The Neglected Middle-Market Executive

By Carl Robinson, Ph.D., copyright 2007

When I wrote about Peter Drucker in a previous issue I realized something that will seem very obvious to many of you but, I nevertheless think is significant. Most of the big names (Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, John Kotter, etc.) that write about leadership are writing about life in Fortune 1000 size companies. That means companies that have at least $1.4 Billion in revenue (2006 Fortune 1000 list).

How many of you work for companies that large? Most of my readers donít. Do you think that there is a difference in leading and managing a Fortune 1000 company and a middle-market company? Iíll say there is. For example, a client of mine, an SVP of a global 1000 company, told me that to be successful in a large company you have to become adept at working through people Ė getting others to help you accomplish goals and, you have to develop patience. Developing plans, making decisions and gaining buy-in from the myriad of constituencies, simply takes longer in bureaucracies: meaning Ė big business. He contrasted that to when he was a CEO of an early stage company where he said we ďwore many hatsĒ and if you wanted something done, you did it yourself.

Both my clients and consultant colleagues who have worked in both types of companies tend to agree that there are differences that require different approaches. Yet, most of what you read in the, Harvard Business Review and the MIT Sloan Management Review, for example, is written about life in Fortune 500/1000 companies. Sure, you all may aspire to grow your companies to qualify for the Fortune 1000 but, until then, youíre dealing with a whole set of other size appropriate leadership issues.

Although I have and continue to work with several Fortune 1000 companies, the bulk of my work is within the middle-market. Middle market defined as between $50 million and $1 Billion in annual revenue (that range is up for debate but, Iím going to use it). Therefore, Iíve decided that Iím going to spend most of my time writing for the middle-market: for the ďneglected middle-market executive.Ē

Some of the concerns I hear repeatedly from my senior level middle-market clients include:

  • I have to wear many hats but as we grow, I need to delegate more. I have difficulty trusting and letting go.
  • Selecting top management talent is difficult. Since there is a difference (personality differences) between the types of people who want to work in a large company vs. a middle-market company, how can I be sure that candidates will fit well and will be successful?
  • As we grow, some of our executives who started with us seem not to be able to grow with us. They helped us make it past the start-up phase. I feel beholden to them. What should I do?
  • My subordinates need leadership training but I donít have the time to do it and we donít have a leadership development curriculum and infrastructure. What can we do to help them grow?
  • As we grow, my younger executives need to learn how to delegate and manage better. They tend to get stuck in doing and problem solving rather than delegating and leading. How do I help them mature?
  • As we grow larger, my executives need to work more effectively together instead of just doing their jobs and managing their domains/silos. How do I help them do that?
  • How do I help my younger leaders learn the importance of and then develop their ability at the art of influencing others when they donít have authority over them?
    My executives say they have ďbought inĒ to our decisions but their actions (follow up) donít demonstrate buy-in. How do I inculcate buy-in and accountability into my organization?
  • We are growing rapidly, how do I structure my organization to facilitate the growth?
  • How do I navigate working with an active board (venture capitalists)?

A few years back I pitched an article to the editors of the Harvard Business Review titled: The Passive Aggressive Executive: The Insidious Executive Who Can Derail Your Best Initiatives and You May Never Know They Did It. The editor in charge told me that passive aggression was not an issue at the senior level in the types of companies HBR writes for. I wonít debate that point here, however, I sure donít want to write about things that arenít important to my readers.

Therefore, Iíd like to ask your aid in shaping what I write about. Many of you have worked in both the Fortune 1000 and middle-market. It would be interesting to find out from you what you think are the major differences between leading a middle-market and a Fortune 1000 company. What are the challenges you face that are not being addressed by the mainstream leadership literature? Send me your ideas and Iíll do my best to provide useful advice that is tailored to your situations in future issues of my executive briefings.

P.S. FYI, I did publish an abbreviated version of that article on the passive aggressive executive as one of my executive briefings (see link below) and it was one of my most read and emailed forwarded issues. If you want the full version (10 pages), let me know and Iíll send it to you.