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Mark Jacobs


Mark B. Jacobs has spent 30 years in executive leadership successfully guiding major growth initiatives – many starting as turnaround efforts. He has led re-capitalizations, start-ups, and key organizational change agendas that have scaled company growth and performance. He co-authored the SmartScale process which is built on his years of hands-on experience and expertise in Lean Manufacturing, Quality Systems, Sales & Operations Planning, Category Design & Development, Leadership Development, and Technology-Driven transformations.

The single reason why some leaders fail to scale

From our first conversations with potential clients, we’re looking for one thing: whether leaders manage people or process. It’s the number one indicator of whether we’ll find leadership obstacles that will be barriers to achieving scale. We focus on barriers first, because scale is not just an activity, it’s a culture - and culture is a reflection of leadership.

Read on to find out why this distinction is so important, which approach is best - and how to identify where your leadership style lies.

Why we look for those who Manage Process and Lead People

Scale initiatives require collaborative leadership. Collaboration is a process where participants come to discussions with their best thinking already done - expecting the exchange of ideas to unlock fresh, more effective thinking, and thereby unleash further value in terms of strategy, tactics, products, services, execution, and results.

A defining role of leadership is to manage this collaboration process - and to do this, leaders need the right approach to support it. As business growth consultants with a proven protocol for scale, we help companies turn their fortunes around on a daily basis. And one of the most critical SmartScale™ axioms is: Manage Process, Lead People.

People in leadership positions who manage people rather than processes, derail collaboration, obstruct creative thinking, and stymie (consciously or unconsciously) bold action.

That’s because a focus on managing people - rather than process - causes leaders to radiate perspectives, mindsets, and behaviors that constrict the collaborative invention and execution of superb processes. The “manage people” approach results in dysfunctional team dynamics, risk avoidance and an inability (or unwillingness) to come together to find a shared vision. We often find failures in tactical execution which are induced by closed or friction-laden feedback loops, resistance to the pursuit of organizational (and personal) excellence and ultimately, a culture that can’t support scale.

How to spot the warning signs

Whether you’re the leader or you’re identifying the leadership style of someone else in your organization, there are some key tell-tale signs. (These were identified through our research, which includes feedback from staffs whose leaders held their companies back from achieving its team’s performance potential – some of these findings may feel a little "in your face".)

These are our top 20 tell-tale signs of a leader who manages, rather than leads people:

  1. You aren’t always transparent/completely honest with your staff.
  2. You find it difficult to listen - because you prefer to be the one talking (or telling).
  3. You often dismiss ideas that aren’t your own - or sometimes take credit for others ideas.
  4. You don’t recognize potential in others as much as their shortcomings.
  5. You can have a bit of an ego and tend to spend a lot of time talking about yourself.
  6. Others around you don’t get things done to your satisfaction - so you end up working 24/7.
  7. You can lack empathy.
  8. You probably don’t invest in the education of or create a growth plan for your employees.
  9. Your focus is on cost, not return on investment.
  10. You map out ideas in our head and when people don’t agree with them you can get angry.
  11. You tend to be closed-minded and unwilling to change your perspective.
  12. You’re often quick to blame others
  13. You can be inconsistent, change your mind, create confusion and send mixed signals.
  14. You’re slow to adapt.
  15. Your colleagues could view you as arrogant.
  16. If you have process documentation it’s likely it wasn’t created by a team - but by an individual who created the document and told others to follow it.
  17. You’ve surrounded yourself with "Yes" people that enable you to do whatever you want.
  18. You find it hard to deal with conflict.
  19. You control everything, because you feel you can't trust someone else to do as good a job as you can.
  20. You are overly optimistic - yet get so stuck in your dreams that you often fail to assess the risks that threaten those dreams.

It’s a challenging process to honestly self-identify some of these traits, but if three or more of these apply to you, please read on.

Why change is necessary for scale

Managing people instead of process is an idiosyncrasy of autocratic leadership. Many successful midlife companies have their roots in autocratic leadership simply because it was the default style of the founder. Autocratic leadership (which may appear paternalistic/maternalistic from the outside) is successful in startup and early growth phases because it’s an efficient method to address team inexperience, handle crisis situations effectively, adroitly set expectations, and guide productivity.

However, as a firm reaches midlife, autocratic leadership regularly devolves into micromanagement.

Micromanagement stifles creativity, creates a culture of distrust, and stands in the way of scale. That’s because employees become dependent on the leader - and that leader becomes an information flow constraint and decision bottleneck.

From the perspective of the leader - and perhaps you - this style is simply what you have to do to ensure the success of your organization. The chances are your self-image is reflected in how you lead - you probably feel you make things happen simply by repeatedly saving the day.

If you’re evaluating leadership in your company, listen for stories of how this brand of leader “told” people things that, “if they would had only listened”, things would have turned out better. Yet, in keeping with their natural pattern they’re likely to cut you off mid-flow and bring the conversation back to their control.

Can this type of leader change?

That depends. As humans, we’re mental hoarders. We often prefer the convenience of hanging on to old behaviors and ways of perceiving the world over the complication of rethinking, unlearning, and adopting different ways of looking, thinking, or behaving.

Questioning ourselves makes the world feel more uncertain. It requires us to admit that we’re wrong.

Reconsidering how we behave and think about things can threaten our identities, making it feel as if we’re losing a part of ourselves. It takes a wise person to admit when it’s time to abandon some of our most trusted tools — and some of the most comfortable parts of our identity.

Leadership behavioral change also depends on the support network around the leader. Are those that are part of the organization able to work in a collaborative environment? Will they set aside years of interactions with the leader where they have been conditioned how to respond, or “manage” the leader in favor of a new set of expected behaviors? Do they have the skills and values to be part of a collaborative organization - which for them will be a whole new reality?

In assessing the likelihood of success we pay careful attention to how leaders define themselves. If they define themselves by collaboration-centric values rather than tired opinions, they have the cornerstone for building up-to-date leadership practices.

For those with these values, they find that as they become more self-aware of how their old behaviors burdened and constrained the organization, they become more effective at charting a personal development plan that ties to the business vision, collaborating to unlock a scale strategy, and, as the scaling tactics unfold, insight-filled awareness of their improving leadership effectiveness becomes a self-perpetuating process.

How to move from managing people to managing process and leading people

Upping the leadership abilities of executives that have been successful, starts with a commitment to achieve even greater personal and team aspirations.

Change can happen, but it relies on the willingness of the whole team to take the plunge.

The process centers on workplace realities. It demands team interaction, engagement and empathy and requires a mutual commitment to be genuinely supportive, develop shared aspirations and agree shared values. The process will deliver permanent results only if all involved have the humility to self-disclose so that self-awareness, collaboration skills and required technical capabilities are mastered.

At ScaleWerks, we do this through a facilitated, ongoing process where:

  1. The current reality (where the team and team members are starting from) and a desired reality (where the team and team members want to get to) are made explicit.
  2. Action plans with measurable outcomes for each individual and the team as a whole are signed off.
  3. Rewards and consequences are defined by agreement between the parties.
  4. Times for facilitated team development and individual coaching are set aside at regular intervals.
  5. The process is executed in a disciplined manner, with regular review of the process and outcomes.
  6. Changes to team processes, team member roles and responsibilities are made as recognized.
  7. Reward and consequences are delivered as agreed.
  8. The process is embedded into the organization’s standard operating procedures.

If you're a midlife company leader with aspirations to scale your business, you too can benefit from the ScaleWerks SmartScale™ process. Simply take our Readiness to Scale analysis and we’ll follow be in touch to schedule a time for an assessment debrief before sharing our insights into how you can achieve your aspirations.

Collaborate with us and see where it takes your business

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