Growing a company requires great ideas, amazing people and access to the resources needed to grow. Lasting growth requires very specific leadership skills. I've always valued the experiences of people who have navigated a variety of challenges. The ones who have dedicated their lives to deeply understanding their slice of the world have learned a lot.
Recently, I talked with a venture capitalist about the leadership skills he looks for before investing in a company. Jason Green, co-founder and general partner with Emergence, a VC firm that focuses on enterprise software in the cloud, said, "We have a nose for the secret sauce." Emergence has invested in companies like Salesforce, Intacct, Zoom, Box and SalesLoft. The leaders of these companies have different talents and perspectives, yet they share traits that drive their success.
VCs want more than great ideas
Ideas are important to a company's success. It's not just ideas that VCs want, however; they want to know that leadership can execute on growth strategies. Leaders have to be able to build teams that can transform ideas into reality.
I study leaders who initiate a fast pace of growth for their companies, their teams and themselves. These visionaries are what I call "growth leaders." Across more than 300 interviews with CEOs of Inc. 5000 companies, I've discovered that growth leaders think and operate differently than their peers.
Here are five traits that are admired by VCs -- and vital, even if you don't need investors.
1. Are driven by purpose
When a company sets out to solve a big problem, it's driven by more than money. The company goes beyond the leader's ego; its purpose becomes a binding force for growth. Leaders with a clear purpose stand a much better chance of engaging others to join them.
Zoom provides remote conferencing services. Its founder, Eric Yuan, wanted to change the way people do meetings. Green shared with me that the purpose of Zoom came from Yuan's desire to create "meeting happiness." Years later, the company has changed. The purpose has been steady.
Purpose may be something you find trivial; however, leaders who are deeply connected to their purpose more strongly align their teams with the company's mission.
2. Are accelerated learners
Leadership requires constant improvement -- of the leaders themselves and their organizations. Green said, "Great leaders have a deep curiosity for growth." They research and engage role models to soak in their knowledge. That's one reason I interview so many people for my podcast, Leaders in the Trenches. It's also why I write articles like this one.
Leaders often read more than a dozen books a year. They don't read to learn information -- they persistently pursue insights they can apply to their organizations.
3. Set high standards
Growth leaders understand that extraordinary companies endure change. Their leaders also have to make tough decisions. Leaders of great companies push themselves beyond mediocrity by having an unwavering belief in themselves. This is often transferred to the people who surround them.
According to Green, "Leaders expect more of others than they believe is possible."
4. Value values
The importance of values should never be underestimated. Nearly every company I know that's on a fast growth trajectory and making a profound impact on the world has a clear set of values. Growth leaders have a strong sense of what they stand for and stand against. Those values are critical for aligning the team. Green said, "We invest in leaders that have character."
A simple way to look at an organization's values is to look beyond its professed values and look at how it lives by its values. Green gave me a powerful question to consider when using values as a foundation for growth: "Can our people make a decision when I'm not in the room with them?"
Reinforce those values by rewarding people. SteelBrick, which automates the lead-to-cash process, gives away socks to those who are demonstrating its core values. This bonds these people more clearly to the brand and what it stands for.
Green added, "Companies that run by values win big in the long run."
5. Create the future
Visionary leaders are constantly told no. They face investors, partners, analysts, customers and even employees who don't see the same vision of the future they do. Growth leaders have a way of willing the universe into being. Green has seen leaders who can shift a room of people from "no" to a "yes."
Great leaders can shift the power in a moment to get others to believe in a new possibility. They use influence and persuasion to create unity.
It turns out the same leadership skills that VCs want will also make you a growth leader. The new year is a great time to develop them -- and experience true growth.