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STRATEGY

Difference Between Brute Force & Strategic Growth

As your company grows it may be necessary to move away from your brute force approach to a more calculated plan.
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Entrepreneurs are often described as "idea people" who are constantly building new things. But that's not how we view ourselves, even though we're considered entrepreneurs. We tend to think of ourselves as business builders rather than visionaries. Building a business takes structure and execution, not new innovative ideas. In fact, we believe innovation comes from a disciplined approach to customer insights, not idea generation.

In a recent column, we discussed how leadership styles must adapt to sustain growth as a company gets larger. The transition involves moving from brute-force leadership to visionary and operational leadership.

The Brute-Force Entrepreneur 

Every small company needs a motivated and charismatic entrepreneur, or two, who can take personal responsibility for building the company. This individual grabs the organization by the neck and forces it to grow. They have a "win or die" mindset. They tend to bet the firm against the odds and push it as hard as they can to overcome those odds.

Brute-force entrepreneurs are different than a typical small business owner, who wants to build a business to sustain a career or create financial stability for his or her family. Growth is necessary, but the small business owner would never bet the farm on a growth strategy. They may seek to build an organization that can grow enough for them to step away and sustain cash flow into retirement. They likely do not have the ambition or skills to create an ever-larger organization.

The Growth Company CEO

The leadership styles that are essential to both the brute-force entrepreneur and the small business owner are much different--and in some cases detrimental--to the skills needed to sustain growth in a larger organization. Big companies require a visionary who can get a trusted management team on the same page, working toward a common goal. They need a coach, rather than a star quarterback.

The larger growing company also needs an operationally skilled CEO who takes the role we like to call The Integrator. Gino Wickman talked about the Integrator in his book, Traction. It's someone, either the CEO or COO, who integrates the various parts of the organization to ensure that the sum of the parts can deliver on the company's growth goals. In contrast to the brute-force entrepreneur, the operational CEO engineers an organization to create growth.

We asked Ross Shelleman, CEO of Target Data, about this concept. "I think people confuse the word entrepreneur with inventor," he said. "I don't fit in at an incubator like 1871 in Chicago. We run our company like a smaller version of a large company."

Our friend Jon Morris, CEO of Rise Interactive, put it this way, "I want to make sure everyone in my company is focused on a set of goals that ensure that they do their part to sustain the growth of the company."

Mindsets like these will lead to continued growth after the entrepreneurial stage and into the long term.

Share your thoughts on leadership roles for growing companies. We want to hear your questions and success stories. We can be reached at karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com.

Last updated: Feb 4, 2013

KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale

Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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