Question: Cultural changes needed to move away from a small business mindset to being a mid-sized business.

We have grown very rapidly from being a 50 employee company to more than 150 people, in contrast to most of our competitors. With success has come growing pains in terms of systems upgrades, need for longer view, etc.

Our approach of relying on leadership of 4-5 key executives does not work as well now, as it did when we were smaller.

How do we institutionalize leadership in our staff? In particular, how can we have the 2nd line take more ownership and drive more initiatives?


5 Expert Insights

Delegate, hold your breath as some of the delegatees mess up or at least don't do things as you would.  Judge by results, not the way things are done.


Ensure that the key executives have clearly defined roles which give space for the 2nd line and don't let the executives interfere!

Good luck - failure to let go is one of the prime reasons that businesses fail to grow as they should/could.

Whenever an organization has the growth you refer to you are moved to a new environment of operation.  In addition to the challenge of satisfying customers/clients, you have the challenge of making the needed changes to the way you operate that will enable you to provide what the customers want, need and were promised.

In responding as a leadership coach I believe you need to bring the group together and involve all who are expected to take responsibility and redesign the approach to be inclusive of the full 'current' team.  Just because you are saying to the 2nd line  that you want them to take on new responsibilities doesn't make that happen.

By redesigning the leadership structure around today's realities and including all in creating the new vision, the related goals and the systems you put in place to achieve success, you will be 'formally' altering the leadership structure and create a reinforced and solid foundation on which to move forward.

Where I have been involved in similar situations, two days of working together as a 'new' leadership team can achieve wonders!

I firmly believe in collaborative leadership. The term Collaborative Leadership describes an emerging body of theory and management practice which is focused on the leadership skills and attributes needed to deliver results across organizational boundaries.

There are six elements important for leading a collaborative process:
• Assessing the Environment for Collaboration: Understanding the context for change before you act

• Creating Clarity: Visioning and Mobilizing: Defining shared values and engaging people in positive action

• Building Trust: Creating safe places for developing shared purpose and action

• Sharing Power and Influence: Developing the synergy of people, organizations, and communities to accomplish more

• Developing People: Committing to the development of people as your key asset through mentoring and coaching

By using the principles of collaborative leadership you will have a better chance of leading the company and creating results you desire to create.

Yes, at or around 150 people, a small business approach to leadership is no longer possible -- there are just too many people to communicate with and MBWA (management by wandering around) isn't sufficiently scalable.

Role clarity and hand-off points are key. Thinking about  vertical relationships as a set of overlapping circles is often helpful. What do you want the 2nd line to be responsible for and what authority are you willing to give them? (That's in the non-overlapping part of their circle.) Similarly, how do you want the focus of your 1st line's responsibilities to change given the addition of the 2nd line? (That's the non-overlapping part of their circle.) And, of course, insuring that both lines 1 and 2 understand (and agree on) what is in the overlapping areas is essential.

The distinctions between "WHAT we work on," and "HOW we work together" are likely to be quite fluid, at first.  That's okay because it's role clarification is often an iterative process. Just know that the overlap will likely be the area that's most difficult (and most important) to clarify.

You can do it yourself, if you are willing to delegate, ask the 2nd tier to report to you regularly or call for advice, then allow the 2nd tier to make mistakes, and gently suggest corrections for the mistakes.

You can ask someone with expertise in resolving internal conflicts in organizations to evaluate the situation including the personalities and interests of both your current executive team and the members of the 2nd tier. Resolving conflicts involves coaching, inspiring, and motivating. This may be quicker than doing it yourself, and give you more viewpoints and room to maneuver than doing it yourself.