You’ve probably heard the old adage, “It starts at the top.” People repeat it when they hear a story about a struggling business.

Well, guess what? It’s true!

In my recent TEDxBeaconStreet talk, “Founders Can’t Scale,” I talk about why many founders are not the right leaders once the company gets bigger and needs different leadership skills.

You can watch the full 13-minute presentation below so I won’t repeat it verbatim.

But the gist of it is this, founders don’t scale because they either don’t change what they are doing (role) or how they are doing it (style) or BOTH!

They don’t face what I phrased in my talk: “You are doing something wrong” and “Your flaws are harming the team.”

I know, it sounds harsh, but it does get people’s attention.

Yes, I may be the CEO of a public company now, but when I joined Constant Contact, it was tiny. We had 7 people. No products. No revenue. Clearly the issues and challenges were VERY different than the ones I face today.

As the business grew, I had to continually review how I was spending my time. Was I working on the right things — the things that would actually move the needle? And I needed to change my leadership style and learn how my personal flaws and behaviors were getting in the way of growing the business.

Hey, we all have flaws — better to face them.

It works the same whether you’re a small business owner, nonprofit director or a team leader. You must look at yourself to see where you should focus your time and which behaviors are harming your team and stifling growth.

How do you do this? Three ways: Listen to your team, solicit feedback, and find a mentor or peer-to-peer group.

Listen to your team

Whether you run a small business or manage a nonprofit, you work hard. You’re tenacious. You wear six different hats. You constantly juggle a dozen balls and somehow keep them all in the air. But sometimes, all that juggling makes it hard to step back and evaluate your own performance.

You have people around you who can give you insights, if you ask and then REALLY listen. Listening to feedback is hard. It’s so easy to feel (and act) defensive. Instead, take a deep breath and thank them. Then think about what they told you.

You’ve been given an incredible gift — insights that can help you grow and change your business. Don’t waste it.

(In my talk, I point out some of my flaws — and my reactions when people gave me feedback. If it makes you feel better, I’m a brooder.)

Solicit Feedback

Let’s face it: giving the boss direct feedback, especially when it isn’t the positive kind, may feel incredibly intimidating to your employees.

Or, what if you’re a sole proprietor? How do you know which behaviors you need to change?

Solicit feedback via anonymous surveys to your team or clients. You can use paper surveys or ask people to complete them electronically. (With Constant Contact’s online survey tool, you can send a link that let’s people respond anonymously.)

If possible, have someone from the outside conduct the survey, read and analyze the results — and then present them to you.

Find a mentor or peer-to-peer group

Leadership is lonely. And if your business is growing, you are often doing things you have never done before. One way to grow and learn is find a mentor or a peer group. No matter what your organization or industry, you can find a group of like-minded peers.

SCORE offers free consulting advice to entrepreneurs and small business owners. (Check their Website for a chapter near you.)

Also check for small business associations in your region or state. In the New England area, for example, we have SBANE (Small Business Association of New England). This organization offers peer-to-peer advisory groups through its CEO Dialog Program.

If you’re a one-person consulting shop, form a “mastermind” group with another consultant or two.

The point of a peer or advisory group is to have a place to openly discuss challenges and get feedback on what you can do better.

When you’re running a business or organization, you get caught up in beating back the alligators.

It’s easy to miss the ways you need to change your role or style as the business evolves. But if you want to affect positive change in your organization, the first step begins with a look in the mirror.

Watch my TEDxBeaconStreet talk:

Can’t see the video? Watch it here.

Have you made a personal change that positively impacted your business? Share your experience in the comments below.

 

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