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December 5th, 2017

Use the Leader's Growth Mindset to Become a High Impact Leader

The following guest blog was written for Viewpoint by Professor Simon Raby to summarize key findings from his recent work "What Drives SME Growth?: Introducing the Leader's Growth Mindset." 


In what way do you need to lead your business to achieve your growth ambitions?

This was the burning question that struck me, upon arriving in Alberta in September 2015.

To answer this question, I drew on multiple sources. First, my UK experience as an active practitioner in innovation and entrepreneurship, and a proven research model – Promoting Sustainable Performance owned by Business Improvement and Growth (BIG) Associates. Second, support from the Leverhulme Trust (one of the UK’s largest research councils), my home UK institution (the University of Kent), and the University of Calgary’s Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Haskayne School of Business, where I was a visiting professor at the time.

Roll on 18-months and I received survey responses from over 500 Alberta SMEs and completed detailed interviews with a subset of ‘High Impact Leaders’. These are leaders of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) that are achieving high growth (in revenue, profits and employment) and are disruptive. High Impact SMEs invest in a broader range of innovative activities, and are more diversified in the markets they serve. They exemplify organizations that many of us aspire to create. 

So, what were the findings?

In studying the behavior of CEOs, Founders and Presidents of High Impact SMEs we found that these High Impact Leaders were applying a common set of practices and roles in their daily work, which we labeled the “Leader’s Growth Mindset”. Those leaders applying this mindset were generating superior levels of growth, innovation and market diversification. The encouraging finding was that the Leader’s Growth Mindset is something that can be developed in each and every one of us.

The Leader’s Growth Mindset consists of 3 common practices and 3 common roles. To consistently deliver these common practices and roles (which we explore further below) High Impact Leaders had successfully evolved their role as a leader. These leaders had navigated a role transition from a technical specialist to strategic leader.


“Leaders had to remain steadfast in their delivery of their strategic leadership roles. Many Leaders spoke how, in the early days, they found it easy to become sucked back up into an operational vacuum, creating an imbalance between working on and in the business.”


Once leaders had navigated this role transition, they were able to take onboard a common set of practices and roles. The 3 common practices enabled High Impact Leaders to connect the outside of the business with the inside:

A – Aware                         Understand your obstacles and enablers, and take action.

I – Inquisitive                   Connect, pose questions, challenge and seek answers.

R – Rounded                    Obtain and weigh multiple perspectives.

And, High Impact Leaders were continuously championing 3 common roles in the business:

Value Identifier                 Create and enable customer value via the business model.

Strategy Shaper               Define, drive and evolve strategies for growth.

Culture Crafter                  Nurture a culture that attracts and retains high quality staff.

An essential ingredient in connecting these externalized practices and internal business roles was the application of a filter. This filter ensured prioritization, alignment and balance in the way new knowledge, skills and abilities were brought into the business. This filtering process was driven by purpose (why do we exist?), and underpinned through clarity in vision (where are we going?), values (what’s important to us?) and people (what knowledge, skills and abilities do we need to succeed?)

Ultimately, understanding the process of growth is essential if leaders of SMEs, are to devise smarter strategies for growth. It is also essential for those developing policies and supporting SME growth, so that we can target the right issues for the right individuals and organizations.

To access and download the full report visit 

Or contact Simon directly at


About the Author

Simon Raby, Ph.D.
Founder, BIG Associates | Professor, Innovation & Entrepreneurship | Author

Simon Raby is a ‘pracademic’ who believes that the world of research has a lot to offer those who run their own businesses, if this knowledge is delivered in accessible and practical ways. He is a Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business, Co-Founder of Business Improvement and Growth (BIG) Associates Ltd., and an Associate of Haskayne Executive Education where he is engaged in developing ways to support the learning and growth of High Impact Leaders. Simon’s research program is focused on uncovering the strategies, practices and methods of support that enable business growth, leadership transitions and people performance. Co-author of The ten characteristics of successful SMEs, Simon has researched thousands of growth-oriented organizations and has distilled this into an accessible, applicable and practical guide, downloaded over 11,000 times and internationally recognized for its quality and value for business innovation and growth.

Simon completed his Masters and Ph.D. at Kent University, part-time while working as a private sector consultant. He is an accredited and practicing coach and facilitator. Simon is a trustee and board member for the Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, a large, well established network that enables excellence in small business and entrepreneurship, and builds bridges between research, policy and practice. Simon also serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research.