Mastering business growth with your strategic leadership team

By Catherine Wijnberg, Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Fetola

strategic leadership team
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To grow a business to scale requires more than just the wisdom of the founder – it requires a team of skilled strategic leaders in enthusiastic support of the shared vision. A strategic leadership team should have a wide-ranging skillset. They may be leaders with many years of experience, but can also include young dynamic individuals with exceptional intelligence and skill who are eager to gain experience. As the world moves faster and faster, a strategic team that includes young team members is increasingly preferable.

Overview

As an organisation grows, so too does the need for a wider and deeper set of leadership skills. Without this, a business run by a single leader will find its growth restricted and is vulnerable to stagnation and founder burnout.

Strategic leaders are critically important. They sit directly under the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and above departmental or operational managers. Their task is to help drive the business forward by contributing the highest level of fresh, innovative thinking in the organisation, and by acting as a wise sounding board for strategic moves. Ideally, they out-gun the founder with their advanced technical skills (e.g. finance, marketing, partnerships) and have the desire and ability to work together as a team to create exceptional outcomes.

These strategic leaders should possess the ability to embrace ambiguity and envision a future that is not yet defined, and have the skill to identify fresh solutions with the confidence to drive them to the conclusion. This blend of high-level entrepreneurial skills plus the willingness to tuck in under another’s leadership and be part of a group workforce also make strategic leadership roles ideal for bright, capable yet young and inexperienced ‘CEOs in training’.

Catherine Wijnberg, Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Fetola, shares 4 keys to strategic leadership:

Find opportunities, not obstacles

Whilst many people relish identifying problems, strategic leaders have an advanced growth mindset and are skilled in finding the opportunities in these obstacles. In contrast, people who are growth-averse constantly focus on the problems rather than identifying alternatives or ‘work arounds’ and bring negativity – unwelcome on any strategic team.

As strategic teams also need to deal with crises and battle the unknown, a positive attitude, strong resilience, enthusiasm for growth and a delight in creating a new and exciting pathway are highly valued traits. This high enthusiasm should be balanced in the team with sound methods to identify risks and blockages and ensure sound decision-making, for example using the well-known Six Thinking Hats method – By Edward De Bono – Six Thinking Hats.

Ask the right questions

Whilst mid-level managers use data insights to govern their decisions, it’s important that your strategic leaders can go beyond this by asking insightful questions to uncover hidden opportunities within complex or ambiguous data.

This ability to embrace and interpret the unknown lies at the heart of entrepreneurial thinking. Individuals with this high processing ability are of special value in your growth team. The skill, of course, is to find people with an entrepreneurial mindset, plus the willingness to ‘stay between the lines’ of your formal business structure – so the working culture you create will determine how well you manage that balance.

Good leadership also stays open to fresh ideas. They invite brainstorming, open space for new thinking and actively encourage questioning of assumptions as a way to avoid the dangers of ‘group think’, which can keep a team stuck in an outdated mindset.

Inviting regular input from external thinkers and cycling in new team members is one way to keep the team constantly open to new and better ways of operating.

Be decisive and drive confident actions

At some point decisions though must be made. It’s here that the excitement and thrill of being a ‘big picture thinker’ meets the hard reality of making a decision, and getting the job done. The ideal people in your strategic leadership team will have the ability for big picture thinking, the confidence and skill to make firm and wise decisions, plus the commitment and skill to drive their strategy forward to delivery.

The best and most valuable strategic leaders are not just thinkers, dreamers and critics – they make things happen!

Shared future, shared dreams

Exceptional leaders are those who can bring people and teams together to work under a common vision. Such advanced skills include an ability to understand people, empathise with different viewpoints, and communicate in a manner that is heard and understood.

Engagement within a strategic team can be robust and challenging, yet when members are highly skilled as individuals and well-matched as a team they can produce high-quality outcomes that far exceed the sum of the parts.

Ultimately, scaled up growth is about harnessing the skills of others. Those who succeed excel in attracting the right strategic leaders and using respect, recognition and reward to encourage them to unlock their full potential and bring their brilliance to the team.

In summary

The difference between a small business and a scaled-up business lies not in the capabilities of the founder, but in the ability to transition beyond the leadership of one, to attract and nurture a high-quality strategic team. The bigger your vision for your organisation, the stronger and more skilled your strategic leadership team needs to be.

Entrepreneurs who have the desire to make the transition from founder to a strategic leader in a scaled organisation would do well to cultivate within themselves these same traits that they are seeking in others.


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