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Growth at any cost isn’t worth it

July 17, 2014

The following is an excerpt from a recent story by longtime Global Institute for Leadership Development (GILD) faculty member Patrick Lencioni that we all should take note of.—Ed.

That old axiom “grow or die” might apply to certain aspects of human development or the natural world, but be very careful how you apply it to your business. The truth is that “grow or die” can be, and often is, devastating.

Too many executives I’ve met over the years have the mentality of a bodybuilder; they’ve come to accept the idea that growth is synonymous with success. So they rely on the business equivalent of steroids, bulking up the top line with things such as overly aggressive sales tactics, unwarranted price increases, self-destructive discounting, unnecessary mergers and acquisitions, or even a poorly considered IPO. These actions come with their own list of dire side effects: alienated customers, burned-out employees, and disillusioned executives who are left asking one another, “Remind me again, why did we think we needed to grow?”

Avoid the Muscle Beach approach and instead think more like a farmer. Your focus should be on creating an environment where growth can occur, and then letting nature take its course. If that sounds passive or wimpy, consider that the farmer’s approach to growth takes greater wisdom, humility, and restraint than the bodybuilder’s, and that the rewards are far more attractive—and dependable.

At its core, all authentic growth depends on more customers wanting more of what your company offers. Any other drivers—pricing gimmicks, heroic marketing efforts, forced acquisitions—are ultimately destructive. In addition to focusing on customer needs, you should also work to create the healthiest organization possible, one free of the politics and confusion that so often choke off teamwork and innovation. Keep communication lines open to keep employees engaged and committed. And make sure your team is continually reminded of the importance of having everything the company does connect to the needs of customers.

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Are you a farmer or a bodybuilder? Is your boss? Share your stories below.

Lencioni_PatrickPatrick Lencioni is a longtime GILD faculty member, and founder and president of The Table Group, a firm dedicated to providing organizations with ideas, products and services that improve teamwork, clarity and employee engagement. He’s also the author of ten best-selling books, including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.



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