3 Stages of Rockstar Growth Leaders & How to Spot Them

Finding someone with just the right combination of qualities to lead a growth project for your organization can be tough. To make matters worse, they can be hiding right under your nose in the most unlikely of places.

The search for under-the-radar growth leaders is not unlike the story of the Detroit-based musician Rodriguez — while his U.S. career wasn’t quite adding up, he had become an icon of the South African anti-apartheid movement without ever knowing of his success. This unsuspecting rockstar had all the talent, charisma and tunes he needed — but his audience was halfway around the globe.

Your next rockstar growth leader might be languishing in a similar manner. In this article, we’ll help you identify and rescue them from obscurity.

A rockstar growth leader is:

  • Someone who can grab the reigns of a major cross functional team, charter it, staff it and get results.
  • Someone who sees the customer as a person, and who has a rich experience of  how business happens in your organization.

Rockstar growth leaders come in three varieties:

  • Pre-discovered
  • Discovered
  • Re-discovered

Type 1: Pre-discovered

Recognizing great growth leader talent before they have had their breakthrough requires a keen sense of observation for three reasons:

  1. Potential growth leaders rarely show up on the list of functional leads because they are much more interested in cross-functional learning.
  2. They are very likely to be introverts, since their best work demands high levels of independent thought, perseverance and highly developed intuition.
  3. They are usually very good at staying off the radar, since that is where they get to do their best work.

So how do you find someone who is good at not being found?

Would-be rockstars are best found by getting to the bottom of unexpectedly good results from an operating team.  Did one of the business teams just best a competitor for a major account based on tweaking a product line?  Was there a favorable change in operating costs that was unexpected? You may be seeing the as-yet undetected influence of a budding growth leader.

Who to look for:

  • Anyone who willingly crosses organizational boundaries out of innate curiosity for knowing how the whole enterprise works.
  • Someone who relishes being sent out to customer calls – even the contentious meetings – since they know that’s where the real understandings are.
  • The person the sales staff asks for by name when they have an issue in the field.
  • People who have a sense of cautious adventure, who view life as a learning experience and seek to broaden and embrace new things.

More than likely, when you find this person, he or she will be a self-confident individual who seeks out hard problems and rotations into other functions early in their career, allowing them to develop deep intuition about an organization and its capabilities. This is what gives them a very keen sense of risk and organizational capability, which will be essential when they take the reigns of an important breakthrough program.

Type 2: Just Discovered

Just-discovered types often become apparent to mid-senior management when the chips are down and some major customer-centric event needs to be addressed. Suddenly this below-the-radar guy or gal is on everyone’s screen — and will be for some time.

It is at this point that management needs to make some shrewd decisions, because growth leaders are inherently change makers.  If you put them in operating roles that require optimization and predictability, they will quickly grow weary.

The number one way to lose these individuals is to accept mediocrity.

Rockstars don’t easily tolerate environments that don’t require their best. Very good organizations recognize this and feed these people a steady diet of high stakes change work across the organization.

The second most common path that leads to loss is not to keep them on the hottest program in the organization — if it’s big change, they need to be given the ball.

Type 3: Re-Discovered

When a rockstar change leader takes on a growth challenge and sees it through to its success or failure, it’s not uncommon for them to enter a less active stage of their career.  If their venture was successful, they may find themselves caught up in overseeing the day to day details of transitioning the new idea into a stable place within the company.  If their venture failed, they may take on a lower key role elsewhere to recuperate and find their feet again.  After a period of time, they will likely be ready and looking for the next complex, high-value opportunity that they can form into a breakthrough challenge.

Task your HR team with keeping tabs on these dormant growth leaders so they are not unknowingly spun out with a divestiture or poached by a competing organization.

If you must give one of these folks up, be sure to have a good alumni program in place that allows their impact and mentorship to remain in place as much is operationally feasible.  Bain Consulting does a great job on this front.

Keeping your growth-oriented bench strength up is one of these ways I know to keep your organization innovating and your results headed northeast.  I’ll be writing more on growth leaders and would very much like to hear your experience and observations. Please drop me an email, or tweet me your thoughts.

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