Leading a company is never boring, nor easy, but experienced leaders with good teams can sometimes find themselves coasting. They know their job, they know their company and they know their industry.
But as leadership development consultant John Baldoni argues on his blog on the Harvard Business Review website, familiarity can lead to “lazy thinking”, where new ways of doing things aren’t even considered.
As Baldoni suggests, this comfortable bubble can build around a leader without them really knowing if staff start adopting the boss’ way of thinking and start “screening” new ideas.
Baldoni has two great suggestions for getting fresh perspective.
Make customer visits: Spending time with customers is an obvious way to see the world with new eyes, but so often those at the top think it is not their job. If you want to know what customers think of your work, ask them. That will take having a conversation as well as spending time getting to know them and their needs.
Invite outsiders in: For your next departmental meeting, think about ways you can introduce your folks to outside thinking. Having industry experts speak about trends in your industry is a good first step. But think further afield. For example, the health care industry has studied hotel and food companies for lessons in hospitality and food preparation.
These are two strategies most leaders will be able to put into action almost immediately and can be used to refresh the thinking of your entire team.
Finding the right leaders for growth
McKinsey Quarterly, the journal produced by consulting firm McKinsey has made a brave attempt to try and study the links between growth companies and leadership to find whether growth requires a certain type of leader.
The central argument is that exceptional leaders are few and far between. However, it is possible to build a team with excellent core competencies across a range of areas.
Since such a small percentage of executives had above-average scores across all competencies, trying to jump-start growth by looking for great “all-rounders” is a risky bet. An alternative approach is for companies to cultivate specific competencies correlated with growth in their existing teams or to seek new talent with the required skills.
For example, if your growth strategy involves acquisitions, find a leader with expertise in this area. If you want to grow via customer acquisition, then find a leader with experience in customer service.
But remember, the chances of finding an all-round star in every area are really pretty slim.
The value of investors
Katherine Sampson, founder of sandwich franchise Healthy Habits, has come a long way from the days of sleeping on a blow-up mattress on the floor of her office. As this profile in the Australian Institute of Management’s publication Management Today says, the company has ridden Australia’s healthy food boom to build a chain with 35 stores in Australia and New Zealand and plans to get to 100 stores within a few years.
In 2008, Sampson sold an 80% stake in the business to book chain Dymocks, which relocated Sampson from Melbourne to Sydney and set about helping her expand the chain.
“I didn’t want a cash investor; I wanted an investor that could bring experience and value,” she says.
Interestingly, Sampson says the biggest difference Dymocks has made has been the business’s hiring firepower.
“That’s the biggest challenge I had before [they] came on board: I couldn’t afford to offer opportunities to the right people. Dymocks has allowed me to be able to recruit the right people and see the business grow.”