Like markets, all companies evolve. For some, that evolution can be very brief (we all know that many startups fail). For others, that evolution can occur over a period of many, many years. But, like markets, that life cycle has some well defined periods with clear characteristics. And, in order to survive and thrive through the stages, a range of leadership styles are required.
I recently explored this with Les McKeown in preparation for the Gartner Tech Growth and Innovation Conference (June 6-8 at LA Live). Les is one of our keynote speakers at the conference and I am even more excited about his participation after our conversation. We started with a brief discussion of Gaelic Football and Hurling (if you follow my posts regularly, you know I am a big fan and Les is a Belfast native), but moved into a deeper dive into Les’s current interests. He loves working with companies to understand this life cycle and the leadership requirements for predictable success (which is also the name of his company, Predictable Success).
Les’s market stages (which I won’t explore in detail here) make sense, just by their names: Early Struggle, Fun, Whitewater, Predictable Success, Treadmill, The Big Rut, and Death Rattle. What is more interesting is the leadership styles that are needed for success. Here is my interpretation.
In the early days, it is critical to have a Visionary Leader–someone with creative, new ideas to solve problems in new ways. But Vision is not enough—you have to get stuff done. For that, you need Operating Leaders, people who excel at delivering. As a business grows, you have to scale. You need Processors–leaders who can put in place procedures and processes to standardize execution.
In these three leadership styles, you have widely different strengths. Visionaries tend to hate process. Operators often don’t love ideas if you can’t act upon them. Processors want a standard path to execution. And seldom (maybe never) do you find a great leader who is balanced in all of these areas.
What does that mean? It means you need multiple leaders, with a different mix of strengths. Again, makes sense. Every company has multiple leaders–whether in the hierarchy, by their role and title or more informally. Some leaders are very visible (usually innovators); others work behind the scenes (operators and processors).
But there is one leadership style that is missing. It’s the style that brings everyone together—the Synergist. And Les’s work shows that having Synergists, to work with other leaders is a key to predictable success.
Personally, I love the clarity of this. I actually pride myself on being something of a Synergist when working collaboratively. I enjoy hearing the ideas of others and trying to assimilate them into something stronger–that everyone can embrace. I might even be pretty good at it.
What type of leader are you?
While you can have a feeling for what your style might be, the reality is that everyone is a blend. But there is a way to assess your style. The Predictable Success team have a self-assessment you can take on your Web site. I encourage everyone to take the quiz. It only takes a few minutes (Note: if you are attending our conference, Les would like you to take the quiz before his session, get ahead of the game and do it now!) and you’ll get your results immediately.
My results were pretty accurate. Out of a total score of 960, my blend was:
- Operator: 360
- Visionary: 300
- Processor: 120
- Synergist: 180
At first, I was disappointed my synergist score was so low. But some self evaluation revealed accuracy. The bottom line is that I pride myself on getting things done that are valuable and high quality (operator). I also like to think about things in new ways (Visionary). But I don’t really love process. I’ll follow rules, as long as they support me getting things done, but get frustrated if they slow me down. And that synergy score, it is lower because I like to get things done and a lot of times that means working on your own. When I am in a group environment, the balance between operator and visionary works well to play the role of a synergist (but I’ll probably get frustrated with processes that feel pointless in the environment or discussions that go round and round and don’t get to a conclusion–that is where I try to take things).
This exercise was really useful and I encourage you to take the quiz–and have some of your leaders do the same. If you are a smaller, early stage firm, assess if you have both Visionary and Operator leaders (and if you give the Operators enough credit). As you grow, have you added processors to the team (or conversely, have you added too much process too soon)? And, do you have any synergists? Without them, there might be a tremendous amount of tension.
I’ve only scratched the surface and provided what is basically a layman’s perspective. To go deeper, visit the Predictable Success site, read Les’s books, watch a video, or —best of all—join us at #GartnerTGI in June.
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