The value of a strong leadership team in a growing company
My business partner and I continuously work to make ourselves less necessary to the day-to-day workings of our agency. If we are successful it might give me more time to fly fish and him more time for golf, but that isn't what motivates us.
A key pillar in our overall strategy is to continuously develop the leaders in the company. In addition to being a better place to advance one's career, a company with a strong leadership team performs better. Research has shown that companies with great leadership quite frankly make more money.
I know we are succeeding in developing that team when I'm simply not needed as important work gets done. Nothing makes me happier than when I hear about a big meeting that resulted in a better process or client win, after the fact.
Much of our leadership team is homegrown; these folks have been with us for years, advancing from staff to directors to executives. Meanwhile, we have team members who are focused on being individual contributors. They have advanced while leading the work itself. As we all know, leadership isn't contained to certain titles.
In order for folks to advance, they must be provided an opportunity to flex into bigger roles, with more responsibility. There isn't an endless pool of opportunities in a small company, so this means that senior leaders need to cede appropriate authority to their teams. In return, our rising team comes to work with a mindset of "egoless collaboration," embracing the responsibility that comes with the authority they acquire.
The owner of a company I once worked at was a master at this. He'd push you until you felt you couldn't take on any more, and at the correct moment he'd pull back and provide relief. It is a bit like training for a marathon. It is a stairstep approach, where you go up in distance over a few weeks, then pull back for a week. Over time you are able to run farther and farther.
From an organizational and staff perspective, here are some advantages to this leadership development approach:
1. Leverages the variety of skills and knowledge in the organization;
2. Reduces bottlenecks by having multiple channels for decision-making;
3. Opens paths for advancement for staff - we call that "The S/M Trajectory";
4. Helps to retain the best talent; and
5. Provides options for succession planning.
A balanced organization should have leaders developed and planned for various growth phases of the company. For Simon/Myers it looked very different for us as a team of 10, than it does as a team of 25. Now we ask, "what would roles look like when we are a team of 50?"
A robust leadership team allows us to expand into different areas of business without disrupting the core, pivot when there are market shifts, and be ready to innovate when opportunities like AI come onto the scene.
For the team, there should also be defined paths for advancement. Of course the paths aren't always linear, but that is built into our overall approach. If a team member's personal goals change or the needs of the agency change, growth and development plans are modified accordingly.
Those plans are combined with regular coaching and formal training to ensure staffers are equipped to take the next steps to advancement. And knowing where you are heading three to five years out makes the day-to-day decisions easier and keeps each person aligned to our overall agency goals.
There is risk involved in delegating responsibility - you are essentially giving away your power. Yes, it can be scary as a business owner to cede authority to certain areas of operations. But the end goal is to elevate every team member, and as a result, the entire company.
In fact, having a strong leadership team is possibly the best risk mitigator you can have.
• Lou Simon is the Principal/Founder of Simon/Myers, a marketing agency with offices in Wheaton and Chicago.