How your role will change as your small business picks up speed

With all the prognosticators saying the economy will continue to improve this year, some small businesses will stop treading water and gain momentum that could, for some, mean real growth. But are you, the leader, ready for growth, for this will mean that your role will have to change…perhaps considerably.

With this in mind, I want to share with you a short excerpt from a book co-authored by a former client, Katherine Catlin, of the Catlin and Cookman Group. Katherine works with high-growth CEOs, and in her first book, Leading at the Speed of Growth, over 500 CEOs reveal the secrets of successful leadership and sustained growth. (The book was co-authored by Jana Matthews, formerly of the Kauffman Foundation, where Katherine served as a visiting scholar.)

In the book Katherine and Jana talk about the fact that as a company moves into a rapid growth, the leader has to change from a doer (the jack-of-all-trades – sound familiar?) to being a delegator and direction setter. They provided a checklist for the new duties you’ll need to undertake as you make this transition. Although they were writing primarily about companies that were capable of rapid growth (mostly tech companies) I believe the duties they outline are equally applicable for small companies that have real growth potential and have amended their list only slightly in recognition of the different venue:

• Articulate and reinforce your vision for the company as well as its growth opportunity and potential.

• Be conscious of your own personal values and goals for building the company. Define the game you want to play. Set the direction and then focus others on winning that game with your values.

• Find creative ways to do a lot with scarce resources. Encourage innovative experiments and ideas.

• Watch the critical performance indicators (especially cash flow and profitability), and use a sharp financial person to pay close attention to the business side of operations while you handle all the other parts of the job.

• Get input from customers, prospects, and investors (if any) and integrate these valuable outside perspectives into your own.

• Hire intelligent people whose values match ours. Aggressively find the people who really fit, both in skills and in values, and who will help grow the company. Don’t hire the person who can do the job you have open right now, rather hire people who can grow at least one or two levels as the company grows and your management structure becomes more sophisticated.

• Delegate responsibilities by establishing very clear goals and expectations for people. Then hold them accountable.

• Take advantage of mentors who have been through what you are about to experience. Join appropriate organizations and take advantage of the opportunity to network and learn from others there.

Clearly, this list presents a real challenge. It is often difficult for someone who has started a business and is used to having his/her finger in every pie to relinquish some of the “hats” they’ve worn in the early years. But growth demands that sooner or later you do just this and become the leader your company requires.

Have you had struggles making this transition? Please share your stories.

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