Benefits of “Shadow Company” thinking

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You’ll find two predominant leadership models as you grow your business from an idea into an enterprise. The most common approach suggests you surround yourself with people of differing views, whether you are hiring employees or asking experts to join an advisory group. Here, the idea is to broaden your own awareness of possibilities, opportunities, obstacles and best practices.

The second mindset suggests more of an alignment model, particularly if you are going to assume a strong hands-on role as CEO. In this scenario, the more focused your personal vision is for the company, the more critical it is to align your leadership team with your values and sensibilities. For example, if you personally have a very entrepreneurial nature, a risk-adverse manager quickly becomes your “devil’s advocate.” Though they may point out legitimate threats and obstacles during a what-if phase, if you then set on a course they can’t so easily embrace (chasing a new market opportunity or temporary advantage), they can unintentionally sabotage the venture by simply dragging their feet – particularly if given an influential role in chasing that dream.

Business research has well established, both anecdotally and empirically, that effective change management differs greatly from stabilization management; sadly, very few managers are equally skilled at both. Too often, personal management styles endanger secure financial return or stall company growth because we have an (otherwise capable) manager charged with an initiative or mindset they can’t fully embrace. That’s why I’d like to suggest a third, melded approach––a “shadow company.” Build two teams, from the very beginning and on through to the sunset days of your business, to help hedge your risk and maximize business or partnership opportunities. At any given time, one or the other cohesive group may become most influential in the company’s day-to-day operations, based on current strategic goals.

Putting divergent thinkers together on one team for the purpose of creating a unified plan or process isn’t always the best use of time or talent. For example, when we have done SWOT analysis for a project or department, we used a trusted personality inventory to quickly put like-minded people together to encourage their best thinking. Conservative, risk-averse people worked on threats and weaknesses, while big-picture optimists were encouraged to identify market opportunities and company strengths. Little time was lost defending personal biases. Team affiliations were more sophisticated than that, but you get the idea: each position was well thought out and each group contributed mightily to a final and balanced company plan. Sometimes a company truly needs to make constant improvement and investments over time but during opportunistic management periods, research and development needed to be its most pro-active, reactive and entrepreneurial. Once we identified the best approach, the teams we put together were the most cohesive teams to face the task at hand.

Seed both leadership styles as you bring on managers. Your challenge is to become fluid enough in your thinking to acknowledge which camp you naturally lean toward while being able to comfortably move between the two styles for the betterment of your company. Even if you have a penchant for only hiring risk takers you still can create two subsets – dreamers and do-ers – assigning different goals to both. You aren’t doubling staff; you’re ensuring every subset team has enough like-minded cohorts to be effective and that their talents are directed toward company goals.

Have a differing opinion or more startup advice? We value your comments.

About Jody Glynn Patrick

Jody is President of Glynn Patrick & Associates, which provides management consulting, executive coaching and strategic planning services. She is Publisher Emeritus of In Business magazine, which she published for 17 years. Selected as the “U.S. Business Journalist of the Year” in 2007 in Washington, DC, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jody has been a business reporter, editor, radio talk show host , and has won other state and national journalism awards. At the same time, she has helped corporate clients grow their businesses -- the basis for her practical coaching advice here. She also was the 2005 Athena Award recipient for her leadership role in mentoring other professional women. Jody will be talking with you weekly on TDS’ blog to share her insights and tips from the C-Suite perspective. Follow on G+.

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