The 4 Essential Characteristics of a High-Value Growth Leader


This week a colleague phoned, and after a moment of reconnection, shared a traumatic moment on an internal growth project.  Long story short, there was a direct public challenge to their growth leadership in carrying out a key task.  When I listened carefully to what the challenge was and its context, I recognized it to be a common pattern for growth leaders across many of my clients.

I was able to use the Challenger Framework (more below) to quickly help him approach the person who had made the challenge in a productive way.  By stepping into the heat of the disagreement, they were able to unpack the underlying viewpoints and come to a win/win.  I received a phone message back in less than a day expressing their surprise and relief at being back on track. (note: all my anecdotes are conceptually accurate, but with minor alterations to the details to keep things anonymous)

If you are accountable to your firm to drive growth, this post is for you.  This is part II of a series, and if you missed part I, you can go and read it here.  In Part I, we made a clear case that growth leadership is a unique specialty, and needs to be done by leaders who have a specific set of innate and learned skills.

Following observations across dozens of clients, and decades of experience with firms of all sizes driving or integrating organic growth, I have built a leadership development system of four key competency clusters.  The framework picks up on these consistent thematic challenge areas and provides a platform for baseline evaluation, action planning and visible outcomes as described above.

 Who’s it for: Applicable at the individual and organizational levels, it allows concrete diagnosis and action planning.  Often talented, high potential leaders are thrust into becoming growth leaders because they have never met a challenge they couldn’t conquer. As a result, the organization assumes that leading a growth team will simply be another valuable developmental experience.  What often happens instead, is that it becomes a near death encounter that results in lost time, money and career capital.

This isn’t just related to newly-minted leaders, it also applies equally to those leaders who are C level on down who have cut their teeth growing and optimizing an existing operation.  It is a very different set of skills to create new and fresh growth in a firm, and without building those muscles, serious injury to the firm and blemished careers can result.

Why is it so pivotal to get this right?  Failure in growth leadership is a two-sided problem.  It can sideline the career of otherwise very talented leaders, and also hits a firm’s top line.  

What are the Four Key Competency Areas?

1) Architect

This is an active and ongoing competence, that is frequently ramped up when more growth focus is initiated.  When exercising this role, the growth leader is actively seeking new opportunities for the firm.  They do this work using skills like trendspotting, and detecting the subtle reframing needed to stay ahead of customer shifts.  They are students of patterns, and have intuition when things have run their course and are about to change.  They are also curators of talent, functions and capabilities that can be applied to these new areas in unique and powerful ways.

A couple of practical tips here.  In this work, we first develop a strong perspective of what’s happening in our category, such as which trends are running their course and which new threads are building interest.  Secondly, we do a broad outside-of-category scan with subject matter experts to bring new to the category views of building new valuable combinations.  A third element is watching for contexts in which undervalued assets can become significantly more valuable.

2) Champion

To be impactful, the work developed by the futurist needs to be “installed” into the operations of the firm.  Since growth programs are frequently treated as the odd man out, the growth leader needs to have a strong confident presence and speaking skills.  They must earn trust over the long arc, and be adaptive and collaborative at the highest levels.  This level of influence comes with powerful diplomatic skills…seeing the ‘power’ of a firm as just another component of a successful program, and not an evil to be avoided.

A key aspect of this work is to be a “known” value builder and to use that skill to negotiate for an increasing amount of freedom in taking measured risks to bring more value to the work being done.  For instance, rather than doing a point solution, you might take the initiative to deliver a piece of code that is useful in decision making for other applications.

3) Catalyst

This often ignored competence is critical in meeting the resistance of the firm’s core to new growth vectors that can be both threatening or viewed as ‘distracting.’  The competence shows up as a way to positively call people out of their comfort zones and draw out contrasts.  This competence also includes skills in becoming a master builder and providing a cadence and direction for what can be new-to-the-firm activity.

A great deal of value is lost in our firms by not actively promoting critical thinking and good solid skills in asking questions that can lead to a breakthrough. In practice, this is a skill not practiced by those who are hard to get along with, but leaders who see the value and richness in differences and unpacking them in the context not of right and wrong, but of “let’s find the best solution to this dilemma quickly.”

4) Establisher

All the above external work is based on a solid set of personal competencies and attributes.  Growth leaders have an underlying resilience that shows up as a “bend but doesn’t break” approach to progressing.  Being comfortable in your own skin gives the confidence to be the one to have the “outsider” inside view and the confidence to express it.

At a very personal level, all growth leaders have surprises, setbacks, and sometimes complete career resets.  Knowing how to regather your footing and move on in a positive way is a very significant part of being a leader who can build value.  Building structure to support your leaders and your projects in advance will improve retention and allow you to be the one that captures value from the learning.

This framework forms the basis of a suite of speaking, coaching and diagnostic tool that I use with my clients.   If you would like to know more about the tools and processes I use to diagnose and coach growth program leaders and teams, please send me an email, or give me a call at 847-651-1014.


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