The Surprising Formula for Leading a High Growth Company

Suzanne Bates's picture Submitted by Suzanne Bates May 24, 2018 - 1:10pm
The Surprising Formula for Leading a High Growth Company

In today’s volatile, rapidly evolving, easily disrupted economic landscape, the phrase “grow or die” has never been truer. Every company must find its own path to grow and execute. Even in an expanding economy, where a rising tide is improving prospects for many businesses, the challenge is to grow faster than competitors, and generate revenue beyond returns and dividends to fuel further growth.

How do you drive quarter after quarter of sustainable growth?  And, when you fall behind, how do you reestablish your company on a sustainable growth curve?   

We have reviewed responses to 14,000 surveys, completed on executives and leaders in every industry and gathered through our assessment of executive presence. The Executive Presence Index (ExPITM) database has revealed some startling truths about the leadership qualities most prevalent in high growth companies. The results are so statistically compelling, it is not an exaggeration to call it a winning formula that leads to a high growth company.  

Analyzing growth

To analyze what it takes, we culled out two populations of leaders—those in companies that are growing at 5% of GDP or more and those experiencing negative growth at -1%—and looked at three years of data. What we found were stark differences in the scores of leaders in these companies, in several areas of leadership. Eliminating companies in the middle, we saw there were 29 behaviors that differentiated the successful growth leaders, as well as nine “Super Behaviors.”

What doesn’t differentiate growth leaders?

The term “growth companies” conjures up the image of hard-driving, results-oriented leaders who are unwavering in their quest for growth. We think of leaders who hold people accountable and make no exception when results fall short. It would be a mistake to say those driving qualities don’t matter to growth. What we discovered though, is that these qualities are not the differentiators. In a phrase, they are table stakes. What matters are qualities of character and substance that we often think of as “nice-to-have,” but not tied to growth.

What’s the winning formula?

Through careful, statistical analysis we learned the behaviors these leaders exhibited caused people to trust them to do the right thing. These leaders were more authentic, and behaved with such integrity, that others believed in their best intentions. They also were judged to be people who others could rely on to be calm in times of uncertainty.

These leadership qualities are an ace-in-the-hole that set a company on a smart path to growth. What this tells us is that the growth formula is better defined by the human side of leadership. High growth leaders lead with character and substance.

The 29 qualities (drawn from a total of 90 in our model of executive presence) have statistical significance for leading growth because the leaders received considerably higher than average ratings from their peers, direct reports, managers and directors in these areas. These ratings were dominated by Character (55%) and Substance (31%), with the remaining 14% in Style.

Integrity is a game changer

When we drilled further into the aspects of Character, we found one facet stands out as differentiating: Integrity. Every leader knows Integrity matters, and most would say it is core to their identity. We found that, across the board in our results, leaders typically score higher in Integrity, but often, the results within the six items that comprise Integrity are uneven. Leaders typically come up stronger in some items than in others. In the case of leaders in growth companies, five of the six Integrity items are clear differentiators.

Integrity, like other Character qualities, facilitates and affirms trust. When we’re trying to grow a company, results are not assured, and we look to the leader to guide us. If we believe not only that the leader is on the right course, but also doing the right thing, we trust that leader. We form stronger bonds with the leader and work harder when the going gets tough. We commit with heart and mind, in part because we believe the leader will not sacrifice principles for profit.

From bonus to imperative for growth

In a nutshell, what is incontrovertible through this data is that Character matters to growth. This takes the Character of a leader out of the realm of “nice-to-have” and puts it squarely into the must-have category for growth companies. Yet this style of leadership is not how many organizations approach the growth challenge. What different steps will you, and your organization take, to map the leadership path to growth? 

Coaching leaders to lead growth

One of the real motivators for leaders is to receive accurate, actionable data on how their behaviors are perceived, and to know these behaviors are directly tied to organizational success. Coaching leaders to develop these qualities is a matter of helping them leverage their strengths, and address any gaps or weaknesses, that keep their strengths from shining through. Sometimes simple changes in behavior, such as following through on promises even when it is not convenient, build the kind of trust that propels a leader forward and cements trust with others.   

The report shared with these leaders provides a robust set of data that shows the difference between their intentions and others’ perceptions. We have been able to document changes in perceptions of leaders through a second administration of the Bates ExPI, so they can see how others view their progress. What is encouraging and gratifying to leaders is to know they not only are hitting the mark as leaders, but that the changes they are making are connected to helping them deliver better organizational results.

To learn more about this research, the science of executive presence, and implications for coaching leaders, join Suzanne Bates and Walter Jackson on June 6, 2018 for the IOC webinar Coaching Executives to Lead Their Companies to Growth - What Qualities Really Matter? To learn more about the research prior to the session, download the white paper here.

​​​​​​​Suzanne Bates is CEO of Bates Communications, a global management consultancy that works with senior leaders in the world’s top companies to help them communicate to drive strategic execution.  Suzanne is the author of All the Leader You Can Be: The Science of Achieving Extraordinary Executive Presence.