Leadership development in scale-ups – fast-growing companies
From start-up to scale-up. If you’ve succeeded as a founder in proving that your idea works and has real business potential, you now face a whole new set of challenges. Instead of continuing to invest 100% of your heart and soul into your own idea, this is where entrepreneurship begins. As a founder, I now no longer work on my own product, but on my own company.
From now on, I decide who I’ll lift into a management position and who I’d better let go. Before, I mainly managed myself, but now I manage entire teams and an entire organization. My development as a leader determines the next steps of the scale-up.
Why is leadership development so important, especially in a fast-growing company?
Maybe you know these thoughts yourself: “When I was CEO of a start-up, we were super fast & agile. We just got things done right away. We didn’t have many processes, there weren’t that many people … And now … Now we’re in the growth phase. We’ve proven what we can do, and now we have to show that it all works in a big way. Scaling.
We’re much different now. There’s more people, there’s different teams. It’s really a different number. We’re now a scale-up. Each of us has a lot of issues that he or she is dealing with, but perhaps without the time needed and without clear structures. There needs to be a really good running system. The company culture is super important to me and my female employees and I’m afraid we might lose it. Do I have the right people on board? Who do I keep and who do I fire? I know that many CEOs before me have been in this situation… it’s just that there’s no real manual for it!”
My leadership skills become more critical in this situation. Fast, straightforward implementation becomes planning on a grand scale, with more responsibility and more structures. My development is important for me to be able to cope with this.
How do I deal with the issue of leadership in the company?
The better a business model works, the faster the company grows. At the same time, this means there are an infinite number of tasks for me as a founder and also for the team.
I’m suddenly faced with questions such as: Who actually communicates with whom and how often? Who actually decides what? Who is responsible for what? In the growth phase, many new people come on board. Young people take on a management role without having gained much management experience beforehand. That’s okay. That’s how we humans learn quickly, immersing ourselves in it and experiencing it ourselves. But how do I make sure we have a consistent understanding of leadership? How do I ensure our leadership culture doesn’t suffer?
Leadership development means personality development
Managers who have previously done a lot of operational and technical work themselves and now lead a team tend to take on too much. We believe we have to be the best at everyone’s tasks and have an answer to every question. But this is exactly the first mistake. In order not to burn myself and the team, as a Chief, I must learn to delegate. Preferably the things I’m not so good at myself. I need a team that’s best at the things I, myself, am not good at or no longer want to do. To develop in my leadership role, I don’t just need other skills, I also need a new mindset. Having the right mindset is crucial for my success and that of the team. Further development as a leader means personality development.
Many young leaders lead intuitively
We often lead ourselves and our team intuitively. This is where a professional leadership toolbox can help. However, it’s often tedious to acquire it. Many leadership methods that are so nicely described in literature somehow don’t work in practice. OKR, MOB, S.M.A.R.T. Goals… What’s this all about, and why does it produce so much overhead for us instead of moving us forward? A pragmatic source to get to really effective methods and tools is now needed. A best-of outline of what’s written in different leadership books and what other successful leaders use would be ideal.
Captain or coach? Which leadership style suits me?
I desperately searched through books for the right leadership style that suits me. I listened carefully to quotes from people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Barack Obama. I tried to take the tips from true leaders to heart. After all, I want to be a modern leader. Agile leadership is totally important to me….
But then suddenly my employee is standing in front of me. The next meeting is again fruitless and unproductive. All the good advice seems pointless and I become insecure. What do I do?
Ultimate behavioral flexibility leads
There’s not one leadership style that I choose, but ultimate behavioral flexibility wins. I’m allowed to choose the appropriate leadership style in different situations, with different people and tasks. Sometimes I coach, sometimes I delegate, sometimes I micromanage, and sometimes I act as a sparring partner. But how do I recognize what’s appropriate in which situation? Recognizing this and giving my employee the support he needs in this situation – that is the quality of a true leader.
When it comes to leadership development in scaleups, this is important for the success of the company
Time is money, especially in small businesses. Traditional leadership trainings, where employees are sent to lengthy weekend seminars, are outdated. They help to understand the theory, but leave me alone in everyday management. I receive a certificate and head home, doing everything the same as before. So what’s the right approach to leadership development? The right support for young professionals depends on the goals I want to achieve as a company and as a manager. This is what we and our clients have experienced:
- A relevant leadership toolbox with methods and tools that really help me pragmatically in everyday life to lead both myself and my team is an essential building block. They support me in structuring work and distributing it correctly. In other words, they make me and the whole team more productive. Ideally, this should be done interactively, supported by many discussions and practical experience reports, and not as frontal teaching. If I get the chance to learn from other successful managers, that’s worth its weight in gold. Above all, not making the mistakes of others helps me shorten my learning curve. It’s important that the application is tested directly. Only with theoretical knowledge will I fail alone in practice. Methods and tools may be tried out, ideally in a protected, trusting environment. Success factors should be discussed and reflected: What does it bring us and what not?! We learn fastest by experiencing and teaching others.
- Through peer-to-peer coaching, I can benefit from the questions and issues of other managers. I recognize blind spots I didn’t see myself before. It also helps to realize that others may have the same challenges I do. I’m not alone in facing them. This boosts my self-confidence and self-esteem, which is indispensable to having steel as a true leader. Many companies also rely on in-house training. The exchange with other companies, industries, and cultures can help me to expand my mindset. I get valuable impulses from outside.
- Networking and regular exchanges of experience with other managers in a trusting atmosphere help me to broaden my perspective. I get new ideas for solutions to my concrete situations in practice. Independent of the learning material or the seminar module, I can fall back on them when I need them in a current situation. The network also strengthens me through recommendations, referrals, tips & tricks. I often find solutions to problems that I previously thought were unsolvable.
- Individual coaching or mentoring ensures that I work on my personal issues in a very focused way. Through the reflection of an experienced coach, I recognize limiting beliefs and expand my mindset. My solution space becomes larger through the coach’s trained and experienced questioning technique. A mentor or coach helps me measure and visualize my own progress.
Results of strong leaders and successful leadership development.
Scale-ups are quickly stunted in their growth when leaders and team members are overwhelmed, overworked, or dissatisfied. This results in high turnover, a lot of frustration in teams, and poorer performance results. Leadership competence is an important growth driver in companies. This isn’t just about teaching hard skills. Leadership requires genuine personality development. That’s why investors also pay attention to the personality and leadership skills of the team. Of course, methods and tools help me learn. Additionally important is the right mindset, self-leadership, and personal responsibility. The biggest challenge for many is the realization that everything that happens around me is my own responsibility. The result of high leadership competence is when I manage to be a true leader:
- To communicate successfully. This is important so my message also reaches my counterpart. Through my behavior and my communication, I influence the behavior of others. That’s what successful leadership means. It isn’t my counterpart’s “fault” if he or she doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I’m allowed to adapt my communication until my message comes across the way I intend it to. Successful communication is key here.
- Being relaxed, productive, and retaining employees. I myself enjoy what I do and everyone on my team feels the same way. I recognize the strengths and preferences of my team and make the best use of them to achieve my goals. I distribute tasks sensibly and ensure productive cooperation. That way, the whole team is successful and simultaneously has fun doing their work. These are two important success factors for employee retention and a fulfilling (professional) life.
- Achieving better results through diversity. I recognize the diversity of my team and value the different perspectives because these ensure that we always achieve the best possible results. I can resolve healthy conflicts and use them for an even better result.
- Having the right people on board. A shared understanding of values is the key to achieving this. Happy employees are 17% more productive than unhappy ones. I’m happy and satisfied as a person when I enjoy doing something. Why? Because I work towards a goal with which I identify, and I achieve it while in harmony with my personal values.
The bottom line is that the goal of leadership is to influence people in a purposeful, positive way. As a leader, my job is to be the best leader I can be to help us reach our goals. Everything I need for this is already within me or can be learned. Even charisma can be learned.
You want to know why we are convinced of this? The founders of the CoA Academy have already stood where you’re probably standing right now. We’ve made it our mission to help people in leadership roles become more productive in a relaxed way. We’re here to help leaders achieve their goals with more ease. See and hear for yourself how Michael Portz, Co-Founder of CoA Academy has evolved as a leader: Watch the video