Can you imagine an organisation which wouldn’t benefit from strong leadership? When I think back over the places I’ve worked, from Cornerstone to IBM to McKinsey, I can’t think of anywhere which functioned effectively without clear leadership.

Although styles of leadership vary from place to place, I’ve often thought that small and large companies need different approaches. Small, growing organisations are more personal, vibrant brands – we can all call to mind a number of interesting start-ups in funky offices with a team of a few dedicated individuals. These companies usually have a flatter hierarchy than more mature organisations with a strong team spirit and everyone ‘pitching in’ to help the business.

These micro-brands need to make tough decisions as they contract and grow, but are held together by the founders, whose vision gave life and business value to something quite intangible. For this reason, although these leaders are usually incredibly busy, they have the opportunity to ‘infect’ employees with the power of their vision for the future of the company. By association, they should also take the opportunity to coach, develop and engage; whilst the loss of an employee in a large organisation can be difficult to manage, losing a valued member of staff in a start-up can set a company back months.

Consequently, leaders in small organisations need to be business visionaries, technical experts and commercially savvy, but they also need to be coaches, making sure that employees are developed and take a break from hectic start-up life once in a while to discuss what they have learned and make sure they don’t fall into any bad habits.  

In contrast, whilst larger organisations need a visionary, they also need a figurehead; someone visible to be seen and provide an example for all staff. Richard Branson is a fantastic example of a living, breathing embodiment of the company, and seems to permeate all aspects of the Virgin brand. Although leaders in large organisations cannot practically get involved in every aspect of working life, they are also the glue which can stick companies together with their passion and vision. A visible leader, who has a firm understanding and degree of control over the direction that the company is taking is vital to a coherent, directed organisation.

However, these leaders have a greater responsibility to ensure that their immediate teams are similarly strong. Because they have less contact with the other parts of the organisation, CEOs and GMs need to make sure that they carefully pick their senior management team to ensure that they share both the ethics and commitment to the brand so that these employees do not pull the company in different directions.

Consequently, leaders in large and small organisations both share responsibility for driving their companies forward, but the execution of these duties is very different depending on the size and maturity of the organisation in question. There may not be a ‘organisational maturity model’ which shows how leadership styles need to develop in parallel with the company, leaders should always take a moment to consider whether they are acting in the right way and developing their employees appropriately for the status of the company as it is now. This may be another factor to consider in the already-difficult leadership equation, but as the maxim goes, the most valuable asset in a company is its people, and a leader who takes good care of their people will certainly reap the rewards.

By Vincent Belliveau, Cornerstone OnDemand