Scale Your Leadership Skills as You Scale Your Company

To successfully scale their companies, leaders must develop a knack for timing and learn to manage their managers.

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By Ben Williams • Jan 1, 2016 Originally published Jan 1, 2016

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Entrepreneurs are constantly hit with the question of scalability -- how prepared are their startups to accommodate growth? It's a topic at the top of every investor's mind, it plagues every board meeting and it produces many sleepless nights for founders.

Every entrepreneur wants to create a scalable venture, but unfortunately, 70 percent struggle to do so. There are countless articles out there that offer tips, tricks and tech tools for those looking to scale, but they tend to miss a crucial piece of the puzzle: Leaders also need to learn how to scale their leadership tactics.

Knowing when to adjust your leadership style is difficult. Try to shift too early, and you risk dousing the flame and driving away the employees who got you to this point. Wait too long, however, and your team could find itself spinning its wheels, stuck in a startup's ad-hoc mentality when you need more structure.

When is the right time to scale your leadership? During my company's early stages, we filled our staff with self-starters who required little direction. We were operating at warp speed, and we needed freewheeling people who were comfortable flying by the seat of their pants.

This worked out for a while, but as we continued to grow, we evolved into needing more structure. It came time for us -- as leaders -- to buckle down and implement processes that would formalize the knowledge our team was collecting. That's when we knew it was time to scale our leadership tactics.

In addition to identifying when to make this change, knowing how to do it is just as important. One study found a shocking 80 percent of employees felt their leaders never or rarely implemented change well.

Here are three tips to help entrepreneurs adjust their leadership tactics the right way:

1. Learn to manage managers.

One of the biggest transitions a founder will make is from leading individual contributors to leading other leaders or managers. It takes a different skill set and mindset to effectively do this. It becomes more challenging with the realization that interns can become senior leaders in the blink of an eye.

The most important parts of this transition are clarity and training. Be clear with your new managers about what their personal and team responsibilities are and how you expect the level of effort to be split between responsibilities. Secondly, make sure they have the learning resources and support to become effective managers.

Provide a set of good articles they can reference, as well as an explicit mentor they can call upon who's outside of their direct chains. Once your managers are off and running, let them make mistakes and develop their own leadership styles, rather than trying to impose your own. Everybody leads differently -- it depends on team dynamics and personal style.

Related: Managing Middle Managers

2. Transition from presence to process.

When a startup is young, leaders tend to be hands-on and physically present every day. Once a company scales, however, a leader's physical and mental presence needs to be devoted elsewhere. One study shows managers waste up to 80 percent of their time on things that have little to no impact on their companies' long-term value -- and micromanaging employees falls squarely into that category.

Thus, it's key to transition your leadership skills from presence to process. Do this by applying organizational processes that ensure clear communication -- communication effectiveness is the key ingredient of successful leadership, especially when founders aren't able to bump into everyone on a daily basis.

Related: Choosing a Business Model That Will Grow Your Company

3. Prepare to address administrative duties.

As your team grows, so will your administrative burden. At some point, you'll have to decide whether you're going to continue handling all this paperwork yourself of if you want to hire an administrative assistant to handle it. Doing neither will leave your employees out in the cold.

Tasks such as expense reports and payroll can be taken off your plate by a full-time (or virtual) administrative assistant. Consider the time and effort you're currently spending on these things; then consider all the things you could be doing.

Scaling a company isn't a science, but with thoughtful decision-making and these tips in mind, it doesn't have to be a guessing game, either.

Related: 10 Things to Outsource to a Virtual Assistant

Ben Williams

COO of Reelio

Ben Williams is an entrepreneur and technologist who specializes in tech, energy, and aerospace. He's currently COO of Reelio, a media tech startup based in New York City.

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