The psychology of business growth

In the days after the death of Steve Jobs, Apple Inc. co-founder and one of the world’s most iconic and influential innovators and business leaders, many reflected in awe of his accomplishments.

Jobs managed to take a company from his garage in California and turn it into a business was not only is worth billions of dollars but also a company that has changed the way the world communicates, the way we listen to music and the way we interact with technology.

How are some business leaders such as Jobs able to make bold moves to grow their companies in good and bad economic times, while others became paralyzed by fear and are unwilling to seize opportunities during a recession?

Business consultants from the Milwaukee-area say it is a mindset, a personality, and the ability to work with a team that set successful business leaders apart during an economic downturn.

“There used to be a belief that leadership intensity and intelligence drove growth. That intensity drove decisions from top management down to employees who carried out those actions,” said Susan Wehrley, chief executive officer of Susan K. Wehrley & Associates Inc. of Brookfield and “But this type of hierarchical leadership no longer produces results. It has been proven that employee engagement is key to success. By engaging employees from the onset, a leader gets greater buy-in, which is necessary for synergy and growth.”

George Dalton, the founder of Brookfield-based Fiserv Inc. and Novo 1, agreed with Wehrley, “It cannot be done alone, you need a team,” he said.

Dalton has teamed up with Wehrley to create, an online “collaboration hub” for strategic business growth.

According to Cheryl Juech, leadership consultant and executive coach with Milwaukee-based Vernal Management Consultants LLC, being able to engage with employees, associates and teams might be the most important characteristic of today’s successful business leaders.

“What we’ve learned from a lot of organizations and from all of the data is that engagement is really what it’s all about,” Juech said. “Companies with high levels of engagement are more likely to flourish despite the particulars of the circumstances.”

Effective leaders also have the innate capacity to recognize challenges quite specifically and actively engage them, Juech said.

“Strong leaders know themselves well enough and know their company well enough to manage challenging circumstances,” Juech said. “We work with many leaders that are really attuned to how they motivate themselves so that motivation becomes contagious in the organization, and together as a team they can meet challenges and conflicts head on.”

Meeting those challenges though requires more of a “Type A,” determined personality, said Dalton.

“He or she needs a very positive mindset with determination towards achieving the goal,” Dalton said.

Successful leaders, particularly in a troubled economy, typically are not laid back. They are outbound, aggressive and innovative, Wehrley said.

“When companies remain stagnant or aren’t growing, it’s because of ‘fixed-thinking,'” Wehrley said. “Fixed thinking comes from the belief that there is a right and a wrong way; a good and a bad way of doing things.”

Fixed-thinking is very limited, Wehrley said.

“Leaders who help companies grow create a mindset of abundance,” she added. “They acknowledge issues, engage employees’ creative limitations, but by focusing on possibilities for the future. When leaders lead with this type of thinking, it eliminates an excuse culture, which stifles growth.”

The current post-recessionary climate can provide ample opportunity to expand.

“The economic conditions make for a wonderful time for acquisitions,” Dalton said. “The pricing will be attractive, which will give you an advantage over normal market pricing. You can do a lot more with your dollar.”

Even if a leader is not specifically looking to purchase another company, the current economic climate provides a great opportunity for effective leaders to grab market share, Wehrley said.

“Now is a good time to take risks because there are a lot of opportunities,” she said. “Consumers are delaying spending and saving up for what they really want. When they are ready to spend you want to be the front-runner in your field.”

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