Common pitfalls for high growth business leaders

Leaders read articles like this one, but if you do, you’re probably alone. The Scale Up Institute’s last report identified one of the biggest challenges for leaders as ‘the solitary nature of leadership.’

So what does it mean to go it alone?

There are a variety of approaches to developing personal leadership skills, from peer-to-peer networking, life coaching, mentoring and the creation of the board of either advisors or non-executives. In addition, there are various solutions for developing a cascade of leadership capabilities from senior management to aspiring managers, which might include management programmes, with OKRs and integrated management frameworks. 

But therein could lie the problem: Leadership paralysis. Some businesses appear to have adopted all, which can create a state of paralysis and form over substance, especially when each of these well-intentioned initiatives are not aligned. 

Leadership development can take many forms with a typical  journey based on applying intentional leadership by identifying accidental leadership and progressing to unconscious competence. A wide range of frameworks may be applied including insights based on Jungian archetypes, emotional intelligence, differentiating between management and leadership, assessing why others should want to be led by you, developing ‘level 5 capabilities’ or simple truisms such as those set out in “The Truth about Leadership” (Kouzes and Posner). Advocates of each framework can articulate how they have helped businesses although the key missing agreement is often the creation of a shared framework within the context of an overall growth plan. 

In addition the creation of an advisory board or appointment of non-executives can help provide practical advice and in more formal arrangements sometimes required by investors, the appointment of a chair can provide an excellent solution for a founder or CEO. You can read more about considerations for developing an effective board here.

The method selected by leaders is likely to reflect personal preferences and understandably, a certain degree of chemistry with the service provider. Based on our work with scores of CEOs in so far in 2023, other senior leaders as well as board and leadership teams, key considerations for delivering effective leadership development appear to be:

  1. Focus: Ensure leadership development focuses on strategic priorities to help redefine culture and addresses the most important issues facing the business.
  2. Customise: Ensure that leadership initiatives are relevant to your organisation at the moment in time. Many programmes are broad brush and don’t take into account prioritisation or the timeliness of needed interventions. Make your own playbook rather than get stuck applying someone else’s. 
  3. Align: Align leadership initiatives across. Avoid inertia because of multiple initiatives or.
  4. Experience: Engage someone with relevant experience; of leadership, in markets, of scaling, of fundraising. 
  5. Adapt: Be prepared that there is no silver bullet and however well one solution works for some of the team, others will need a different style. 
  6. Develop intellectual capital: Strike the right balance between those with ‘skin in the game’ such as investors (where relationships can get complicated) and those who can provide objective counsel.  
  7. Commitment: Keep working on it. Leadership needs to evolve and keep progressing with the needs of the business.

Drawing on scale up and high growth experience from venture boards to listed companies, we provide integrated leadership support from non-executive appointments, to board advisory retainers or reviews. Our integrated approach combines operational experiences and expertise covering leadership, strategy, finance, people, legal and IT. If you would like a confidential conversation to understand how we might help you, you can contact us on for one of our specialists to get back to you.

Are you a high growth business? 

If you are wondering what a scale up business is, it’s a fair point and is defined by the Scale Up Institute as businesses surpassing the £10m turnover level or with assets of more than £5.1m and sales growth of 15%-20%. The threshold mirrors current financial reporting thresholds that mean this is the first opportunity for those businesses to be visible and in reality, there are many more scale ups – fast growing businesses of substance that fall below these limits but are nonetheless experiencing similar growth challenges. It also means that these are proven businesses who have gone far beyond the MVP and market validation challenges of earlier stage businesses. To see an overview of the top challenges facing scale up businesses, see our article Top five challenges for scaling businesses”

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