Being able to select a young red wine full of tannins and fruit and predict its greatness in 10 + years hence is an art. To the uninitiated, the wine could be almost undrinkable. However, to a trained and experienced wine drinker a relatively easy thing to accomplish.
Similarly, choosing your leadership team members from existing managers and staff is an art. The experience will make you better, but at first, there will be missteps. We all know that many great individual contributors cannot make the step up to management. In the same way, many managers cannot make the step up to be leaders.
Why set up a leadership team?
Most of the business owners I meet who have a reach a plateau in their business’ growth is yet to put in place a leadership team. This means the owner is still too much “in the business” and each aspect of the business is too reliant on her. Giving due consideration and investment in a leadership team will gradually permit her to move up “onto the business” and gain more time to think and strategise.
Lynda McDermott, in her short piece, “Key Considerations for Developing Leadership Team”, lists several questions to ask yourself before setting the team up. These include aspects around accountability, collaboration, culture and effectiveness. Typically, the leaders will represent various functions from across the organisation.
The most successful leadership team I established had featured diversity in personality, business skills, gender and ethnicity. It is important for every member to have a distinct role and a reason for being in the team, no passengers, only drivers.
Respect and synergy are gained by regular communications meetings which can be face to face, phone or video conference. The most important is a meeting structure with minutes and action register. This holds people accountable and focused promptly. The most extreme communications forum I have experienced for a small business owner was to hold a leaders’ breakfast at a local cafe each morning from 7:30 am. I think this is a bit controlling and extreme, but a weekly communications meeting can be effective. Of course, a quarterly or semi-annual offsite to reset and align is paramount.
It’s a small business. Therefore, during the meeting, the leaders should take turns in taking the minutes and updating the action register. This includes the business owner. An administration resource does not need to be in attendance and also serves as an equaliser in the team.
Another consideration is the inclusion and balance between back office and front office leaders. The key business units should be represented, but so should the key back office functions such as finance, marketing and People & Culture. The rift or communication gap between sales and back-office functions can be alleviated and become extremely positive through the increased level of communication afforded by the leadership forum. This also opens up a leadership position for younger members who may not sit in a power position in the organisation chart but are, in fact, powerful and need to be fast-tracked in the leadership opportunity.
The elected leaders, many not all work out. Some will not like the role. Technically, each leader is expected to wear a different hat when they are in the leadership forum. The business unit or functional responsibility needs to give way to a more corporate perspective. At first, young leaders find this difficult, but as the experience deepens the ability to think at different levels develops.
What about training?
A lot of smaller businesses invest in onboarding staff and even development over the first few months. Less invest in management training and even fewer in leadership training. The well-worn saying is: “leaders are born and not made’’ as with most things in life, it comes down to aptitude. If someone has leadership aptitude, but you don’t invest in them, then they will more than likely not reach their potential. Try to avoid soft team building systems without an ongoing strategy or development plan. There are many leadership programs run by business schools and smaller consulting firms. Shop around and find the best program that matches your company culture and strategy.
As with aging great red wine, you are developing leadership and leadership teams takes time. However, I have found that if you are prepared to invest in great people and develop them up, then a business can raise itself off the plateau and start the growth trajectory again and allow you to enjoy the hard work and investment you have made.