Why growing small businesses benefit from generalist leaders

Generalist leaders bring strong business acumen and management skills to grow businesses. The generalist leadership model works to grow small businesses because these leaders can build on already successful operations to improve the bottom line.
small business presidents sitting in a group at a desk working on their laptops

Teamshares didn’t hire generalist leaders within our network of small businesses right away.

When Teamshares was first founded, we hired leaders within the same industry to replace the retiring owners of our recently acquired small businesses.

To deliver the most value to these well-established businesses, we wanted to experiment with bringing on an outsider’s perspective to complement what was already successful.

In experimenting with placing generalist leaders, we found unique results that would ultimately help accelerate the growth of the businesses we acquire, ensuring they would never have to be sold again.

We’ve successfully applied the generalist philosophy to more than 80 network companies across 40+ industries to work towards our mission of making employee ownership the future of small business.

In this post, we’ll discuss why we use the generalist philosophy and how Teamshares generalist leaders benefit well-established employee-owned small businesses.

What is the generalist leadership philosophy?

The generalist leadership philosophy is about hiring a leader without experience within a company’s specific industry, such as plumbing, pizza-making, or landscaping.

Instead, Teamshares hires a leader from outside the industry who displays a growth mindset, collaborative leadership skills, and financial acumen.

Following this philosophy, Teamshares recruits and hires generalist presidents to lead Teamshares companies through their next chapter: the transition to employee ownership and accelerated business growth.

“Hiring a generalist president was one of the most important things to happen to this company.”

A generalist president immediately brings critical leadership skills to the table while learning about the industry on the job. These presidents begin on day one as leaders, decision-makers, and culture-builders.

When acquiring already successful businesses, employee owners enable generalist leadership because of their institutional experience. While presidents start as a generalist, over time with the help of employee owners, they acquire industry knowledge.

This knowledge, combined with the president’s existing empathetic leadership style, financial acumen, and grit, makes them successful in the role.

Why the generalist leadership model works

Our generalist leaders have strong people management skills, business and financial acumen, and an overall attitude of perseverance. They excel at making connections and observations and applying those learnings to the business.

Teamshares generalist presidents must be eager to learn from both the former owner and employee owners to gain institutional knowledge, allowing them to build trust and grow the business while preserving the day-to-day operations that made the company successful in the first place.

Teamshares generalist leaders focus more on growing the business, optimizing business operations, and filling in industry knowledge gaps through key hires, potential internal promotions, and delegation.

On the other hand, many industry leaders tend to take an approach that’s worked in another capacity and apply it 1:1 in the new business, which can erode trust with key employees who are industry experts.

As for any new leader, there’s a ramp-up period. During the first year in the role, our generalist presidents typically focus on helping the former owner transition into retirement, building trust with employee owners, and making sure the business is set up for a successful transition to employee ownership.

Currently, the generalist leadership philosophy is more commonly found in mid-to-large-sized companies. Teamshares is committed to making the generalist leader a reality in small businesses to drive growth and create new wealth for employee owners.

What Teamshares looks for in a generalist president

Our strong team of recruiters proactively source the highest caliber of talent to replace retiring owners at each Teamshares network company.

Attributes of a Teamshares generalist president include:

  • Leadership and people management skills.
  • Strong business acumen, specifically strong problem-solving, financial, analytical, planning, and execution skills.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit and learner’s mindset.
  • A positive attitude, servant leader mindset, humility, and character.
  • Strong desire to do mission-oriented work to make employee ownership a reality.

In short, we’re looking for humble but ambitious people.

Apply to become a small business president of an employee-owned company near you.

Teamshares generalist leaders come from a range of backgrounds, from MBA programs and the United States Navy to Walmart, Boston Consulting Group, and large regional private enterprises.

Generalist leaders vs. industry-specific leaders

Companies require different leadership models for different stages of their journey.

Typically, industry-specific leaders work best in new businesses where the founding owner is ingrained in sales or creating day-to-day operations from the ground up.

Industry-specific leaderGeneralist leader
When the model works best
  • When starting a business
  • When there is operational work to be done in the business
  • When trying to grow an established, successful business
  • When there’s work to be done both in the business and on the business
  • When bringing in a new leader to replace a retiring owner
  • Still, Teamshares generalist presidents need to acquire a basic understanding of their new industry to effectively run the business.

    With that said, we’ve also found that some industry-specific leaders have the same capabilities, skills, and leadership styles as generalist leaders and can be excellent leaders in growing small businesses.

    How do Teamshares presidents obtain industry knowledge?

    The number one way Teamshares network presidents obtain industry knowledge is on-the-job at their already successful companies, which, on average, have been around for 32 years.

    Shadowing industry veterans, such as a general manager at the business, is a key part of the learning process.

    We believe learning is a two-way process between employees and leaders.

    Ultimately, presidents can continue to count on employee owners to be the deep industry experts while expanding their own knowledge by learning about what each employee owner does and why.

    As the Teamshares president network continues to grow, so does the number of industries our network spans.

    Our presidents receive industry-specific recommendations from peers in the president community about different learning opportunities, such as trade shows and industry-specific publications.

    All presidents have built-in, industry-specific peer groups that regularly share and support each other online and in person.

    Additionally, Teamshares network presidents attend regular geo-based meetings to solidify peer relationships and share best practices.

    If you’re a generalist leader with financial acumen and a growth mindset who wants to help small businesses become employee-owned, apply to become a Teamshares small business president.

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