How Scale-Up Leaders Can Flourish

Yesterday I attended an event to promote the support of scale-up businesses, those that are experiences year-on-year high growth. The speakers were leaders from local businesses that are managing rapid growth and it was fascinating to hear about their respective journeys, challenges and mind-set.

After pondering how I disagreed with the event's definition of a “fast-growth” or scale-up business that is, it is one that enjoys 20% or more growth for at least 2 years in a row (as I think it has got to be more than that, for longer, include profitable growth and it also depends on the context) I got myself focused and listened to the presenters.

The Scale-Up expert shared that the UK is the 3rd best economy in the world for start-up rates but the 13th for rates of scale-up businesses. In other words we get businesses going but don't let them flourish. Even more important was that the 35,000 scale-up businesses identified in the UK contribute as much to the economy as the 4m+ SME's do. So, Scale-ups are valuable to jobs and to the economy.

It was pointed out that research has consistently show that the two biggest challenges for Scale-up businesses are:

  1. Finding talent

  2. Developing leadership

Scale-ups are also incredibly hard to find and engage by the business support sector. All these factors make sense when you think a fast-growing business will by definition be fast-changing, constantly having to adjust its plans, leadership roles will mix between operations and management, and everyone will be working hard just to keep up with demand. Their time will be rightly inward focusing to maximise the growth.

The business leaders who spoke (from Love Energy and Tiger Trailers) shared a passion for the companies and people. They highlighted four key qualities they’ve needed as fast-growth leaders:

  1. Take people with you - your workforce deliver the value to your customers so engage them, communicate with them and be open to listening to them.

  2. Share and re-share your vision - you need to constantly inspire people to work through change and innovate; that takes energy, passion and commitment.

  3. Adapt your skills and let your role change - you must not be the road block to success, as the business grows it must come ‘out of your head’ and be transferred to others. If you’ve employed the right people they will be better at making many of the decisions than you; so hire well and trust them!

  4. Your motivation counts - you need to work on your resilience, your support, your desire and passions; as the leader your values and approach ripples out to others and self-awareness of how that helps or hinders is vital.

Listening to the speakers I was impressed at how honest they were and unafraid to talk about their own mistakes or limitations. No one type of person made a leader of a fast-growth business because no business needs just one type: the leader has to grow fast along with their company!

The sense of no one style of leader is something we’ve repeatedly shared with clients. Ensuring a leader learns from others is important but helping them feel (to really believe) that they are the right leader for their business is crucial to its development. It is in that place that a leader can identify how they can let other people share that role, develop the company and create the opportunity for growth.