The Three Leverage Points of Leadership

Book Review – Executive Coaching

The Breakthrough Company by Keith R. McFarland 2009

McFarland started his research for this book by asking three questions:

  1. Why do most companies start small and stay that way?
  2. What is special about the handful of companies that successfully “break through” the entrepreneurial stage of development?
  3. What can a leader do to ensure that the company maximises its chances for breakthrough?

He then studied over five years more than 7000 companies, interviewed more than 1500 executives and reviewed and catalogued more than 5600 articles and annual reports.

He determined that there was really no such thing as a breakthrough company, but rather a set of breakthrough principles that any company could adopt to achieve breakthrough performance.

In answering the third question of his enquiry, McFarland theorised that the leaders of these successful companies did three key things to drive successful growth.

Strategy, People and Organisation

Firstly they focused on strategy, not strategic planning, involved everyone on the organisation and compressed the strategy cycle time. They shifted to a dynamic model of strategy that accelerated their strategic learning as well as their performance.

Secondly, they focused on their people looking for new ways to get the best from the people employed rather than constantly seeking new people.

“Maybe the best way to ‘get the right people on the bus’ is to create a bus worth riding on in the first place.”

The number 1 job of a leader in these companies was to COACH their staff, increasing their skill set and experience to prepare them for larger jobs as the company grew.

Third and finally, the leaders in these companies had a relentless focus on growing the execution capability of the company.

They were able to triage initiatives into high value add relevant to their strategy and communicated the connection to all involved.

McFarland’s tips for building ‘Breakthrough Capability’ in this way is to:

  • Expand the strategy development activity to include more people in the company – not just the executive team
  • Replace large, annual strategic planning sessions with more frequent and nimble strategy sessions
  • Develop professional development goals for all staff and rain the manager sin how to effectively COACH people to accelerated performance
  • Translate strategy into specific and measurable goals which are translated into initiatives which are supported with detailed action plans.

It is gratifying to see the important role that coaching plays in these very successful companies that McFarland studied. Working with what the people you have is often the most effective and efficient people strategy.

How many times do companies blame the individual for not performing to expectation before considering the organisation’s role in not providing clarity of expectation, supporting performance development or providing timely performance feedback.

Coaching starts from a premise of confidence in the potential of the individual and  accelerates their performance through regular feedback, probing questions and encouragement to set the bar high and exceed it.

Fast tracking your company lies on fast tracking the performance of your employees – just ask the Breakthrough Companies featured in Keith McFarland’s research.



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