Incorrectly staffed leadership positions can paralyze your company growth. Here's what you can do about it.
When entrepreneurs come to me with growth problems, the question inevitably arises: Why? Is there a lack of market for the product or service? Is it the wrong strategy? Is it a lack of execution, or perhaps the leadership team?
My counter-question comes off the cuff because it is unexpectedly direct and at the same time a very crucial question. I ask them: Who? Who sits in the management and leadership positions in your company today? If you were to fill these positions again, would you put the same person in that position again? And: Would this person be able to bring out their best, to have the best effect?
Albert Einstein is said to have quoted the following:
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid .
It remains to be seen whether Einstein actually said this or not. But let's expand on this point for a moment: what if the fish is already up the tree? Is he still learning to fly?
Who is sitting in your tree right now?
The question I would like to ask you at this point: Who is sitting on your tree right now – in the key positions in your company? And why is this person sitting there? Because of their leadership skills, because of their potential, or perhaps for other reasons? Is this leader, who may have been the right choice for this key position then, still the best choice today? Especially for the growth path you want?
This question “Who is in the key positions right now?” is asked far too rarely - and usually only when all other attempts to solve the growth problems have failed. Why is that? Because the question is uncomfortable. You may even have been involved when these positions were filled.
Who likes to admit that he or she has a personnel problem in the management ranks ? Many do not recognize wrong appointments immediately. Others tolerate them - out of friendship, lack of time (there are always more pressing issues that still need to be resolved) or lack of alternatives (a bird in the hand).
It is poison to your business growth for two reasons:
Reason No. 1: If you, as an entrepreneur, do not recognize your personnel problem, you will only notice the damage that the wrong people in key positions are causing when it is too late.
Reason No. 2: As an entrepreneur, if you tolerate your personnel problem and hesitate to fill key positions, you consciously forgo the potential that more suitable candidates could bring and thus deny your company significant growth opportunities.
Find the right people for your key positions
What can entrepreneurs do now to ensure that the right people are working in your key positions? I ask my clients the following questions to honestly evaluate their leaders:
1. Does the person share the same values?
Value-oriented leadership creates a common set of values that increases the cohesion and willingness to cooperate of all managers and employees. Knowing that a leader holds similar beliefs often encourages employees to follow them and increases the odds of success at each goal. This increases engagement, performance and even loyalty to the company – which in turn has a positive impact on growth and profitability.
2. Is the person behind the company's purpose?
What does your company exist for and what is your specific contribution to make the life of your customers, our society, the environment, the planet, etc. a little bit better? When the "why" of a company is clear, it is easier for your teams to pursue your common goal.
It is all the more important that your management team is 100% behind the purpose of your company. Because the more credible it is, the easier it is for you to tell an inspiring, gripping story and to set bold goals. The purpose is like the inner compass for everyone in the company. It brings people together, inspires them, gives them courage and the energy to think big, to defy setbacks and to keep going.
3. Has the person already gained experience in growth environments and do they bring the necessary skills for the position?
Putting a company on a desired growth path is not easy. It's no picnic - neither for the company nor for the managers and teams. So you need people who are up to the challenge. It helps if they already have experience in such extreme growth environments. This way they understand what is required and expected of them.
In high growth companies, managers deal with problems they've never had before. It's about trial and error, accepting mistakes, reflecting and learning from them despite the enormous pressure and ultimately turning failure into success.
Noor van Boven, Chief People Officer at N26, recommends:
"You should surround yourself with people who move in a similarly dynamic environment. You can be a painful critic, but honest feedback is helpful and has kept me honest as a leader."
Who among your leaders walked the growth path? Who on your team may have just managed something big? Who is brave and not afraid of failure?
4. Does the person share the vision of the leadership you want?
If a leader is to drive growth, then they must also think in these growth categories.
Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, coined the term "growth mindset" in the 1970s.
Leaders with a growth mindset welcome any opportunity to learn new things. They are willing to unlearn their ingrained beliefs and proven strategies. You are resilient to failure. They embrace failure because they see it as a natural part of learning.
Or as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella aptly put it:
"We are moving from a group of people who know it all, to a group of people who want to learn it all."
Who among your executives continues to demonstrate a high willingness to learn? Who shares the same growth mindset?
The most important thing for entrepreneurs and owners of fast-growing companies is to surround themselves with the right people - and put them in the right positions. If there are problems with growth, having the wrong people in key positions is often the cause.
If you ignore such misappointments, you consciously accept the negative effects they have on the motivation, performance and commitment of your teams. At the same time, you prevent better-suited executives from being able to contribute their potential and thus deny your company significant growth opportunities.
What can you specifically do?
Look for individuals in your leadership team who share the same values as you do in your organization.
Make sure your leadership team has internalized the "why" of your company (the what that gives us purpose) and carries it consistently and authentically to their teams.
Surround yourself with leaders who have experience in dynamic growth environments and have already demonstrated the necessary leadership skills.
Work with executives who bring the same growth mindset as you do.
With best wishes,
If you're interested in reading more of Olaf articles please visit the website link above. (Please note that Olaf's site is in German but Google translate does an excellent job of instantly translating it to English.)
How can you elevate your people to the next level?
To find out what you can improve in your leadership team to grow more easily, quickly and profitability, try our complimentary Agile Growth Checklist*. This self-service questionnaire takes 5 to 10 minutes to complete. You'll receive the checklist with your responses immediately. Within 24 hours, you'll receive a compiled report highlighting areas to improve. This report is complementary and involves no obligation. Complete section 1 and 4 to check your leadership team* and accountability processes*. Or complete all 7 sections to find out how your company is doing in each of the 7 areas needed to produce more rapid, profitable and sustainable growth.