The Most Neglected Ingredient in Business Growth
by Sam Allman

Some businesses succeed in spite of themselves. Vigorous economies allow such success, yet when the economy weakens or a tough competitor moves in, the business struggles, even to the point of failure. Those challenges consume those businesses that are managed poorly, even while they scorch and damage those of the better ones.

In fact, some 96% of all businesses fail within their first eight years. Owners who have survived great challenges know that some crucial elements protect them from failure. Too many, unfortunately, have neglected one element. That void can be lethal to any business.

The most neglected ingredient promoting business growth
is leadership

Some owners and managers ignore leadership because they are unaware of it or they lack management experience. They're great at selling and at "doing the business". The problem is that they spend the majority of their time "working in the business" instead of "working on the business" and providing leadership. They compensate for their lack of leadership skills by working harder and longer.

Many owners and managers, fail to recognize this - that a company's effectiveness cannot rise even one degree above the quality of its own leadership. These managers deny that they set the tone for the entire business by shifting any blame to the products, suppliers, customers, or employees.

They may even cite the results of a recent survey. About 50 percent of employees said they only put enough effort into their work to just hold onto their jobs. And 84 percent said they could work better - - if they wanted to. These managers focus on that phrase, "If they wanted to . . ." They know this kind of employee. "See," they say, "few people today want to work hard. They're not motivated!" Have you ever heard the phrases, "One just can't find good workers today", or "If you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself?"

The managers are correct that it's the old "motivation problem!" However, they're not correct about the source of the problem. They think it's the employees. In fact, it's the leadership.

Leaders are largely responsible for their employees' level of motivation. As proof, I present these very same employees in their personal lives. They cultivate families, buy homes, plan vacations, take on large projects, continually learn, and serve in voluntary organizations. Few are lazy by nature.

If that's true, what mysterious power invades their souls, mornings while driving to work? What power washes their motivation away by the time they walk in the door? And, why doesn't that same power attack managers?

The answer turns out to be the "economy" of the workplace - how the managers structure the whole work environment. Some unwittingly reward bad behaviors. Some push employees toward goals that mean little to them. Too many owners micro-manage the work processes, as well as the results they want. Most expect results that employees haven't heard, let alone understand. Altogether, many managers are undermining, rather than undergirding, their employees' self-confidence. That is de-motivating at its best!

People are naturally motivated to work towards goals that they have chosen -- goals that fit what they value. Too many managers don't learn to align the company's goals with the employees' personal goals. A leader is continually challenged to influence employees to apply their natural motivation on the job.

This is not to say that the most effective managers find this easy. In every business and with every senior leader, a wide gap exists between the highest demands of the office and the native abilities the leader can supply. It's the law of supply and demand, again. Good leaders feel inadequate, because they are inadequate. Fortunately, all managers can learn to become inspiring leaders.

Granted, hiring extraordinary people is one solution, but most of us are ordinary. Learning to hire the best is a skill of inspiring leadership. But when extraordinary people are hired, their motivation needs to be fueled or it will die out. Productive managers use this strategy. They search, to uncover the unique powers of each employee.

They look deeper into the characters, competencies, and goals of their present employees. While investigating them, they honor this principle: "Different people develop at different rates, and the best motivators are always on the lookout for hidden capacities." They remember that --

  • Albert Einstein was four years old before he could speak . . . and seven before he could read.

  • Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school.

  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor, because he had "no good ideas."

  • Werner von Braun failed ninth grade algebra.

  • Hayden gave up on making a musician of Beethoven, who seemed to be a slow and plodding man of no apparent talent.

Some research suggests that every human being is a genius in some form. (Howard Gardner of Harvard University) The manager's challenge is to find the form of each employee's genius. Doing so, leaders produce optimal results through others. Leadership takes advantage of synergy.

In my experience, 99 times out of a 100, it's more expedient to sharpen the leader's skills than to wait until one can hire wholly self-motivated employees. (Besides, a manager can ruin the best in others' motivation.)

Great leaders provide systems and leadership that inspire ordinary people to produce extraordinary results. By learning the skills of Inspiring Leadership, owners and managers learn can inspire employees to work more effectively. They, also, can help employees feel happy at work, and loyal to the company. Happy and loyal employees yield happy and loyal customers.

A business short on capital can borrow money, and one in a poor location can move. But a business short on leadership has little chance of survival. Leadership is the neglected ingredient of business success without which a business cannot thrive.

Sam Allman, President of Allman Consulting, is an internationally recognized motivational speaker, consultant, trainer, and author. For almost two decades, he has been one of the most in-demand sales speakers and trainers. He has helped countless companies bring their employees and managers to a higher level of productivity and performance. For more information, contact Sam at 770-425-2142; e-mail: and visit .

Many more articles in Performance Improvement in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2004 by Sam Allman. All rights reserved.

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