Don’t worry – this isn’t a political post. It has nothing to do with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or the 2016 Presidential
As you scale your business, the question that inevitably rears its head is, “Am I the right person to be the president of this company?”
Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes the answer is no.
Being able to differentiate between the two of those is complicated by the fact that you are emotionally involved in the company — you started it, after all.
I recently interviewed Justin Beedle, President of Links Construction, because I heard he and his team managed to grow their company 983% over the last four years to well over 100 million dollars in annual revenue.
I wanted to find out why Justin and his team were so successful in growing this company. I’ve personally helped businesses grow to the eight-figure mark, but I’ve yet to hit the nine-figure mark, so I wanted to learn what he did differently than what had been done prior to bringing him on.
Justin said the key was to bring in the right people necessary to growing the business. He had worked for a worldwide grocery chain in Texas and, in the process of rolling out 47 grocery stores, they had to interview approximately 200 general contractors to select their final grouping.
What he learned throughout that process was that 90% of general contractors could technically do the job and build the building regardless of how terrible they were to work with or how bad the accounting team was. But the one thing that separated the stand-outs from all the rest was the manner in which they delivered that project to the owner and how professional they were.
During the course of that process, Justin had the opportunity to meet some great general contractors and some great individuals within the industry, so he already knew of good people in the business before he made the transition to Links Construction. And those great people were the ones that actually reached out to him to be a part of it because of the previous good relationships they had established together.
According to Justin, if you want to attract good people in a business, you need to be a good person in the business yourself. Do a good job, treat people fairly and ethically. This is how you grow relationships and how you attract the right people to know in a particular area of business.
Another important aspect of growing a company quickly is realizing how wonderful mistakes can be, regardless of how painful they are in the moment. Mistakes are a potent opportunity for learning and lead to some excellent teachable moments.
“If everything you do is perfect, you’re not learning anything. It’s the times when you get a swift punch to the nose because something went wrong that you actually grow as a company. A mistake will lead you to put important policies in place to prevent a mistake like that from happening again,” Justin said.
Of course, every company wants to avoid making mistakes that have financial implications and will lose them business. But without some of those mistakes that come from fast-moving growth, you won’t be as strong of a company as you can be because you don’t have to learn how to address an issue and problem solve in a healthy, smart, and efficient way. If you’re willing to be humble and look for it, there is value in mistakes—if you learn from it.
When should you hire a president to run your company?
“My mantra as a 3x startup entrepreneur is ‘Do every job, and get rid of every job as fast as you can.’ Leverage is everything when starting things up.”
Doug Berg, Founder and CEO of MyAlerts, went on to describe the thought process that led to him successfully starting three companies.
“I even drive this into my culture as I’m hiring people because, in any startup, you typically hire people who are ‘available,’ but just because a Ruby developer can write your MVP doesn’t mean he can grow into a global CTO of a venture-backed company within 1–2 years (nor will he want to). I’m always coaching everyone to hire with the mindset of “Come to our startup, kick some ass, but be ready to hire your future boss at some point…’ because in order to grow, you have to realize that you’ll need to bring people better than you at the right times of growth. But the beauty is, you get to pick who they are… that’s awesome.”
Of course, a part of every business owner is always going to want to be the one running the show. You had the idea, you transformed that seed of an idea into a reality, and you put in all of the sweat and tears to get your business up and running and growing.
However, as was the case for the owners of Links Construction, if your business is succeeding to a certain level, you will need to turn over some of the work you previously had been doing and some of the control you’d had to someone else. This will free you up to prioritize your skills and time where the company needs it most or on a different venture. In turn, this allows that company to continue to find success and growth beyond the capacity you yourself had.
“The reality was that for me, being the CEO of our rocket ship company start-up was terrifying. I was being pushed beyond my level of competence, and I wasn’t confident I was handling the tasks in front of me well.
Even more frightening, I had a team of people that put their faith and trust in me. I was answerable to them, and to their families. And we were on a mission that we believed in, that could genuinely help the world.”—Tucker Max
In this scenario, it wasn’t as much a case of capacity as it was having the right knowledge and abilities for execution and leadership of that particular business. This may be true for you now or someday down the road. Perhaps you had or will have a great idea and will be the impetus behind a particular idea becoming a reality.
But be sure to take a cold, hard look in the mirror and make certain you have the right skill set to actually run the business. Just because you played a vital role in the start of a company doesn’t mean you have to be the one running the show from there. Perhaps you owe it to the company’s future chances of success to bring in someone more equipped than you.
“One of the most important roles of a CEO or an Owner is knowing when it’s time for them to step out and let someone else take over. Being able to admit when someone else has the strengths in a particular area that you do not and can do a better job.”—Justin Beedle
When I reached out to Graeme Thickins, founder of GT&A Marketing and a veteran in the startup world with several successful exits under his belt, he said, “In my thirty year career consulting with startup founders, I can’t think of a single one that hasn’t benefited greatly after bringing on a new president. The magic is always in finding the right fit, of course. But even in cases when the investors or the board forced the decision — citing the need for “adult supervision” or some “gray hair” experience — the founders themselves will invariably admit, in looking back, that it made the difference in sparking big growth for their firms, in many cases leading to a successful exit for them and their team.”
What are the 5 key characteristics of a good President?
On my call with Justin, I asked him why he was the best choice for Links Construction. Why was he the one that could help grow the business over 900%? What are the key characteristics business owners should look for when they decide to hire a president for their company. He identified the five things that separate the good presidents from the ones to stay away from.
1. Be Humble
“Any President who thinks they know it all isn’t going to go far at all.”
As Justin noted above, being willing to learn from mistakes is vital to the growth of a company. But if the leader is too prideful to admit when a mistake has been made, any potential for progress is completely stunted and it fails to become a learning opportunity and is bound to happen again.
Humility is also required for good hiring decisions. A prideful leader will be intimidated by those who know more than he or she knows about a certain area of the business. But what point is there in hiring someone to do a job who doesn’t know more than you about it? If a leader isn’t willing to bring on a team who will boost the business to the next level and excel at their jobs without micromanaging, the risk of threatened pride is trumping the overall success of the business.
And humble leaders inspire loyalty in their employees. No one wants to work for a leader who has a puffed-up sense of their own importance, is unwilling to admit when they’ve made a mistake, and isn’t willing to listen and act on the educated advice of others who are more expert. But, on the flip side, employees are happy to get behind a leader who takes ownership of mistakes, is always growing, and empowers employees to do their jobs.
2. Practice Emotional Intelligence
Justin talked about the importance of leaders being able to digest information and process it internally before making a decision. “People think a leader is someone that acts strongly and gets on people—that’s the exact opposite.”
This was actually something that one of my business mentors, Dave Mortenson, told me about as well. Emotional intelligence is of vital importance for leaders. They need to be aware of their own emotions and be able to express and control them appropriately while also being able to read the room and be empathetic to others’ emotions. Those who are highly intelligent in a “book smarts” way but have no “people smarts” will struggle to lead a company well, get their people behind them, and gain the trust of customers and stakeholders.
The more leaders can put themselves in the shoes of their employees and customers and are open to hearing the advice of others, the wiser they will be and the better they will be able to combine their own wisdom with what they’ve heard from those around them. This is a much more effective strategy than steamrolling over people or berating those who have a different approach than they do.
3. Have Vision
A good leader’s vision needs to be much deeper than simply making as much money as possible. They need a vision that serves a purpose. “If the President is just here to make money, people will do that for a short time then fade because people won’t want to be part of that.”—Justin Beedle
In order to truly get behind a company and a leader, employees need to have buy-in. And, as Justin says, “buy-in to simply making more money only gets you so far.” Especially with the millennials who have recently or will soon be entering this workplace, people want to be able to get behind a bigger purpose, understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and know they’re making a difference. Studies have found that “more than 50% of millennials say they would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values, while 90% want to use their skills for good.”
In order to recruit the types of people who will make the most impact for your company—both in influence and on the bottom line—a leader needs to be able to cast a vision that employees can easily understand and get behind. And it must be applicable all the way down the chain, regardless of the intricacy or seeming impact of an individual position.
4. Recognize Talent
Recognizing talent goes beyond just recognizing the talents of others—you also need to recognize your own talent. What Justin has learned over the years is that, more times than not, your gut is usually accurate. He mentioned that there are many times when he’s looked over his life and his business career and realized that if he would have listened to his instinct, he likely would have avoided a large problem.
Talent isn’t just innate; it’s both natural and learned ability. Leaders must be able to acknowledge both sides of their talent in themselves and, while maintaining that humility discussed above, act on that talent. If a president is hired to lead a company, they must be willing to not only trust those working under them but also trust themselves. This even includes trusting their own gut when it comes to who they rely on within the company, i.e. trusting themselves to recognize, empower, and reward talent in others.
5. Gain Knowledge
“Whatever industry you’re in, you have to know that industry. You can only bluff people so long.” Justin goes on to explain that you have to be a student of your industry—constantly studying, following trends, analyzing indicators of the economy and how they affect your company. He routinely attends conferences and seeks out good mentors and groups that will help him be a better leader.
He also reiterates that as you’re learning, it’s ok to make mistakes. Many leaders seem to agree with that sentiment. Glenn Llopis says “ We focus so much time on maximizing our strengths but not enough time on understanding how and why we fail—which is equally important to success in the marketplace.” He also points out that when a leader admits a mistake it earns respect, opens up vulnerability that strengthens the team, leads by example, and builds a culture of trust.
And, on top of that, learning from a mistake is one of the best ways for leaders to grow and be challenged in their careers and their leadership. If they’re not willing to take risks that could lead to a mistake, they may not be opening themselves up to the right learning opportunities. Or to the kinds of opportunities that will pay off in a big way for the company. Say, in a way that leads to 900% growth.
I think we can all agree that a strong leader can be the biggest difference-maker in a company’s growth. If you’re truly committed to exponential growth, you may need to re-evaluate your leadership structure and consider hiring a president to take your company to the next level. And, when you’re ready to hire, keep these five characteristics in mind to ensure you have the right leader in place to see you through to that next level.
What other characteristics would you add to this list? What have you learned from some of the strong leaders you’ve worked for? Please chime in in the comments section below!