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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • December 4, 2010
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The 3 inescapable characteristics of growth-oriented leaders 

After my post a while back on Growthiness (key indicators that an organization is biased toward growth), a number of people asked if the same precept could be applied to people.In other words, is it possible to identify attributes that taken together, indicate that a specific individual has a propensity for, or a bias toward, attaining business growth. I believe so, and (with the same caveats I made in the original post) here are the three top three ‘growth indicators’ I see in managers and leaders:

1. A respect for, and knowledge of what happened in the past, but with zero interest in blame.
Leaders with a propensity for growth tend not to live in the past (nor, weirdly, in the future – they are resolutely rooted in the now, but ‘leaning forward’, if you will) – but they do have a huge respect for the past. Not for purposes of blame or longing, but because data and perspective live there.

2. Highly developed pattern recognition skills.
Every successfully growth-oriented leader I’ve ever met had the capacity to see persistent patterns in both data and accumulated actions. They also tend to be good at the use of metaphor (which is a necessary skill to turn their pattern recognition into someone else’s vision).

I’m not entirely sure what the direct connection is between pattern recognition and business growth, but I’d guess it’s to do with being able to radically shorten the array of possible alternatives to successful business growth by quickly eradicating what isn’t going to work based on found patterns. Nonetheless, whatever the connection, it’s nearly always there.

3. Constant but (relatively) low-level self-competitiveness.
Highly competitive individuals don’t deliver successful long-term business growth. They’re too easily moved off the real goal by the temptation to do whatever it takes to ‘win’: and ‘winning’ is too easily redefined away from (or perhaps never was in the first place) growing the business of which they are a part. In other words, highly competitive people will always blow up somewhere along the line and put their personal interests above that of the organization..

Solid, dependable, consistent long-term growth tends in my observation to come from leaders who have a degree of similarly solid, dependable and consistent, but low-level (i.e. not psychotic) self-competitiveness. In other words, most of the time they’re competing against their own self-imposed standards, but not in a way that makes you wonder if they’re off their medication.


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