In my discussions with our clients I often use a boat as an analogy for a company. Scaling a business is a journey. Much depends on the team within the boat and success is a destination that not every boat reaches.
In my analogy I equate the difference between small companies that stay small and those that go on to become much larger as the difference between a rowing boat (small company) and a motor boat (large company).
Being in a rowing boat in the middle of the ocean is a precarious position to be in. Even when all is going well – everyone is rowing in time, at a sustainable speed, and in the right direction – the company may yet not progress. Floating on the tide of the economy puts the company at the ocean’s mercy, only making progress when the conditions are fair. If the economy is in the doldrums, the company can only drift and hope. Some will succeed because a strong current, by chance, takes them in the right direction but ultimately many will at best go round in circles and some will wreck on the rocks.
Scaling to a larger company means obtaining an engine or a sail for your boat that enables it to navigate its way to its destination. Even so, there is still no guarantee of success, even the largest motor boats can founder.
What would a successful business leader do?
Whilst every business is different:
- Successful business leaders of larger companies define the destination – what does success look like?
- They understand the perils and challenges that lie in its way.
- They have the vision, ability and skills to plot a course, navigate the challenges and reach the destination.
- Successful business leaders of larger companies keep their eyes on the plan. They understand the size of their motor and the fuel required, they can weigh up whether it can sustain the journey and they are patient enough to reach the destination.
- They build a crew and communicate the plan to the crew so they all know in which direction to pull.
- Successful business leaders of larger companies understand the destination, the perils, the time it takes to get there as well as the sacrifices they will have to make along the way, but they still believe that the destination is worthwhile.
Mike O’Connell, Founder and CEO of Isosceles