As I have more contact with social enterprises, I’ve noticed the same wide variety of stages of growth in these organizations, as I see with the for-profits with whom I’ve worked.
While we hear a lot about start-up social enterprises, there are “adolescent” social enterprises, there are fully-mature social enterprises, and their are social enterprises in decline…setting the stage for a new era of creativity and innovation.
As you look at your social enterprise, consider the phase of growth it is in, and consider this question–”Am I the right leader for my social enterprise?”
Some wonderful work on this question was done by Larry Greiner back in the 1970s, when for-profits were exploding, and we were seeing rapid changes in these organizations. (Here are two links to web resources on Greiner’s ideas: Inc.’s article on Organization Life Cycle and , and Changingminds.org’s take on Greiner’s ideas.) Greiner, described five phases and five “crises” for growing organizations–I’ll write about the first two phases in this first installment of a two part series. These phases and crises can give you insight into whether your current leadership style is a fit or a misfit with your social enterprise.
Phase 1-Growth through Creativity
This is the exciting initial start-up phase of your organization. If your organization is young, perhaps you remember those early days, or you are in them right now. Lots of activity; successes, missteps. Entrepreneurs thrive in this environment. But, it’s not for everybody. So, a fast-paced, creative, “anything goes” leadership style is probably the best fit for this phase of growth.
Crisis of Leadership
This energizing phase, according to Greiner’s idea of an organization growth cycle, is punctuated by a crisis of leadership. The entrepreneurial style of leadership can’t sustain the growth and activity of the start-up, and can’t give the direction the organization needs. So, a change in leadership is needed to make it through this crisis, to lead the organization to the next phase of growth.
Phase 2-Growth through Direction
The organization has grown through its original creativity, and now, it needs to find direction–Which markets should we go after? Should we diversify? Should we add staff? How should we deploy our resources? Leaders who give direction to the organization, as it works through these questions, will be the best fit for a social enterprise in this phase.
Crisis of Autonomy
To give the social enterprise a sense of direction, the senior staff makes most of the decisions. However, in this Crisis of Autonomy, lower level managers, supervisors, and staff demand more autonomy. They want to make their own decisions, and, since they are closer to problems and customers, wise leaders will find ways to give more responsibility to lower and lower levels of staff. In this way, the social enterprise can realize growth through delegation….the next phase.
Coming next: Part II–The Right Leader for Established Social Enterprises
For a free tool to assess your social enterprise’s Phase of Growth, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
See Paul Hardt’s website for more information.
Image source: oooh.oooh