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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • May 8, 2021
  • minute read

Here’s the Unexciting but Powerful Secret to Scalability 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

In over thirty years of working with organizations of every shape and size, I’ve become convinced of one thing more than anything else – there is a dirty little secret of attaining scalability, and it’s not only not very complicated, it’s downright prosaic.

The secret? Effective team-based decision-making. There – I warned you it was dull, right? Dull, but immensely powerful.

To see why this seemingly innocuous skill – the ability of a group of people to get together and come up with effective, implementable decisions – is so powerful, consider the arc of leadership in most organizations:

HQTBDM in Lifecycle

Phase 1: Heroic Leadership

For any business or new venture to get off the ground and out of the highly dangerous Early Struggle phase of growth, heroic actions are required. In fact, given the high mortality rate of new ventures (around 80%), the very act of starting something new - a new business or not-for-profit, say) is in itself heroic.

During the next, Fun stage, the heroic model of leadership is what fuels the young organization's growth: regularly stealing victory from the jaws of defeat, the plucky, flexible, evangelistic, energetic leadership powers the organization past its bigger competitors, delighting its customers, clients, end users or members, and engaging employees in a fun, almost hyperactive environment.

All well and good, until it isn’t. The problem is that (as we've already seen) heroic leadership isn’t scalable.

Phase 2: Synergistic Leadership

For those leaders who see the need to move on from heroic leadership (and who have the discipline and commitment to do so – after all, heroic leadership is very gratifying to the ego), the second phase is much less exciting, but, for a complex, growing organization, much more effective: consistently making high-quality decisions as a team.

(Which, by the way, is not the same as needing, or achieving, consensus.)

For those leadership teams who master this transition from heroic to synergistic leadership, anything is possible. For those who don’t, their organization is doomed to limited, albeit hyperactive growth.

"For those teams who master the transition from heroic to synergistic leadership, anything is possible. For those who don’t, their organization is doomed to limited, albeit hyperactive growth" - Les McKeown, Founder & CEO,Predictable Success

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Phase 3: Protective Leadership

In theory, with synergistic leadership, any leadership team can continue scaling their organization to whatever level their industry or market sector will allow (and even further, by redefining their industry or market sector).

In reality, sadly, most often synergistic leadership slowly ossifies, and over time leaders become protective – of their core function, their resources, their market share, their status, their past results, their asset value, their team, their data, their profitability, or EBITDA, or ROI - whatever it is, something becomes so important, its protection becomes all-consuming.

Debate becomes brittle, decisions become bureaucratic and execution becomes arthritic. And thus begins the decline of the formerly growth-oriented organization.

So here’s my question for you:

How is your Organization growing?

Is it as a result of the key leadership team making vibrant, data-rich, team-based decisions? 

Or is it by you and few others pulling off extraordinary, heroic feats? Or are you eking out marginal, incremental growth from a group of protective leaders? 

The difference is the dirty little secret of scalability.

Let me know in the comments below!

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