Suzanne Bates, CEO of Bates Communication, shares her winning formula for leaders who want to create sustainable growth for their organizations and why character and integrity are game-changers.
In today’s volatile, rapidly evolving, constantly shifting, easily disrupted economic landscape, the phrase “grow or die” has never been truer. Every company must find its path to drive a growth strategy and execute on it. Even in a growth economy, where a rising tide can help most companies, the challenge is to grow faster than competitors and generate enough 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?
In our research of over 14,000 survey responses from our Executive Presence Index (ExPITM) database, we have uncovered the winning formula to lead a high-growth company. And it’s not what the common wisdom would suggest.
How We Analyzed Growth
To analyze what it takes to lead a high-growth company, 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 was there are differentiating leadership behaviors prevalent in high growth companies to a very high degree of statistical validity. It would not be exaggerating to say there’s a winning formula.
What Doesn’t Differentiate Growth Leaders?
The term “growth companies” conjures up the image of highly-focused, driven leaders, unwavering in their commitment to the organization, holding others accountable and making 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 fact, those harder-driving execution qualities that we assume will get the job done are table stakes.
What’s the Winning Formula?
We found through careful, statistical analysis that leaders in high-growth companies have differentiating ways of approaching leadership that cause others to trust them, lean on them, and rely on them to establish calm in the face of uncertainty. These leaders exhibit qualities that inspire people’s best efforts, focus their energies, and rally them to go above and beyond. These leadership qualities are an ace-in-the-hole that set a company on a smart path to growth. What this tells us in that the growth formula is better defined by the human side of leadership – high-growth leaders lead with character and strategic thinking.
Our analysis found that out of the 90 behaviors that comprise the ExPITM model, 29 had statistical significance for leading growth. High-growth company leaders were higher rated by their peers, direct reports, managers and directors in these areas, dominated by Character (55%) and Substance (31%), with the remaining 14% in Style.
When we looked more closely at the behaviors we found there is a subset of 9 “super” behaviors in the Character and Substance realm that truly differentiate these leaders. Simply put, leaders in high-growth companies seriously outperform all other leaders. The qualities in this “super” category underscore the importance of trustworthiness, solid judgment, enterprise view, and calm in the face of difficulty.
Integrity is a Game-Changer
When we drilled further into the aspects of Character, we found one facet stands out as a differentiator: Integrity. Every leader knows Integrity matters, and most would say it is core to their identity. We find that across the board in our results with leaders, they 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?
(To learn more about the research and what we found, 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 also the author of All the Leader You Can Be: The Science of Achieving Extraordinary Executive Presence.