The most successful CEOs and growth leaders I have worked with have all had edge; they need it to drive growth. They strike the right balance between the entrepreneurial spirit it takes to start up and the disciplined approach of running an enterprise. They innovate, create business models that challenge the marketplace and drive companies to take risks and grow. At the same time they lay tracks for future growth by building the right capabilities, culture and operational discipline to deliver on their growth promise.
To successfully grow, companies need leaders that can both disrupt and create discipline. Here are four ways that successful growth leaders get the right balance.
Mark Zuckerberg's mantra in the early days of Facebook was famously 'move fast and break things'. Growth leaders push others to change, drive new business models, and push people to exceed expectations. In driving their growth agenda, they may disrupt support functions by placing more demands on them than they can handle. In a sense, they are the sand that agitates the oyster to produce a pearl.
Google has institutionalized a disruptive culture by building a growth mindset. Leaders constantly challenge their teams to look for 10x revenue growth. If teams achieve a high growth target, leaders set even higher targets and then look for ways to achieve what was thought to be unobtainable.
Uber and Airbnb disrupted business models. They pushed the boundaries of entire industries, often pushing against or moving ahead of government regulations in the process. Silicon Valley leaders from Steve Jobs to Travis Kalanick pushed and irritated people to change.
Sometimes these leaders are not well liked across the organization and sometimes they push too far. To succeed, companies need disruptive leaders that will drive them to change and grow in different ways.
Growth leaders need to practice both exploit and explore types of leadership. Most leaders only have one of these capabilities. Some can exploit current resources, products and processes to improve performance, lower costs and drive profits. Companies such as Amazon build leaders with these capabilities to deliver on their business model.
Others have great skills in exploring new opportunities for the business. Often start up founders, they drive top line growth by introducing new products or services, moving into adjacent markets or creating new business models. Their focus is often on innovating new products or services, which results in increased revenue.
Growth leaders use both exploit and explore capabilities to grow and succeed. They grow revenue while having the discipline to execute and control costs. Many startups focus on explore leadership to gain revenue and market share and slowly shift to exploit leadership as they grow.
More mature companies often falter because they overly rely on one discipline. For example, companies like Dell executed so well that they had a hard time innovating new products.
3. Intelligent restraint
Although disruption is important, growth leaders do not drive growth at any cost. They practice intelligent restraint to drive sustainable growth. This means pushing the company as far and as fast as it can go, but no further until they build the right capabilities. Leaders that don't push enough don't grow and and lost out to competitors. Leaders that push too much experience failure.
Travis Kalanick pushed and grew Uber far and fast. He built a platform and company that was highly scalable, allowing Uber to grow unlike any previous company. However, in driving growth, he also angered drivers and alienated government regulators. Moreso, he built a corrosive company culture that allowed arrogance and abusive behavior, which ultimately led to his downfall. He pushed the organization too far and too fast without building the right culture and the right set of capabilities to sustain growth.
Growth leaders disrupt the organization and the marketplace but they temper this disruption with intelligent restraint to ensure growth is sustainable.
4. Scale for growth
Leaders and teams often can't keep up with growth; failing to deliver on goals because they don't have the right resources, processes or infrastructure. Other times, growth outpaces their ability to deliver effectively, resulting in quality or service issues. If you've ever eaten in a restaurant that is at over-capacity, you know how this feels...your order is delayed, service is poor and your soup is cold.
Airbnb found itself growing so fast at one point that they consciously decided to slow growth. They had hired so many new people into the company so fast that they felt they needed to take stock and identify the culture they wanted to build before reigniting rapid growth. They hit pause long enough to catch up with growth.
Growth leaders lay tracks for future growth as they are driving the train to deliver on their current plan. These capabilities can be in many areas including processes, innovation, culture and external orientation.
Try adopting these practices to find the right balance between disruption and discipline for your business.