There are some leaders that seem to have the Midas touch: no matter what they do, it turns to gold. They seem to float from one successful start-up to the next. What is the secret that makes their companies so successful? Take entrepreneur Nitin Khanna, for example. His business range could not be more diverse: from technology to M&A transactions to Cannabis, Nitin Khanna has done it all. No matter what type of company he started, though, they have all flourished and continue to expand today. He is one of the seemingly “lucky” few that beat the odds when other start-ups fail.
Unlike many successful entrepreneurs, Nitin Khanna is open with the underlying principles that drive his success. He credits execution-based leadership with being the key that allows his companies to flourish no matter what they do. Nitin Khanna sees his job as creating big ideas and empowering his people to realize the vision. He finds, empowers, and listens to the right people to create a successful business, but he does not leave execution solely in their hands. By helping to implement his strategies, he can continue to improve and pivot wherever needed.
If you are starting a new business, taking your business in a new direction, or just need to see some growth, execution-based leadership can help you achieve your goals. Keep reading for a comprehensive look into execution-based leadership and how it can help you grow your business.
What is Execution- Based Leadership?
Many CEOs subscribe to an ivory-tower form of leadership: they create the strategy and leave everyone else to see it to fruition. However, many are left wondering why the perfect strategy that they spent years honing quickly crashes and burns when left to their company to execute.
Execution-based leadership turns this strategy-focused model on its head. In the execution-based model, the journey does not end when the strategy is laid out. Rather, the CEO stays actively involved to see how it is performing. From there, the strategy continues to be refined and molded into its successful model. Most leaders are excellent at coming up with plans. However, it is the execution that takes the planning and turns it into results. When leaders fail to handle the execution of their business strategies, they can set up their company for disaster.
No strategy can perfectly predict everything. There are different factors, human, financial, logistical, even things as simple as weather, that are difficult, if not impossible, to plan for. In order to be successful, a strategy needs to take these factors into account. The only way to do so is to put the strategy into practice and continue to plan around it.
Leaders are only as successful as their workers. Leaders can provide great framework and tools, but they need to be used by their employees to be successful. Likewise, a strategy is only as good as its execution. By leading the execution as well as the strategy, leaders can make sure that their vision can succeed. Nitin Khanna claimed in an interview that his focus was
Here are some of the keys to creating execution-based leadership.
Be Willing to Try Something New
There are few fields where competition is not fierce. In order to get ahead of the competition, companies must be willing to find a new way to accomplish their tasks. If you are going to be outpacing your competition, your business needs to be willing to try to do things differently.
Instead of thinking your team has the answer and taking a we-know-better approach, share information and be open to another’s input. Whether you need a mentor, better partnership, or more open input from your workers, you should always be in the place to learn and change. Question your organizational structures and overhaul any tradition that is no longer serving you or your company. This ability to question what you once consider foundational is essential to execution-based leadership.
Be Open About Your Strategy
Your strategy should not be a closely guarded secret. The more input that you can receive, the better the feedback that you can use and the more people that you can get onboard. Be open with your strategy instead of keeping it a secret amongst leadership only.
This communication to every level of an organization will help to foster a more receptive environment. Everyone can feel as though they can contribute to the direction of the company, which is more likely to encourage buy-in and better overall company culture. Instead of feeling that they have rules from leadership forced on them, employees can make a meaningful contribution to the strategy. This will help make execution even stronger.
The best way to communicate strategy is through measurable objectives. These objectives can help to guide your employees understanding and behavior across the company. Also, continue to reference the strategy throughout all communication to remind employees of the overall company objectives and goals.
When a new strategy is announced and the company works on rolling out measurable objectives, it can be easy to concentrate on stamping out any negativity. Instead, execution-based leadership is about empowering leadership and employees to take initiative to realize the vision of the strategy.
This empowerment starts at a leadership level. The right leadership team is instrumental in executing the strategy. Typically, implementing a strategy forces leadership to take on more cross-functional integration, so executive buy-in is key. Staffing executive positions is the role of the leader, so make sure that you continue to fill the roles with supportive members will make sure that strategy execution is successful. You may also need to get rid of members that lack the buy-in to make the execution of your strategy possible.
Beyond the leadership, getting buy-in on an employee level requires championing those who step up to realize the strategy. Depending on the size of the company, it might be impossible to change every critic’s mind. However, by recognizing and encouraging innovation on an employee level, you can help shape a valuable company culture. A successful execution means empowering helpful employees to encourage each employee to buy-in and realize the strategy.
A supportive company culture that will successfully execute strategy requires positivity on every level. Fill leadership spots with the right people that will foster your strategy, and encourage employees that find innovated ways to implement the strategy. This positive work environment will give your strategy what it needs to flourish.
There is no way to know exactly how your strategy is performing without communicating with the ones who execute it. Relationships are key to understand how a strategy performs and foster enhanced ways to meet the objectives and goals.
Leadership that does not take time to communicate with those actively executing the plan will undermine its success. Build a strong relationship with all levels in order of the organization in order to get an accurate picture of the strengths and weakness in the strategy.
Nothing blocks communication like arrogance in leadership. The temptation for leaders is to act as though the strategy is flawless before it has even been executed. However, a strong sense of curiosity and communication will help to overcome any hurdles in execution and get more buy-in on the employee level.
Flexibility in Means
The goal itself never changes in execution-based leadership. However, the rules and means of accomplishing the goals need to be flexible. Leaders need to be willing to change anything that is inhibiting the goal. The faster the leadership is willing to garner feedback, change, and improve its strategy, the more likely it is to succeed.
If the execution of the strategy is cumbersome, leadership is unwilling to listen to helpful feedback, and change happens slowly, the strategy is at real risk of failure. The goal of communication on every level is to continue to improve the strategy once it has reached implementation. It will not be perfect when it is only in theory. Instead, execution-based leadership continues to modify the strategy so that it can succeed.
This constant loop of feedback and modification will allow an enterprise to run smoothly, foster a positive company culture, and lead to an even better organization. Execution-based leadership takes arrogance out of the equation and allows ideas to come to fruition and create a strong company.
An execution-based leader that is actively involved in the process of improving the company knows that the process never really ends. There are always new ideas, new technology, new improvements to be made on every level. Rather than trying to get a strategy perfect before rolling it out, an execution-based leader builds a well-thought-out plan and then maintains a healthy curiosity into how everything can continue to run even better.
Traits of an Executive-Based Leader
Although executive-based leadership makes logistical sense and is the underlying principle of most successful entrepreneurs, many leaders shy away from this form of leadership. Why? Because it takes much more energy, humility, and enthusiasm then simply rolling out a strategy and leaving others to accomplish it. This model of leadership demands a very specific kind of leader and many feel they are not up to the task. Instead, their businesses suffer and they fail to understand exactly why.
Here are some of the qualities needed to accomplish executive-based leadership.
Building a Plan
Although the strategy will need to be tweaked when it is implemented, a leader will not simply think up part of the plan and then roll it out. The right plan, on the other hand, will not only have a goal in mind. Instead, there will be clear, actionable steps along the way to accomplish specific objectives.
A lack of accountability, especially amongst leadership, is insidious to an organization. Candid feedback, specific goals and milestones, and discipline are all essential to the success of a strategy. A poor-performing leadership team is detrimental to any business. Accountability will shape leadership that will support and help execute the strategy.
Execution-based leadership can be full of difficult conversations, flexibility, accountability, and resistance. Perseverance cannot be understated. Change is difficult for most people, so it is inevitable that you will face objections from both leadership and employees within your organization. You must be willing to continue to pursue your goal despite push-back from those who initially struggle to adjust.
When it comes to accomplishing goals and successfully implementing a strategy, your frame of mind is everything. Just like with perseverance, how you respond to setbacks will determine your success. If you concentrate on what you can control and operate from that perspective (rather than ruminating on things that you cannot change) you can come back from setbacks and continue towards your goal.
Perfection will often get in the way of progress. Work on realistic, actionable steps and concentrate on forwarding movement and improvement. This positive mindset will not only make it possible for you but creates a more positive work environment.
A successful execution-based leader knows how to effectively communicate strategy and goals to the rest of the company. When people know the underlying reasons behind changes, they are much more likely to be receptive to them. Employees will feel more engaged when they understand what specific ways what they do makes a difference in the organization.
A Case Study in Execution-Based Leadership: Nitin Khanna
The best way to understand how powerful the underlying principles of execution-based leadership are is by seeing how one man used it to create multiple successful start-ups in diverse industries.
Nitin Khanna was given an inside look into what it takes to run a company from a young age. Although his father was involved in the military, most of Khanna’s childhood memories in India involve his family members running various businesses. He was able to understand what it takes to run a successful business from a very early age.
Although he started his career in the paper industry when he moved to the US, Khanna saw the future of technology in the ’90s and quickly changed his direction to work at Oracle Corporation. He held several key positions but decided he could do more and run his own business.
Along with his brother, Nitin Khanna co-founded Saber Corporation at the tender age of 25. The underlying principles of executive-based leadership that he had learned as a boy, though, shaped the direction of the organization. It rapidly expanded and became a key provider of services to the US government.
Saber was massively successful by the time Nitin Khanna decided to move on to his next venture. Under his direct leadership, the small start-up grew to 1500 employees and annual revenue of $300 million.
Nitin Khanna’s experience at Saber gave him the idea for his next company, MergerTech. MergerTech is a Mergers and Acquisitions advisory firm, which handles deals anywhere from $10MM to $200MM. It was founded in 2009 and helps match start-ups and small businesses that want to sell with larger corporations who would want to acquire them. MergerTech also provides businesses with advice during the process.
Just as Saber, MergerTech flourished under the same execution-based leadership style. MergerTech beat out behemoths JP Morgan and Bank of America to become the #1 mobile bank in America.
MergerTech found its success by observing the businesses that are not based in the US or not originally involved in technology are willing to pay more for tech companies. These companies were happy to pay more to acquire the exact type of business they were looking for, while these start-ups and small businesses were able to sell their business for the highest price. The result was a massively successful business that kept both buyers and sellers happy.
However, Nitin did not stop his road to success there. He saw the opportunity in the newly-legalized cannabis industry and set his sights on an entirely new enterprise. He became the CEO of Cura Cannabis. By the time he moved on in 2017, Cura Cannabis became one of the leaders in CBD oils for Portland.
Despite the massive industry changes Nitin Khanna has made over his career, he credits the same underlying principles of execution-based leadership. “The main thing I bring to the table is execution,” he stated.
“The key role I played in each company,” he continues, “was setting up strategy: its vision, its mission, its culture, and how we view people. I believe, truly believe, that the critical differentiator between one company and another is its people. So I’ve always focused a tremendous amount of my time and energy ensuring that companies have the right people.”
Execution-Based Leadership: The Key to Successful Strategy
As Nitin Khanna’s life story demonstrates the same keys to success applies to whatever your start-up or business might be. The leader who takes the time to oversee the implementation of their strategy and makes sure that the right people are in place and encouraged to succeed, the more successful the company will be.
Once leaders are willing to put in the drive, perseverance, humility, and accountability it takes to accomplish the right strategies, they will build a healthy culture and company. The path to execution-based leadership is not easy, but it will more than pay off with a more sustainable and successful business in the long run.