Your vision comes from you
When you are a growth champion and leading the growth mindset of your business, your aspirations are hopefully always one step ahead of everybody else’s, and one step ahead of what you’re prepared to share. You might think: ‘I could get this company to a billion pounds. It might take me fifty years, but that’s what’s possible. I can see it.’ The big vision that you share with your team can’t be unbelievable, but it does need to be aspirational.
How do you then communicate your big vision to the team? How you sell the vision, how you talk about growth, how often you talk about it, how consistent you are, your tone of voice and your confidence, are all crucial to how your team will receive your message and therefore how confident they will feel about achieving your goal. Everyone will watch your every word and your every move, and even the tiniest things will get noticed. How you talk to your team absolutely matters, which means that your energy matters. You have to be constantly in the right frame of mind for successful growth, and you cannot afford the luxury of having a bad day.
Once you have your vision, you have to get everyone on the journey, to commit to the goal that you’re prepared to share and to talk about it. Set milestones and talk about the next stage and how you’re going to get there. You’re driving the bus, encouraging people to leave their comfort zones and helping them get in the zone of growth, and they may quite often feel nervous about change. Change comes with growth, and although change can be difficult to navigate it is much easier when everyone is on board with achieving your vision.
Your team need to know that growing is the only option. This will drive behaviour and more than likely attract people who are motivated by working for a growing business. If growth is ingrained in your culture, it will encourage the team to look for opportunities, the journey will become more exciting and the required mindset will filter down and generate ideas. Opening up the idea of growth to everyone and including it in your culture will give you the maximum potential for ideas, which can come from everywhere and anywhere, everyone and anyone, at any level. Ideas can be big game-changers or they can be small process improvements and seem insignificant. They are both as relevant as each other. Encouraging your team to be part of the journey will give you the best pool of ideas as you decide together what growth could look like. It is a team game – the more players, the faster the growth.
Step into the spotlight and share
Telling your team and the outside world about your vision, culture and growth plans, is a non-negotiable part of your role. If you’re not a good natural speaker or, more likely, you don’t like it or aren’t confident, you need to learn. It is a skill that needs to improve as you scale. People (both your team and the outside world, including the media) will expect to hear from you as CEO; they want to hear from the real you, and hear what’s driving you.
That doesn’t mean you have to try to be funny, engaging and interesting; you aren’t a comedian trying to sell out the London Palladium. You don’t have to be an extrovert. Your authentic style might be quiet and steady, but you need to be confident and sell something with vision and purpose. You need to be authentic to earn trust, and that means being utterly yourself, genuine and real.
For some leaders, especially many female leaders that I have met, the concern is often, ‘How can I be confident that I am leading in my own way?’ A lot of the time you feel that you need to sound and behave like a CEO, so you look at other CEOs and think you’ll do it like them, but then you realise that, if you copy someone else, it’s not going to work.
You need someone driving both your external and internal comms, and at the start that someone will be you because you will be doing everything. I did it for the first twenty-four years of our journey.
If you really can’t learn to speak publicly with authenticity, you could delegate, up to a point, but only to a co-founder or joint CEO, if you have such a person. As you scale, you might find someone who is able to present to town hall meetings as well as you, but you still have to be ready to answer questions which could come at any time. It’s likely that, when you first need to do it, there’s only you – and at some point you will have to do it yourself. If people aren’t convinced that you believe what you’re saying, they’re not going to get on the bus with you, be that your team or potential investors.
Nobody is great at speaking when they start. I was sick twice before speaking to 100 people for the first time. You just have to start from whatever confidence level you are at and work on it. You will improve, and you can scale your skill as the company grows. Selling your vision to a larger audience is part of growing and is important to your scaling journey.
Sam Smith is founder and former CEO of finnCap Group. She was the first female chief executive of a City stockbroking firm and has worked on over 200 transactions, IPOs and secondary fundraisings. Under her leadership, finnCap became a leading advisory firm for the business of tomorrow. Sam is now an adviser to scale-up businesses and a non-executive director on the board of Sumer Group Ltd. Sam's new book, The Secret Sauce explores how empathetic leadership can help superscale any business and empower the company's talent.