The 3 Most Common Reasons Most CEOs Struggle to Scale

What I know from working with hundreds of execs who try to grow through culture

I don’t understand — why can’t people just get in line and get shit done?”

Reason 1: You’ve been taught to lead from the top, but that no longer works. Lead from the heart instead.

While conditioning has led us to believe that leadership “strength” requires us to rely on command and control to drive performance, and that demanding ever more from people is crucial to growth, we have found the opposite: leaders who step into vulnerability, treat people like adults, let go of power, and make space for everyone to shine are the ones who build successful companies that can weather any storm.

Within People — The eight qualities of 21st century leaders

Reason 2: Your employees experience culture differently than you might imagine. Be aware of what they need to succeed. And no, it’s not perks.

Tim cared for his people. He even thought his company was a great employer because they invested a lot into perks. So he felt infuriated when his people didn’t meet their targets. “Maybe I’m too soft on them,” he often thought.

Reason 3: Without a clear purpose, you can’t be clear about what you stand for, or where you’re going.

Yes, a reimagined employee experience needs to be based on a solid foundation of equity and inclusion, alongside health and well-being. But our world and our businesses face other important challenges every day. Through it all, our purpose must remain clear.

Half of today’s workforce would take a 15% pay cut to work for a company with an aspiring purpose.

80% of the respondents in a recent survey would rather have a boss who cared about them finding meaning and success in work than receive a 20% pay increase — Harvard Business Review

Tim expected people to deliver so that the business would grow — for him. What he didn’t understand was that while people come to work for you — and follow you — they don’t come to work so that you can succeed. They work to make an impact, fulfil their dreams, and grow themselves. We can recognize them for the value they create that advances our purpose.

So goes the leader, so goes the culture. So goes the culture, so goes the company. — Simon Sinek

Full disclosure — “Tim” isn’t a single client. His thoughts, feelings, and questions represent the experience of hundreds of leaders I have coached through crisis and opportunity. What I’ve described him going through happens to all founders and CEOs. Some of what I shared here might resonate with your experience too. As a leader of a growing global business myself, I know how important and tough it can be to lead from the heart, continuously improve the employee experience, and connect people to purpose. This work is our most critical responsibility.

Brand strategist, retired music producer, and exec coach for CEOs around the world. Fellow of the RSA. Founding partner of Within People.