Organizational growth is not without its challenges, particularly for a founding leader whose role needs to change if he/she is going to transition their organization from the entrepreneurial phase of leadership to a more mature and stable organizational environment. In fact, it is the ability and flexibility of the leader who determines whether this transition is successful or not. Below are five transitions that a leader must make but which are often difficulty for them.
One: Moving from solo leadership to shared leadership.
Founders are in charge! But, as the organization grows there must be a move to a shared leadership platform or a team at the top where the key senior leaders chart a course together. This does not mean that the senior leader does not keep some decision making prerogatives but it does mean that they begin to share key decisions with the key leaders who they need to be on the same page as them. This is highly advantageous to the senior leader as several sharp minds are better than only one. But it can be difficult for the senior leader who is simply used to getting their own way.
Two: Delegating responsibility and authority.
No one's span of control is indefinite and part of leading a growing organization is the ability to delegate key responsibility and authority to trusted leaders. Delegating responsibility is usually not an issue but being willing to delegate true authority often is. After all the founder is the one who is used to keeping authority close to their vest, overruling others as they see fit and making decisions on the fly when necessary. But you cannot delegate responsibility without authority in a healthy organization and what comes with the territory when one does is that your subordinate may choose to get the job done in a different way than you would. After all they are not you. Being willing to delegate both authority and responsibility can be a scary but necessary step a founder needs to take.
Three: Flying at a higher altitude
Since founders are used to doing many things themselves they are comfortable being in the minutia of details as well as thinking through the larger picture. This works when an organization is small. It does not work as the organization becomes larger. Now there are others who are responsible for many of those details and a leader needs to get out of the way and allow others to do what they were hired to do. They in turn need to fly at a higher altitude and focus on those issues that they are best suited as the senior leader to focus on. Diving from ten thousand feet to intervene at 5,000 feet does not work in the long run as staff start to feel that they are not trusted and that their work is devalued or interfered with. But it can be very hard for founders to stay out of the way of others as they are used to being able to pop into any situation they choose to. As long as they do, however, the organization will not flourish.
Four: Meeting regularly with a senior team to drive the agenda of the organization.
In small, founder led organizations the founder often runs things by the seat of their pants with little organizational rhythm. After all the goal is simply to survive and not become one of the statistics of the many who don't. As the organization grows, however, there needs to be a shift to a more mature leadership environment and as other leaders are added, this includes a senior team that meets regularly and where the direction of the organization is determined. These meetings are not simply forums for the leader to tell others what they need to do (remember there is now shared leadership). Nor is it simply a forum for each member to update the others on what they are doing (remember the words shared leadership). Rather it is a place for the team to grapple together on short and long term issues that will help the organization grow and be successful. Because founders are not used to these kinds of meetings they can view them as an afterthought when in fact meeting regularly and having the right things on the agenda is crucial for success.
Five: Realizing that ego is the enemy
There is a book by that name and it is well worth the read! It is easy for founders to believe that they have all wisdom - after all, it is they who got the organization to where it is today. If they believe that they are all wise, have the best ideas and wisdom or must have the final word on all matters they lack the personal humility to lead well and it is likely that other good people will not stay with them. Ego is often the nemesis of founders. In fact one of the functions of a senior team is to keep a leader from making foolish decisions! Humility gives a leader the ability to listen, take advice, hear things they don't want to hear, delegate authority, and keep themselves from messing it all up. The active practice of humility and recognizing the dangers of ego is perhaps the most crucial thing a leader must pay attention to - especially founders.
Growing an organization is exciting work if we are able to recognize the transitions that we must make in order for it to be successful.