Taking Leadership to a New Level

Recently I was working with the Chief Executive of a small business. Despite the recession, the company in question had doubled in size over the last several years, and the executive was feeling the pressure of being spread too thin across his enterprise. The business was running very well, but the other executives were concerned that everything depended on the top person.

We reviewed all of the executive’s activity, and what we discovered was that the leadership that had brought the company to great success was now threatening to hold the company back. In essence, the executive himself needed to take his leadership to a new level. What we discovered could best be restated in this fashion: whether your company is small or large, a system of mentoring managers as they progress in their careers is vital. Not only must the system help individuals grow, but it must also embody the core values of the business that need to be inculcated in all.

One of the reasons that the business was working so well was that the executive put a great deal of time and effort into mentoring his senior managers. His process was to meet with each manager weekly. Most often they would first walk around the department and then meet in that manager’s office. The manager would report on a series of topics that the executive felt were important, in particular highlighting any problems that he might be aware of.

One of the strengths of this executive was to elicit the manager’s ideas on how to solve problems and create improvements, rather than to simply dictate what to do. This helped the manager to think through the situation and come up with ideas. Once a month, however, the executive met each manager in his own office. During this monthly meeting, the executive reviewed the previous month with the manager and commented on different aspects of what he saw, complimented the manager and made recommendations.

In addition to all of the meetings with managers, the executive also sat in on the twice yearly evaluations of all employees and he himself conducted the annual “salary” discussion with each employee; with over 80 employees, this involved a significant time commitment. The executive’s system had achieved excellent results, but had only one flaw: as the company expanded, so did the number of meetings; he was spending about 50% of his time doing all of this work.

Now this is not to say that the work he was doing was not valuable, but was it the most valuable for him to be doing it all? The answer to that question is no! Of his 12 managers, 5 were more senior with other managers reporting to them. In order to maximize the effectiveness of his management team, he needed to begin delegating a large portion of the mentoring work to other managers.

This is not a task that can be done overnight, but would take a specific process that included mentoring executives and managers so that they would be able to take over the responsibilities that he was currently doing on his own. In turn, this required the creation of a process that could be used across the organization in a consistent manner. The process needed to be flexible enough to take into account differences in temperament and experience while consciously maintaining the core values that the Chief Executive wanted imparted to the company.

2 thoughts on “Taking Leadership to a New Level

  1. Kevin, fantastic piece. My experiences in small business (more than a decade before moving to an FG-500 company) is that many top execs are unknowingly holding their companies back in the manner you described.

  2. I have to agree with both of you. Sometimes the irony of the situation when realized can lead to some serious thinking time. In my personal experience, I realized that once in a while touching upon topics like “succession planning”, especially when talking about long term strategies has been helpful. Some of the teasers would be…”what kinda legacy you want to leave behind”…or “do something that even the guy “after you” appreciates and can take on to maintain the growth” etc etc.

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