Professional Development

Strong Growth Starts With Great Leadership

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Across the globe, senior corporate executives (including boards of directors) are pretty obsessed with one thing: growth. It’s the business imperative that consistently trumps every other goal.

In recent years this growth imperative has been amplified because of the post-recession economic challenges with which we’ve all had to grapple. Companies are doing everything they can to re-ignite their revenue-building capacities, like implementing marketing automation for example. They are also using strategies including tapping overseas markets, driving innovation, investing in new talent, and exploring M&A opportunities.

It seems, to me, that corporations have under-emphasized one key dimension as they aggressively pursue more growth: Leadership. The inescapable fact is that you can’t make all of those growth strategies work unless you have the right people leading them.

A just released survey from the executive search firm Korn/Ferry underscores this apparent leadership deficit. According to a Wall Street Journal article on the Korn/Ferry study, just “one in four managers believes their company has an adequate leadership team in place to drive growth, especially globally. About half the executives surveyed said their firms needed to get at least some new talent, or invest in leadership development to boost performance.” (In developing the study, the Korn/Ferry Institute polled around 200 mid-to-senior level executives from 40 countries around the world.)

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of senior corporate leadership by mid-level managers. Clearly, there is a crisis of confidence in their top management’s ability and/or commitment to do what’s required to inspire, manage and deliver the growth that companies so urgently need.

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

The Korn/Ferry survey is a startling wake-up call for senior executives and their boards. The crucial role of a company’s leadership is frequently (and, in my view, perilously) under-appreciated in terms of how a business creates, manages and accelerates revenue growth. Great leaders not only set a vision and direction for growth, they inspire, and lead, the entire company to break through the internal inertia and external barriers to attain that growth.

Being a strong growth-oriented business leader is much easier said than done – like most things worth doing and achieving in life.

Are You Leading to Grow – or Just Managing to Survive?

Every company can make sure that its leaders are living up to their accountabilities, which fundamentally are to enable and empower their organizations to find new ways to grow and profit.

Here are some critical questions that I would ask a leadership team to get it thinking about how it can and must maximize growth and success across the corporation:

  • Are you fostering a culture that produces the kinds of game-changing innovations that actually create and move markets?
  • Are you embracing new technologies and models to transform businesses (and disrupt them, if necessary), not just deliver incremental gains?
  • Are you empowering (and demanding) your sales, marketing, technology and service teams to work collaboratively together to optimize the customer experience and drive increased revenue performance?
  • Are you willing to put your own skin in the game (and job on the line) to be truly accountable for your company’s growth and ultimate success?

I have the privilege of knowing and working with numerous executives who understand the difference between leading to drive outsized growth, and just managing for acceptable returns. Invariably, these are executives who lead by example and are accountable for their actions and promises.

What are you doing to step up to the plate and assume the leadership growth mantle for your company?