Leadership isn’t like height, an immutable, measurable attribute. Your quality as a leader varies dramatically with context, with the task and resources available. Take a triumphant captain of industry and plonk them into a completely different sector with completely different people, and there’s a decent chance they’ll fail.
This presents a particular problem for leaders in high growth businesses, which can change radically in the space of only a few years.
When the team is small and the company is new, the chief executive is required to be a hyperactive jack of all trades, a kind of general manager, head of sales and marketing, investor relations manager and HR director all thrown into one. When the company is mature, leadership becomes more and more a matter of inspiration, grand strategy and culture.
Assuming you want to stick around as the business grows, you’ll therefore need to know how to adapt, or else recognise your strengths and move on.
Darren Westlake, founder and CEO of equity crowd funding pioneer Crowdcube, experienced this conundrum as his business grew from two people in 2011 to over 90 at one point, with sites in Exeter, London and Cardiff. Here, he explains what to look out for.
"Once you get over about 25 people and you’re spread over several offices, it starts to feel very different. Communication is easy when you’re small, but becomes a much bigger part of the job as you grow, both internally and externally.
"The internal side is probably more important. I spend a lot of time going round the various offices, making sure that everyone understands the vision and that we’re all pointed in the right direction.
"I put a lot more effort into the culture too. A big part of that is hiring the right people. In the early days you don’t spend too long thinking about recruitment, you just do what you can. Now we’re much more selective, not just about skills but about cultural fit too.
"If I hire people with the same mindset and values, then they will hire people in the same way, and it flows down the organisation so that you end up with teams who all have the same values and vision as there is at the top of the business."
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