In the six years since I launched my consulting business I’ve worked with dozens of different companies and clients, ranging from Fortune 500 and major corporations, such as GSK, Alliance Boots, Avon Cosmetics and Morrisons, through to smaller, family-owned organisations such as Pedigree Wholesale Limited in Nottingham.

Some of my clients have been hugely successful in growing sales and profits, whilst others have struggled far more to shift the dial. As a result, I’ve been able to see first-hand what works best in driving rapid, sustainable and profitable growth.

There is, of course, never a single way that works best. Some effective leaders, for example, are outgoing and gregarious, enjoying the direct conversations with front-line teams, whereas others are far more introspective and analytical, preferring to direct operations from behind their desk.

Yet, over the years, I have identified some common behaviours that set the more effective growth leaders apart from other senior executives. Here are 7 of these behaviours that I see in effective growth leaders that are missing in their less effective peers:

  1. Clarifying The Goals. Most organisations are not short of targets, objectives and goals – in fact, most businesses are drowning in them. Effective growth leaders are able to cut through the morass of these objectives – which frequently result from an over-reliance on ‘balanced scorecards’ – and focus on the goals that really matter. Typically, these goals are multi-year (rather than simply this year’s budget), ambitious (meaning that things will have to change to achieve them) and directly linked into the business model (e.g. BSkyB’s focus on growing their number of TV subscribers).
  2. Setting A Fast Pace. Effective growth leaders ensure that no-one works quicker than they do. They set the rhythm of the organisation and create a pace that ensures people are focused on achieving more than even they thought possible. They are willing to take prudent risks in order to achieve results at pace, rather than relying on “perfect”, risk-free solutions.
  3. Focusing On The Organisation’s Key Strengths. To be an effective leader you have to be an optimist, but you must also be able to take an objective view of how good your business really is. As a result, growth leaders take an honest view of their company’s true capabilities and focus on developing and building the organisation’s strengths, rather than simply travelling in hope or investing too much effort on non-core capabilities and ‘pet projects’.
  4. Saying “No”. Growth leaders don’t say “Yes” to every new idea that comes along, but are selective about which areas they wish to focus on. Ironically, they are far more likely to say “No” than those business leaders who are less effective at driving growth. But this focus enables the operating and project teams to maintain the fast pace on the priority initiatives.
  5. Ensuring Accountability. People in the organisation know what they’re accountable for, and are held to it. There is less stepping on each other’s toes than is the case in lower-growth businesses, and managers across the business feel able to take the steps necessary to achieve their objectives.
  6. Flexing The Approach. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and a prime ‘growth leader’ once said his firm was fixed on the vision, flexible on the journey. Effective growth leaders know that the first iteration of an idea or initiative will be unlikely to work and are willing to relentlessly test and refine new growth strategies until they deliver the goals that have been set.
  7. Constantly looking forward. Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of Manchester United, has often said that once he’s won a league title or cup competition, the thrill of success lasts an hour or so before he’s re-focused on the following season’s objectives. I see the same behaviour in effective growth leaders. They may take some time to celebrate success, but even as they do so they’re already thinking about how they can achieve the next level of growth, reach new customers and deliver more for their existing customers.

Which of these behaviours do you believe you demonstrate, and which are you less focused on? And are there any other behaviours you think should be added to this list? Just click on the comments section, below.

© Stuart Cross 2012. All rights reserved.