How to Become a Great Leader & Scale Your Business

CentreCEOs want to grow their businesses, but are afraid of losing control. How can they achieve scale, while ensuring their business remains directionally correct? Former Frog and Quirky President, Doreen Lorenzo, calls for setting a strong culture, understanding the needs of your people and empowering them to stretch themselves.

Key Points:
1. Scaling up requires powering down control by ceding it to others
2. Great leadership requires understanding the needs of your people
3. Use design thinking to empower people to stretch themselves

At EXOscalr we are building up a coaching clientele of people that are already leaders and want to become extraordinary leaders. Some of these leaders are focused on building up ventures that have progressed to product-market fit stage and as these companies start to scale up, they want to increase their growth velocity.

At its simplest, achieving hyper-growth through scaling up is about adding fuel and subtracting friction. There are a whole range of mechanisms we use to add fuel, such as an infusion of funding or top talent. To remove friction we focus on how companies organize, how they manage their people and ultimately how they motivate and incentivise them.

We are eager to take on board and share insights from others who have walked the path of scaling multiple organisations and have inspiring leadership stories. In this note we spend time with Doreen Lorenzo. She spent 16 years as President of Frog, which she scaled into a global design powerhouse. She then took on the same role at crowdsourced product startup Quirky, which she put through an accelerated scaling program – fondly called “Doreen bootcamp” by Quirky’s CEO, Ben Kaufman.

Scaling up requires powering down control by ceding it to others

Doreen’s view is that scaling in and of itself isn’t hard. What is hard is being prepared to cede control to other people in order to scale a business.
“This is where the big misstep comes, because if you’re going to grow a business you have to put other people in charge of things.”

She sees scaling as being a three-stepped process:
1. Build a replicable culture – you need to have a vision and mission that everybody understands, that everybody sees as your Northstar.
2. Hire fantastic people – bring on board people that understand the vision and mission.  Diversity is beneficial and the people you hire don’t have to agree with you 100%.
3. Allow people to do the things that you hired them to do –  either empower your people, or remove obstacles that prevent them from executing against your vision and mission.

When she joined Quirky it was a young company in which the vision and mission were already very established. The question she faced was how to put the right people and processes in place to deliver on that mission and vision. She asked what they were trying to accomplish, what needed to happen to get to them to the point that sets the business up for success and then she worked with the team to execute against that.

Great leadership requires understanding the needs of your people

Doreen points out that because of all the technology that we live and work with, there is no divide and we are working all the time. In such a world the most important thing you can do for your people is to understand the 24/7 nature of work and, in this context, to understand their needs.

“It doesn’t mean you need to agree with everything, but you understand their needs and you’re making decisions based on them.”

“Sometimes you’ll make decisions that they’ll agree with, and sometimes you won’t, but they will know that you understand their needs and have taken them into account when you made your decision.”

“It is just a point of data, and not all data comes from spreadsheets, some of it comes from people and you need both to be an effective business leader.”

Use design thinking to empower people to stretch themselves

As leaders it’s your job to make sure that people reach their full satisfaction and when you see them struggling you need to help them grow, ultimately becoming better people.

“Find out where people are at, what their situations are  – it’s like doing design research, you are understanding their situation, therefore you understand what problem you have to solve.”

At Frog, Doreen helped many people change their career by giving them an opportunity to stretch themselves and do things that they never thought they could possibly do.

“When you achieve great things, you feel better about yourself.”

As a leader, when you talk to people all the time you get to understand them and you can see who is stuck, who is struggling and you can make a decision to do something to help them.

“If you think they are great people and have possibilities then give them opportunities to stretch and grow. This stuff is not that complicated, you’ve just got to invest yourself to do it.”

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Does Your Business Have the Capabilities for Achieving Exponential Growth?

Growth
As CEOs and Boards you are faced with an unprecedented level of pressure to achieve growth. Your company needs to stay ahead of increasingly aggressive competition, from other companies in your industry, from outside your industry and even from scrappy startups who define their own playbook.

Growth is not a lever you turn on or off at will. It requires focus, it requires a set of core capabilities that work together as a well-honed scalable operating system. Does your company have such an operating system in place? To achieve the nirvana of hyper-growth, this operating system needs to be working at peak performance capacity. How close is your business to operating at optimal capacity?

THE HYPER-GROWTH CAPABILITY QUIZ

We’ve designed a set of questions that help you uncover whether your business has scale in its DNA, whether it will be constrained by limitations and frictions and whether it has the capability to easily add fuel into its mix.

You can access the quiz via exoscalr.com or directly here.

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Finding Your Soul Work: A Journey from Near Death to Nirvana

EXO1Rewind back to early 2014 and I was enjoying working for the world’s leading research and advisory firm as an executive leadership and innovation analyst. I spent my days flying around the world advising Fortune 500 Boards, CEOs and CxOs on growth, leadership and disruptive innovation.

On a Sunday night, mid-February, I’d prepped for an international flight in the morning and then…I dropped dead from a sudden cardiac arrest. I was able to revive myself, but was in a state of conscious ventricular tachycardia, a severely life threatening condition in which the heart beats at an extremely rapid rate.  I was rushed to hospital and spent several weeks undergoing a number of surgeries and also had a mini stroke, which was terrifying. I’ve detailed my health journey over this time (here and here), but in summary after an initially positive response my health deteriorated from mid 2014 leading to a further operation in December. Since then my health has improved dramatically.

Coming out of hospital for the first time in March 2014, I felt extremely grateful for being alive, for breathing fresh air and I saw the world through fresh eyes. I felt at the time that I had to make use of this opportunity to do something world changing. How could resuming the status quo be sufficient?

As Joseph Campbell puts it, “Only birth can conquer death – the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new.

But what was it that I would do that was new? As the months passed, I spoke with many people, considered diving into a few opportunities and also went back to my work as an analyst. I realized that I’d been given a very rare second chance at life and to honour that I needed to do more than what I had been doing. I also realised that what I did had to resonate within me, deeply.

Steve Jobs explains this so eloquently, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Even though I had some very trying times over the course of 2014, I was enthused by the journey I’d embarked on to search for my soul work, my calling. I came to realise that during my time as a VC and previously as a coach, I found most joy in helping great people transform themselves into being extraordinarily great – asking the right questions, guiding them to make the right decisions and acting as a trusted advisor. In this regard the role of a VC and a coach are very similar. As Roelof Botha of Sequoia Capital points out, the role of a VC is to help entrepreneurs navigate and solve problems on their own, to provide perspective and ask the right questions, and to provide frameworks for decision-making.

And so I’m super excited to announce that I’ve left my high flying analyst role and set up EXOscalr, the elite performance and transformational coaching and advisory firm. Our moonshot is to help create $1 trillion in value over the next ten years while also positively impacting 2 billion people. To achieve this goal we are working with entrepreneurs and leaders who have the capability to build exponentially scalable or exoscale companies, leaders who we can guide through a transformation into elite performers.

I invite you to join me on this journey.

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Mentoring an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Lessons from Boston

Dave Balter and Jennifer Lum have written a piece in Inc. about mentoring and how this is helping to connect the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boston.

It really excited me for two reasons. Firstly, I find myself formally and informally mentoring entrepreneurs on a regular basis. It is something I’d like to formalise more into a wholistic entrepreneurial coaching program. Given this, many of the points made in the article resonate with me.

The second reason for my excitement is that I am a big believer in creating truly matrixed entrepreneurial ecosystems. I’ve experienced first hand how Silicon Valley, for example, works and one of my passion areas is fostering such an ecosystem in Sydney and across the region. Sydney is currently where Boston was circa 2010. We have a solid level of entrepreneurial activity bubbling up and some high profile wins. We also have successful serial entrepreneurs returning to our positive economic climate. But we are not sufficiently matrixed.

I was talking with a colleague yesterday who, having returned from a stint working in Silicon Valley, found Sydney to be bubbling with pockets of activity, but no true connection between them and unless she was looking hard these pockets were easy to miss completely.

This article explains beautifully just what is required to create a more matrixed ecosystem. It was only once:

Boston’s start-up “ecosystem” began to deeply interconnect – like some massive neural network…the community is nurturing, embracing, and considerate of its entire being…what was once an environment of competition and posturing has been replaced by one of cultivation and brotherhood.

Are you starting to get the picture?

The momentum that’s brought Boston into 2012 is irrefutable. Everywhere you turn new nodes are being created and synapses are firing.

Similarly, Sydney can benefit from the approaches Dave and Jennifer are advocating, namely spiderweb mentorship and horizontal entrepreneurism.

The crux of the piece is around spiderweb mentorship, which they illuminate on as such:

This is about creating the strongest start-up “web” possible, by weaving an incredible tapestry of ideas and connections, allowing for random new offshoots, connecting divided webs, and oscillating the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem into action.

How can this be achieved?

They argue, and I wholeheartedly agree, that this occurs when experienced veterans (mentors) focus not on making each individual entrepreneur better, but on making the system as a whole stronger. Mentors must be open and willing to (a) connect with people beyond only those with the right “credentials” and (b) focus on the development of “web-like” interconnectivity to other mentors and entrepreneurs.

There are 5 critical behaviors mentors need to follow in order to achieve this:

1. Take the unknown meetings with ambiguous agendas.

Yes, I do this, but will counter that while I’m a big believer in serendipity it can sometimes prove frustrating and one does have to balance the number of such meetings versus those with specific business agendas.

2. Follow the law of three introductions

I like this. I’m always looking for connections across my network and love watching synapses occur when like minds meet.

3. Be constructive – and critical

Indeed. Enough said.

4. If you’re a spider, show up!

I agree that corporate execs should be more prepared to mentor.

5. Start your own web

Looking back 15 years – it was the best thing I ever did!

 

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Living in a Post-Geographical World: Address is Approximate (Hat Tip to Steve Jobs)

My family has been travelling since the 1670’s when two Du Toit brothers left France as part of the great French Huguenot movement. They went to Holland, which had recently begun colonising the tip of Africa. Recognising opportunity, they led a movement of settlers and arrived in Cape Town in 1676. The result was a wonderfully rich cultural mix (and some great wines) in the Franschoek region of the western cape of South Africa.

Fast forward a few hundred years and we dispersed to the UK and Australia when crime became all too pervasive. I’ve since also lived in the United States, and regard Sydney and Palo Alto as the closest things to home.

Like many others who have had similar experiences I consider myself post-geographical. It’s not where I am physically that matters, but what my mindset is, who I am interacting with and what I am aiming to achieve.

That’s why this video by Tom Jenkins resonates so much with me.

I love the vision he portrays and his message also talks to what Steve Jobs said many years ago in an interview, namely that the world we live in is made up of man-made constructs and constraints. That the people who created them are no smarter than you are and once you realise this you need never be constrained by them – create your own world, wherever you are!

Address Is Approximate from The Theory on Vimeo.

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It’s Obvious: A Rising Tide LIFTS All Boats

As followers of my posts will well know, I am a big fan of Ev Williams and the Obvious team, from the days when Twitter was a side project all the way through its massive growth.

So when they announce a new partnership I take notice – big time. Lift sounds really interesting and I’m looking forward to hearing and exploring it in more detail in due course.

My main inspiration for this post, though, were the comments made by Obvious regarding their ongoing journey in crystallising out their engagement model. In my view, these terms should be adopted by all companies as their core mission statement:

It’s important never to delude ourselves into thinking that technology changes the world. People are responsible for change – technology just helps out. At Obvious, our goal is to foster systems that help people work together to improve the world.

If you aren’t improving the world, get out of the way and let those who are do their work!!!

 

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