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Leading Your Company Through The Organizational Lifecycle

May 22, 2024

Among many other helpful insights, my business leadership professor at Penn State, Dr. Albert Vicere, taught me almost 30 years ago that every company follows a standard lifecycle. As your business grows, the challenges you face as a leader will evolve and occur naturally. To keep moving the organization forward, it’s crucial that you adapt your leadership style to meet these changing needs. All this time later, I am still regularly confronted with this reality in my executive coaching, training, and consulting work. As they say, “True wisdom transcends time.”

Inspired by Dr. Vicere’s thinking recently, I wrote this blog about the different stages of an organization’s lifecycle and the unique leadership approach required at each phase.

1) Emergent Stage: The Visionary

In the early days of your business, everything revolves around innovation and survival. As the founder, you are the driving force, making strategic decisions with limited information and resources. Here are some key challenges and strategies:



  • Embrace Risk: Be willing to take bold steps to differentiate your business.
  • Stay Agile: Adapt quickly to feedback and changing circumstances.
  • Inspire with Vision: Paint a compelling picture of the future to rally your team and early customers.

2) Growth Stage: The Builder

As your business gains traction, the focus shifts to scaling and execution. The leadership task becomes one of channeling potential into a thriving organization.


  • Recruiting and onboarding new staff
  • Expanding to new markets
  • Building business infrastructure
  • Raising capital for expansion
  • Fostering the right culture


  • Systematize Processes: Implement efficient systems and processes to handle growth.
  • Build a Strong Team: Hire talented individuals and empower them to take ownership of their roles.
  • Maintain Culture: Ensure that the entrepreneurial spirit and core values remain intact as you grow.

3) Maturity Stage: The Administrator

In the mature phase, the focus turns to optimizing operations and maintaining stability. Leadership is more about administration than inspiration.


  • Defending market share
  • Driving operational efficiency
  • Retaining top talent
  • Staying ahead of competitors


  • Streamline Operations: Focus on efficiency and reducing waste.
  • Optimize Performance: Use data and metrics to continuously improve processes.
  • Invest in Employee Development: Keep your team motivated and engaged through ongoing training and development.

4) Decline/Reinvention Stage: The Change Agent

If your company starts to stagnate, it requires a leader who can shake things up and guide the organization through transformation.


  • Confronting hard truths
  • Restructuring operations
  • Reigniting passion and creativity
  • Exploring new directions


  • Embrace Change: Be willing to question old assumptions and make bold moves.
  • Foster Innovation: Encourage creative thinking and experimentation.
  • Lead with Vision and Decisiveness: Steer the company in a new direction with clarity and confidence.

Common Leadership Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

  1. Losing Touch: Stay connected with frontline employees and customers.
    • Solution: Regularly visit the front lines and seek diverse perspectives.
  2. Relying Too Much on Past Experience: Challenge status quo thinking
    • Solution: Create an environment of continuous learning and confront “sacred cows”
  3. Inability to Let Go and Delegate: Avoid micromanaging.
    • Solution: Leverage and trust your team. Focus on results, not methods.
  4. Allowing Silos to Creep Into the Organization: Foster a leadership mindset of interdependence and collaboration.
    • Solution: Be on the constant lookout for turf issues and bad teamwork and call it out aggressively
  5. Hanging on to People Too Long: Address talent and performance gaps
    • Solution: Make performance expectations transparent and lean into difficult conversations
  6. Shooting the Messenger: Encourage honest communication.
    • Solution: Praise those who bring up issues and use failures as learning opportunities.
  7. Resistance to Change: Stay open to new ideas and approaches.
    • Solution: Encourage innovation and be willing to take calculated risks.
  8. Rationalizing Underperformance: Don’t condone or accept excuses for bad results
    • Solution: Own your bad results, diagnose why they happened, and expect a solution orientation from all your key people, including you
  9. Inconsistent Example: Align your actions with your words.
    • Solution: Hold yourself to high standards (aligned with the new direction) and admit mistakes when they happen.

Assessment Questions

To continually grow as a leader, reflect on these questions:

  1. How would I plot my company on the organizational lifecycle curve? Why?
  2. Where do I feel the industry/market is going?
  3. What is changing about our customer’s buying behavior and preferences?
  4. Who is my true competition, and how are they competing against us? How is this changing?
  5. Are we easy to do business with both externally and internally?
  6. What are the biggest obstacles to our success? What does the business need to do to continue to compete and grow effectively?
  7. Are we operating with the right sense of urgency and speed? Are we innovating enough to keep up?
  8. What leadership strengths have served me well up to this point? How do they need to evolve/change to get the business to the next level?
  9. What organizational strengths have served us well up to this point? How do they need to evolve/change to get the business to the next level?
  10. How am I an obstacle to progress? What do I need to do about this?
  11. Do I have the leadership team around me to successfully navigate the next business stage? If not, what am I doing about this?
  12. Who do I turn to for unvarnished feedback and advice on the above? How am I soliciting, digesting, and using this information?

By adapting your leadership style to the needs of your business at each stage, you can navigate the challenges and guide your organization to sustained success. Keep learning, stay flexible, and always lead with intention. Your journey as a leader is not just about achieving results in the short term but also about building a sustainable company that can adapt and pivot as needed.