alternative and the attendant risks.” Strategic decisions are put on “hold”, frustration builds amongst subordinates and corporate gridlock ensues.

You might very well be laughing at this stage, recognising how close to home these examples are in your own organisation. One of thrills of helping clients profitably grow and expand, is you get to see first hand the victories and defeats in technicolour. It would be funny if it wasn’t that people’s livelihoods and careers are ultimately on the line, indeed, in certain cases the future of the entire organisation.

Any leadership role for a large or small firm has three attributes:

  • Physical capabilities (international travel, lifestyle changes, health and so on)
  • Skills (expertise, knowledge)
  • Behaviours

Leaders largely succeed or fail because of their behavioural traits, yet most firms give greatest thought to and weighting to the other attributes. Their role is to be the crossing that helps connect the current business with its’ future state. While this not an exhaustive list and you would be wise to customise to each situation, these are the behavioural traits you should be emphasising in a profitable growth business in today’s economy:

  1. Impressive Exemplar (high resistance to short-term pressure and self-interests)
  2. Champion of change
  3. High Assertiveness (focus on speed and momentum towards growth goals)
  4. High Persuasiveness (strong appeal to subordinates self-interest)
  5. High Enthusiasm
  6. Superb Communication
  7. Readily Accessible
  8. Logic over emotional reasoning
  9. Excellent listener
  10. Big picture thinker, not micro manager
  11. Adaptive to prevailing conditions
  12. Prudent risk taker
  13. Innovation / creativity
  14. Voluntarily shares credit for success
  15. Willingly admits and takes ownership of failure
  16. Ethics / Integrity

I am always saying to my clients profitable growth is a mirage unless you have leaders and people throughout the organisation, who are talented AND passionate about implementing the growth strategy. I cannot, nor can my clients, motivate a leader or a subordinate but you can sure raise the odds of success by first hiring someone into a leadership position with the requisite behavioural traits.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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