When I wrote about Peter Drucker in a previous issue, I realized something that will seem very obvious to many of you: Most of the big names (Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, John Kotter, etc.) write about leadership life in Fortune 1000 size companies.
How many of you work for companies that large? Most of my readers don’t. Do you think that there is a difference in leading and managing a Fortune 1000 company and a middle-market company? I’d say there is. A client of mine, an SVP of a Global 1000 company, told me that to be successful in a large company, you have to become adept at working through people — getting others to help you accomplish goals. It also means you have to develop patience. Developing plans, making decisions and gaining buy-in from the myriad of constituencies simply takes longer in big business. My client compared that to when he was a CEO of an early stage company where he said he “wore many hats” and, if you wanted something done, you did it yourself.
Both my clients and consultant colleagues who have worked in both types of companies tend to agree that there are differences that require different approaches. Yet, most of what you read in the Harvard Business Review and the MIT Sloan Management Review, for example, is written about life in Fortune 500/1000 companies. Sure, you all may aspire to grow your companies to qualify for the Fortune 1000 but, until then, you’re dealing with size-specific leadership issues.
Although I have and continue to work with several Fortune 1000 companies, the bulk of my work is done within the middle market. Middle market is defined, in most sources, as businesses with annual revenue between $50 million and $1 billion annual revenue. Therefore, I’ve decided that I’m going to spend most of my time writing for the middle market — for the neglected middle market executive.
Leading in a middle market company
Some of the concerns I hear repeatedly from my senior level middle-market clients include:
“I have to wear many hats but as we grow, I need to delegate more. I have difficulty trusting and letting go.”
As we grow, some of our executives who started with us seem not to be able to grow with us. They helped us make it past the start-up phase. I feel beholden to them. What should I do?
My subordinates need leadership training but I don’t have the time to do it and we don’t have a leadership development curriculum and infrastructure. What can we do to help them grow?
As we grow, my younger executives need to learn how to delegate and manage better. They tend to get stuck in doing and problem-solving rather than delegating and leading. How do I help them mature?
As we grow larger, my executives need to work more effectively together instead of just doing their jobs and managing their domains/silos. How do I help them do that?
My executives say they have “bought into” our decisions but their actions (follow up) don’t demonstrate buy-in. How do I inculcate buy-in and accountability into my organization?
How do I navigate working with an active board (venture capitalists)?
Guidance for your middle market challenges
A few years back I pitched an article to the editors of the Harvard Business Review titled: The Passive Aggressive Executive: The Insidious Executive Who Can Derail Your Best Initiatives and You May Never Know They Did It. The editor in charge told me that passive aggression was not an issue at the senior level in the types of companies HBR writes for. I won’t debate that point here, however, I sure don’t want to write about things that aren’t important to my readers.
Therefore, I’d like to ask your aid in guiding my topics. Many of you have worked in both the Fortune 1000 and middle market, so it would be interesting to find out from you what you think are the major differences between leading a middle market and a Fortune 1000 company.
What are the challenges you face that are not being addressed by the mainstream leadership literature? Send me your ideas and I’ll do my best to provide useful advice that is tailored to your situations in future issues of my executive briefings.
P.S. I did publish an abbreviated version of that article on the passive aggressive executive as one of my executive briefings and it was one of my most read and email-forwarded issues. Click this link to read: The Insidious and 4 Steps for Dealing With Them