High growth businesses: 8 leadership qualities you need to succeed

Lindy Cozens shares the top eight leadership qualities needed for entrepreneurs who want to grow their business.

In the UK we have a creative, innovative history and culture, but to be successful, effective and achieve high business growth, leaders need to have a wide range of leadership qualities.

The skillset required for entrepreneurs to not only guide their business through the rocky early years but also on to maturity and perhaps dispersal is varied and challenging – and it will change as the business environment evolves.

Here are the top eight leadership qualities to consider for a high growth business in the current climate:

Think innovatively and in a disruptive manner

The most successful modern entrepreneurs have an ability to think outside the box and see business from a totally different tangent.

Uber comes to mind as an obvious example of a disruptive business, which required the public to completely change the way it thought about a taxi service. The company succeeded in delivering its vision, both to stakeholders and to end-line customers by believing in that vision and creating a success story.

However, this quality might also apply to an entrepreneur who is able to see how he or she can enter an established market and simply do things better and faster than competitors. This is made easier by having a clear proposition of how to do things differently.

Think analytically

It’s not enough to be content with a business which appears to be successful and growing at a strong rate. Clear thinking along with constant and innovative analysis can often find opportunities to improve, no matter the level of current success.

One global small business start-up we worked with in the US, the management team (owners) sold it to a large global IT firm. They then spent time analysing what had made them so successful over the 10 years. They realised that 80pc of its profit had come from just 20pc of their effort. The management team have since set up a new firm ensuring the focus was on that 20pc and growing successfully and faster than their original business.

Communicate clearly

Having a clear vision backed with passion and energy are key skillsets for any successful entrepreneur – but communicating that vision is even more important for long-term growth.

Business owners need to be able to articulate their vision, strategy and road map to stakeholders and investors, explaining why they are doing what they are doing. They need to be clear, energised and passionate and able to ask themselves: why would people want to follow me?

It’s not enough to be nice or popular: having clear and stated visions and goals – and a belief they can all be achieved – is vital.

Understand your own strengths and weaknesses

Self-awareness is a quality which is often undervalued in entrepreneurs who are regularly portrayed as “super confident” and pervasive. The truth is that those who start a business are not always the best people to run it once it has matured.

Those people who are full of ideas and passion are often addicted to the fast pace and excitement of a young business – but can easily become bored when it becomes bigger and requires structure and procedure.

Having the self-awareness to realise it is time for someone else to take charge is an important moment in the history of a growing business. Leaders who are primarily inspired by ideas and innovation often struggle when the business reaches a size which requires far more process.

Have an appetite for risk

Successful entrepreneurs tend to have “can do” attitude and are brave, often flying close to the wind. In fact, an appetite for some level of risk is important because starting a new business comes with inherent risk. Having a mindset which allows for doing things differently can help.

Not being tied to a bank, for instance, might go against the grain for traditionalists but relying on crowdfunding or private investors who understand the start-up mentality can make a business more agile if all goes well. It can also result in investment in higher risk businesses, which could struggle to get off the ground if relying on banks to fund their launch. These days, many people willingly contribute financially to start ups with little or no expectation of a return.

Soft skills are hard to do well and are vital

Having a solid EQ capability will enable better understanding of partners and what they want and need from the business. The stronger the soft skills, such as inspiring, motivating, challenging and communication, amongst others, are vital leadership qualities.

Multi-tasking (and knowing what you’re good at)

Any entrepreneur will tell you that starting a business requires a level of multi-skilling which is hard to maintain, including doing your own books in the early stages before an accountant is appointed.

It is important to prepare for the legal and regulatory requirements ahead and for the people piece which comes with HR and employment law. Ultimately, however, the long-term skill comes in appreciating what you are good at and where you need help.

Richard Branson is one of the most successful UK entrepreneurs when it comes to leadership qualities but, in his autobiography, he admits he is allowed nowhere near the money or customers these days. His skill comes in marketing and promotion and in spotting new business opportunities, but he also admits to a tendency to want to please customers too much. Even if there is no financial case for doing so.

Think about exit at the start

Knowing your collective exit point is vital, because not everyone may share the same opinion or ambition. It is important to ask at the start “how much is enough?” There’s a big difference between someone who wants to drive the business to £50m and someone who would happily step out at £12m. Those aspirations need to be teased out and, ideally, partners should share the values, the same end goals and agree to a long-term plan.

Of course, there are many other core skills which make up an entrepreneur – such as communication and negotiation, project management and planning, delegation and time management, problem solving, networking and marketing.

However, the skills listed above are just some of those that help a modern leader stand out in a competitive market and create a high-growth environment.

Lindy Cozens is executive coach EMEA at leadership development company Black Isle Group

Further reading

5 effective leadership techniques to get the best from your team

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