As a CEO, how do you know you’re doing the right things to grow your company? There’s a lot to be learned from CEOs who have done it. I host a podcast, Thoughts for Tuesday, where I have regular conversations with leaders who are figuring out their growth formula.

A common theme among the conversations is the importance of having a clear, powerful, exciting mission. While growth matters, you can’t make growth the mission. It’s the outcome of having a vision and executing!

What have these growth leaders learned? This week, we feature five leaders with words of wisdom that I hope inspire your own leadership.

Growth is an Outcome, Not a Mission

Corey Thomas, CEO of Rapid 7, says too many CEOs focus on growth as the goal, forgetting to connect growth to the inspiration for why the company exists. You have to answer the question, “Why are we here?” As a CEO, you always need to periodically step back and take time to share where you are going and why. What’s the story of the value you are creating, both for customers and employees?   

“If you view growth as the objective, you’re limiting yourself. Growth is an outcome of how well you learn and how much value you create in the world: value for customers and value for employees. I think organizations fail at growth because they’re not actually focused on whether they are generating things that make others’ lives better.

“When we think about our business, we think about how do we help the employees who are working on our customers’ problems do their jobs better? The output metrics – revenue, growth – are helpful, but when you focus on them too much, you become blind to the fundamentals.”

Growth Comes When Your People are Inspired 

People are inspired for different reasons, and often it’s when their personal missions connect with the business vision. This is important to all employees, especially Millennials, but really everyone who wants their work to have meaning, and their professional lives to have purpose.

Our research finds the way the leader expresses vision is one of the five greatest differentiators in growth companies. Interestingly, among thousands of surveys we found vision is also one of the lower rated aspects of leadership presence.

Ed Kinnaly, CEO of Bauer Hockey, says in a highly competitive sports apparel marketplace, the secret to strategic alignment is getting everyone to embrace the mission.

“You can have the best strategy in the world, but unless you have people that are not only aligned behind it, but truly in their heart and soul believe in it, you’re not going to get anywhere. When I look back on why I’m so passionate about this company, and my time at Nike before this, the common thread between the two is that it’s not so much a business, but it’s really a mission that you’re on. And that shift in mentality has immense power.”

You Have to Grow as a Leader, If You Want to Grow Your Company

When you’re in the top job, you can’t stop learning. You became a leader after investing time and energy in learning to lead. Arriving at the top presents all new opportunities to grow. Successful CEOs take time to think and they surround themselves with advisors and mentors.  

Gary Ambrosino, CEO of TimeTrade, advises seeking input from others to take risks to advance the business.

“Listen more to people and try to find good mentorship. You get a false impression in business school that, ‘I know how to do this.’ But when you’re in a company, when you’re under pressure, especially when something is going wrong or you’re in a dilemma, you may not be making the clearest decision.”  

“If you’re not a little scared about the risks that you’re taking you might not really be doing enough to move the thing forward. But when you’re operating in that setting, it’s critical to have somebody that you can call up and say, ‘Here’s what’s going on, I’m thinking about doing this, what do you think?’ And it’s somebody out there who has made that mistake five times and can say, ‘I was in that situation and here’s what happened when I did it.’”

Growth Means Shaking Things Up

As your company grows you will find there are times when you hit an inflection point. This is a sign you may need to review how you’re thinking and shake things up. One of the greatest challenges is knowing when to stay the course, and when to make a sharp turn. Yet these moments can free you and your team to accelerate growth.

Ralph Dangelmaier, BlueSnap CEO and Founder, points to two things he’s learned that were important to his success as a CEO.

“You have to break a little glass. It’s got to be a little confrontational, and you’ve got to get comfortable with that… If a person is not working out on your team or your organization, you have to make the decision to part ways, and do it quickly. It doesn’t mean they are not a great person, but either they are aligned to your vision or they are not.”

Growth Happens When You Encourage Everyone to Speak Up

It’s easy to become insulated as a CEO and senior team, even when you believe you’re promoting a culture where people can speak up. Employees often doubt they will be heard or don’t believe that senior management is open to hearing their problems and challenges. Growth CEOs go the extra mile to communicate that they want candor and courage. They train leadership, reward people for raising issues, and create a psychologically safe environment.   

Sandra Fenwick, CEO, Boston Children’s Hospital, named year after year as a top hospital in the world, set standards and expectations that changed the game for the hospital’s performance and standards of excellence.

“To create a hospital that is truly high reliability, we started at the very top with all of our senior clinical leaders, our nursing leaders, our executives, every department leader, and trained them in techniques of communication, asking clarifying questions, speaking up for safety, and breaking through hierarchical barriers where people would normally say, ‘I can't really challenge that person.’ Then we trained every single individual in that same set of techniques. Now every day we have a daily operational brief where everybody comes in and talks about the challenges or the issues that they're facing so that there is awareness across the organization of what's going on.”

These common threads are just a sample of what I’m learning as I interview growth CEOs. To learn how to subscribe to our podcast, click here.  And, to learn more about our research on leadership that drives growth, click here.

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