Do founders make great leaders? Do the passion and skills that got your business off the ground mean that you’re the best person to get your business to the next stage?

HBR conducted research among 1300 alumni leaders, from those running their own business through to those in senior corporate roles, to identify the key leadership skills required and whether founders or non-founders were best placed to lead their organisation.

The results proved that contrary to expectations, successful founders were no better than non-founders when it came to team management, decision making, operations, or sales. But they were significantly better at envisioning the future, identifying opportunities, being comfortable with uncertainty, building networks and managing the finances. Needless to say, when it came to implementing an organisational structure or hierarchy it was the non-founders who embraced this challenge.

So, do you think you have the skills to lead your organisation into the next phase of its growth? And if you don’t what are you going to do? You can decide to “skill-up” and develop competencies or work on your weaknesses, or you can surround yourself with great people who perhaps fill the gaps in your leadership skills. Or, if you’re honest with yourself and incredibly brave, should you be stepping back and letting someone else lead your growing business?

At REAL. Leadership we work with many successful founders/entrepreneurs who are acutely aware of whether they should be leading, whether they should be improving their leadership or how they can surround themselves with better leaders. But they are equally aware of what people around them think of their leadership, they embrace positive and negative feedback and see it as an opportunity to grow rather than be threatened or demotivated.

As a leader you drive the culture, how will that change as you move from “family” and “start-up” to “formal and “inclusive”. How do you retain employees who joined the smaller organisation but might not fit into the new one? Jim Collins (author of books such as Good to Great and Great by Choice) says it’s like driving a bus. You need to have the right people in the right seats at the right time, as your business grows you might have to make some tough decisions and throw some people off! Equally rather than jumping at an exciting potential recruit you should first determine whether this is the right time for them to come on board, can you manage their expectations, and more importantly can they manage yours…will you have the patience to let them learn the ropes?

Finally, another common leadership challenge for growing companies is ensuring that the original vision, values and behaviours are retained and embraced by every new addition to the team? How do you grow your business without compromising your original principles, are you chasing profit or passion when it comes to projects and clients? Can you justify doing both? Often founders try to find people who are as passionate as they are, well the reality is that you won’t! Instead focus on recruiting people who are great at doing the roles you want, people who will challenge your thinking and get your business to the next stage.

So, the simple steps for leaders of businesses that are scaling –

1 – Be self-critical and ask those around you about your leadership skills

2 – Either improve them, step back and let someone else do it or surround yourself with a management team that can.

3 – Don’t lose sight of your founding principles and passion. Think about how the culture must adapt as you grow but try not to lose your original values/reasons for setting up the business.

4 – Be prepared to make tough decisions on people and processes that might not be the best fit moving forwards.

5 – Recruit people who are better than you at their roles and can challenge you!

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