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Guide

An introduction to evolving your role as a leader with the company’s growth

As parts of the business evolve, leaders are required to develop new skills, acquire extra knowledge and switch their focuses to ensure they’re steering the ship effectively.

When you’re growing your business, focusing solely on sales and revenue isn’t enough. Growth impacts all departments and processes, meaning every part of the business must remain dynamic and open to evolution.

That includes its leaders.

As parts of the business evolve, leaders are required to develop new skills, acquire extra knowledge and switch their focuses to ensure they’re steering the ship effectively. This means shedding certain responsibilities to take up new ones while also filling the gaps that become exposed in their wake.

But it’s not easy. Among venture capitalist-backed businesses, Harvard Business Review found that about 20 per cent of founders do not remain in their original role. It becomes clear that, for the business to grow as required, new skills are needed in its leaders.

Because so many changes happen across an organisation that’s in the midst of growth, it’s common that certain areas are neglected – think culture, communication and hiring processes, for instance – as leaders’ attentions shift. This is especially apparent in SMEs because it’s likely there’s not a substantial management structure already in place to fall back on.

The danger here is in trying to grow a business in which employees have become disengaged and demotivated. Managers have the single largest influence on employee engagement, being accountable for 70 per cent of it, so a focus on developing solid managers is essential as you look to take on a more strategic role.

What factors impact how your leadership evolves with growth?

The timeline

Business growth is all about the long game, making the evolution of your leadership role a continuous process, too. This means you need to consider a long-term vision for the role, as well as short-term plans.

When this stage of the development is done, what will your job look like – and when will you get there?

It’s important to consider as you don’t want to find yourself lumped with an unsustainable workload during and after the growth process. Equally, you don’t want to find your role is ultimately redundant once the plan has been realised.

Skill development

As your business evolves, so will your role – therefore your skillset will need to follow suit, too. Starting up and growing a business are two very different challenges that require unique sets of disciplines, so giving yourself time and space to develop in key areas is critical.

This can be challenging, as being in the midst of a growth plan is demanding on your time. However, it’s important to factor learning into your day-to-day activities, in order to be able to keep up with what your changing role requires.

Consider the long-term plan for your role and make a list of the skills and knowledge you will need to successfully fulfil it. Then think of how you could learn these skills, be it an online programme or more formal educational course, perhaps.

Vaiva Kalnikaitė

Vaiva Kalnikaitė benefitted from an executive education programme

“By joining an executive education programme, you are not only learning new things but also building your network globally. You have access to expertise that is often hard to find.”

Vaiva Kalnikaitė, founder and CEO of Dovetailed

The cold hard facts

With leadership and management one of the three key areas that learning and development (L&D) professionals are focusing on for 2021, there isn’t a shortage of options when it comes to educational opportunities. More than half (51 per cent) of L&D pros cite leadership as a key priority right now, according to LinkedIn.

Common mistakes in evolving your leadership with company growth

Trying to fulfil too many roles

By being heavily involved in a number of company departments and processes, you risk doing none of it effectively. But letting go of the day-to-day running of the business can be easier said than done: it’s common to get attached to certain responsibilities or roles, which makes it difficult to let go and trust those tasks to others.

This change is often felt by business leaders as a loss, so allow yourself time to recognise and grieve that loss. This will help you to move on in a healthy and productive way as you learn to get used to the natural evolution of your role.

Instead of being tempted to cling on to control, try easing off gradually, delegating certain tasks or projects to staff bit by bit, while overseeing the results. Eventually, you’ll have built up the trust that will make relinquishing control that much easier.

Not paying attention to management style

Management style feeds into company culture in a big way. If you’ve managed to create a workplace environment that employees find compelling and motivating, it’s important to protect that as you move away from the day-to-day upkeep of that culture.

The last thing you want is for employee engagement and productivity to crumble as soon as your attention is focused elsewhere. After all, it’s this workforce that will be facilitating the company’s growth.

Try to appoint managers who adhere to the same values and style of leadership you’ve demonstrated in the past, not only to ensure your employees are getting a consistent message but also that they’ll respond positively to their new leader.

Chris McCullough

Settling on a management style early on was important for Chris McCullough

“There’s a point at which knowing your management style becomes critical, although I think at a broad level you need to settle on one early on.”

Chris McCullough, CEO and co-founder of Rotageek

The cold hard facts

Just because you won’t be working with some operational staff on the day-to-day running of the business doesn’t mean you don’t influence their experience at your company anymore. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of employees say that the most memorable recognition they get comes from high-level leaders. So take the time to show staff they are appreciated and acknowledge triumphs – it could make all the difference.

Quick wins for evolving your role as a leader with the company’s growth

Join a networking group or mentoring scheme

People who have already been on the journey you’re preparing for will have invaluable insights that could help you avoid hidden pitfalls and make sure that your growth process goes as smoothly as possible.

By finding a mentor or joining a peer-to-peer networking group, you may well be able to glean key information from experienced business leaders, such as what step-changes their company experienced as it grew, and what action was required to plug these new gaps or meet new needs.

Making new contacts isn’t just great for practical information, though. The sense of support – both professional and emotional – that comes from networking groups and mentors can have huge benefits during this time of change. Leadership roles can be lonely, after all.

Use your growth forecast as reference for your development

Having a clear aim for where your business is headed not only helps give you and your employees direction but also acts as a key reference point for the evolution of your role.

Use your growth plan to map out key stages at which you’ll need to reassess your responsibilities and check in with employees. The balance of operational and strategic tasks you’re heading up will need to ebb and flow continuously to meet the changing requirements of your business.

For instance, as the size of your workforce grows, some things that happened naturally before – when there was perhaps only a handful of staff – will now need purposeful attention, like maintaining company culture and effective communication.

Eventually, you’ll need to appoint team managers who you might need to oversee, and ultimately a whole new management structure could be required. You’ll need to plan ahead for these changes and know where your role fits in.

Karen McLellan

Karen McLellan learnt to let go from being involved in every area of the business

“You let go a little bit more and you get to the stage where you realise you don’t want to be involved in the level of detail that you had before – that’s not your job anymore.”

Karen McLellan, MD of the Hereford branch of Haines Watts

The cold hard facts

Harvard Business Review identified three forms of networking: operational, personal, and strategic. Each of these play a significant role in managers’ transitions, supporting them in specific parts of their journey. So make sure you’re creating networking opportunities that can benefit you in all three of these areas.

Now you’ve learnt about the underlying factors that affect how your leadership evolves with growth, use our action plan to direct your improvement efforts.