What makes scale-up leaders different?

Menno van Dijk
December 18th, 2017
Article by: Menno van Dijk
What makes scale-up leaders different?

Within the very diverse sample of former THNK participants, “scale-up entrepreneurs” score particularly high on four dimensions: 1) leveraging chance encounters, 2) developing concrete business plans, 3) establishing a risk-taking culture, and 4) setting a high bar. However, they score significantly low on 1) authoritarian traits, 2) self-efficacy, and 3) consistency of interests. How can we interpret those results considering the specific challenges of scaling a triple-bottom-line enterprise?

 

In September 2017, THNK School of Creative Leadership launched a survey amongst past participants of the Executive Leadership Program to explore how they currently fare on the creative leadership dimensions.

 

One of our primary research goals was to gain a deeper understanding about the distinguishing leadership characteristics of impact scale-up leaders. We define impact scale-up leaders as those leading an innovative enterprise with large growth potential and substantial societal impact.

 

So, we asked: Are impact scale-up leaders any different from all other leaders? And how?
We developed a survey which was distributed within the THNK community, made up of 400 leaders living in over 60 countries and on every continent. We are grateful to those who took the time to participate- our survey had a response rate of 50%!

Leveraging chance encounters

While all leaders in our sample follow a process of exploring for generating ideas, scale-up leaders follow a quicker and more spontaneous journey. They reported themselves as being significantly more open to chance encounters, leveraging the most from unexpected circumstances. Hence, we hypothesize that cultivating the art of serendipity plays an important role in successfully building a scaling impact enterprise.

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The art of serendipity plays an important role in successfully building a scaling impact enterprise. Click To Tweet

Developing concrete business plans

Being a dreamer is necessary but not sufficient in building a successful business. Our findings suggest that scale-up leaders manage to maintain a clear vision towards large positive impact, without neglecting the importance of developing concrete business plans. They learn what they don’t know and take time to understand the managerial part of running an enterprise. Scale-up leaders scored higher in analyzing long-term opportunities, developing strategies, implementing processes to reach objectives, and identifying and mitigating risks.

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Scale-up leaders maintain a clear vision towards large positive impact, without neglecting the importance of developing concrete business plans. Click To Tweet

Establishing a risk-taking culture

Scale-up leaders are more likely to lead their organization in a way that allows for exploration, experimentation, and innovation. They create a space where risk-taking is favored over operational excellence, where people feel comfortable with the risk of failure, and free to take calculated and innovative bets. They foster continuous learning and invest in their people’s development, so that they have the space to unfold their capabilities, set their direction, and progress.

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Scale-up leaders lead their organizations in a way that allows for exploration, experimentation, and innovation. Click To Tweet

Setting a high bar

All leaders in our sample strive for success and aim at operational excellence. However, scale-up leaders reported that they never settle for a “good” performance; they believe that there is no ceiling to excellence and a wave of success won’t stop them from pursuing perfection.

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Scale-up leaders never settle for 'good' performance. They believe that there is no ceiling to excellence. Click To Tweet

Authoritarian traits

An authoritarian leader dictates all policies and procedures, dominates the decision-making process, controls activities, and allows little room for autonomy within the team. Such a leading style is far apart from a scale-up leader’s style, who prefers leading from behind than leading by role-modeling.

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Scale-up leaders prefer leading from behind rather than dictating all policies and processes. Click To Tweet

Self-efficacy

Most scale-up leaders in our sample scored significantly lower on the self-efficacy scale. Self-efficacy is the belief that you will get to where you want to go by doing what needs to be done. Scale-up leaders’, self-reported levels of confidence that they will eventually succeed when facing difficult tasks were lower than among all other leaders. Are scale-up leaders “insecure overachievers”?

What makes scale-up leaders different?
When facing difficult tasks, scale-up leaders have lower levels of confidence than other leaders. Click To Tweet

Consistency of interests

Scale-up entrepreneurs seem to lose interest on ideas or projects after a short period of time. They are easily distracted by a new idea or choose to pursue new goals more often. Could this be an explanation for maintaining a “leading-from-behind” style?

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Scale-up leaders are easily distracted by a new idea or choose to pursue new goals more often. Click To Tweet

Get in touch

Are you triggered by these results? Please send us your questions, your own insights and experiences, your feedback, your thoughts on potential explanations, or suggestions on how to address them.

All those who would like to reflect on their own leadership characteristics are very welcome to contact Afroditi (lead researcher of the creative leadership research projects) through afroditi.terzi@thnk.org to fill in the survey and receive a customized feedback report.

To discover how the THNK Executive Leadership Program can help you further develop your potential leadership ability, visit the program page or contact us at admissions@thnk.org.




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