How Fractional Leaders Can Shortcut You Around the Bottlenecks and Obstacles You’re Facing

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship Startup Advice / December 20, 2021

Have you ever heard of Brigadier General Norman “Dutch” Cota? If not, allow me to share a story with you. This event had profound implications not just for the outcome of WWII, but for you as the owner and hiring manager of a small or midsize business today.

Everything went wrong with the Allies’ D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. German troops destroyed almost all of the tanks sent to support the invasion. Many sank even before reaching land. The Allied bombers missed German fortifications. The Germans shot most of the Allied troops in their boats and on the beach. Many others drowned before getting to shore.

The few soldiers who survived the passage across the deadly beach at Omaha gathered below the seawall. A U.S. Army after-action report called even the few soldiers who made it to the seawall “inert, leaderless, and almost incapable of action.” They had no idea how to scale the bluffs and cross the barbed wire so they could attack the German positions. Their goal was to ultimately enable the Allied forces to cross the beach and begin their invasion.

The Path to Victory

Fifty-one-year-old Cota finally reached the seawall and knew the invasion would fail if no one led the way. While everyone else huddled beneath the bluffs, Cota began walking in search of a good breaching position. Seeing him take action, other soldiers joined in. While some were hit, the general assigned one man to cover him. Meanwhile, another man used a torpedo to blow through the double-apron barbed wire blocking access to the bluff.

After the first man to go through the gap in the wire was shot, everyone else froze up. Cota knew what he had to do. He charged through the gap and survived, thereby inspiring other troops by his own example. He gathered the soldiers who made it to the other side and led the first successful infantry assault on the German positions in the Allies’ Normandy campaign.

Cota’s story is a heroic tale of courage and bravery. But, if you’re a small to midsize business owner, it’s more than that. In fact, if you’ve been struggling to overcome a major challenge in any part of your business, this story could hold the answer you’ve been desperately searching for. Let me explain.

The Value of a Guide

What does it mean for your business to have an experienced leader swoop in when you’re stuck and guide you to your destination? A strong leader — someone like Brigadier General Cota — who has “been there and done that” knows what to do and how to inspire your troops to charge into the breach together with them.

Although nothing we do in business compares even remotely to the Allied assault on D-Day, Cota’s story illustrates how experienced leadership turns the tide in a dedicated team’s efforts to achieve a goal despite any obstacle. And that’s something every small to midsize business leader knows is crucial.

Through your business, you’ve brought something into the world that no one else could. But what happens when you’re stuck under a seawall, not sure how to move forward? Because I promise, every business leader will hit that point eventually.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re struggling with a marketing problem, a technology problem, a finance problem, or an operations problem. Sooner or later, you’re going to run into a major problem. When you do, you won’t know how to break through the wall and overcome it.

And this is where the rubber meets the road. A fractional leader just might be your General Cota and lead your troops to break through the ceiling you’re hitting and conquer the next stage of your growth.

Why Hiring Fractional Leadership Works

Natalie Franke, co-founder of The Rising Tide Society and author of the just-released book Built to Belong, leads a community of over 70,000 business owners in creative industries such as floral design, graphic arts, and filmmaking. I spoke with her to find out what kind of patterns or trends she’s seen in the large swathe of the business world she works with.

Natalie pointed out how important it was for businesses looking to successfully scale to outsource specific segments of their small to midsize business.

Let’s say you want to take your business from $250,000 to $3 million, for example. When you do that, you’ll face problems you never did when you were a startup. Hiring an experienced expert to lead your team can make all the difference.

The biggest reason hiring fractional leadership works is that you’re bringing someone on your side who’s already gotten past the point where you’re stuck — and they’ve usually done so multiple times. They can shortcut you around bottlenecks and obstacles so you can break through and go way beyond where you could on your own.

The Value of “Fractional” Hiring

The idea of bringing on an experienced leader who can help route you around and through challenges is one that appeals to many business owners. But frankly, hiring a full-time executive is beyond the reach of many businesses that are just starting to scale.

As Wil Schroter, founder and CEO of Startups.com, explains, “There’s no way I could possibly afford the kind of COO or CMO I need.” Plus, most people don’t need a full-time CMO anyway. They don’t need to pay an executive to run their pay-per-click, for example.

What they do need is for a leader to tell them what’s around the corner, what contacts they should reach out to, and help them establish relationships with other people. The guidance and relationships fractional leaders can provide are invaluable and, because you aren’t hiring them full-time, you can save a lot of money while still reaping all the benefits.

Hiring a Fractional Leader Isn’t Cheating

For people who are used to having to figure everything out for themselves, the idea of hiring a fractional leader can almost feel like cheating. They worry they’re doing something wrong by bypassing the obstacles and skipping straight to effective (though often not easy) solutions.

Although this feeling is natural, it causes them unnecessary pain. Even worse, it makes their progress toward their own dreams much longer and harder than it has to be.

Overcoming the idea that hiring a fractional leader is somehow cheating can lead to powerful rewards. Kwame Christian, Esq., director of the American Negotiation Institute and author of Finding Confidence in Conflict, told me that he uses a fractional chief financial officer (FCFO). He says it allows him to bring extensive experience and an objective perspective into his small to midsize business without the full-time cost. If he had to pay for a full-time CFO, he might not be able to make it work.

Is it cheating? No. He’s utilizing a brilliant solution to a problem, and he’s doing it in an efficient, effective way.

Get Strategic Guidance

One of the key ways that hiring fractional leaders can help leaders overcome their challenges is by providing strategic guidance.

For example, let’s say your company needs strategic guidance around marketing. Rather than hiring a full-time chief marketing officer (CMO), you could hire a fractional CMO (FCMO) who would then be able to help you integrate all the people, programs, and processes of the marketing function. The FCMO would ensure that all marketing efforts are tied together cohesively and directed toward healthy growth outcomes.

Ultimately, the FCMO could help your business move more confidently toward a full-time executive marketing hire/promotion. Or the FMCO could move your small to midsize business toward a new chapter of growth through mergers and acquisitions.

Scale More Efficiently

The idea of hiring a fractional leader can seem strange at first. Trust me, I get it — it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea. More so when you’ve worked so hard for so long to move your business beyond the startup phase.

But remember, growing a business is very different than starting a business. It requires different skills and experience. It’s a journey that you may be able to take alone. However, if there’s a way to overcome the obstacles and challenges in your path, then you need to do it. It’s a service to your business and yourself by seizing that opportunity.

That’s the value of hiring a fractional leader. Bring on the kind of experienced leader who can guide your troops successfully through the seawall.

Additional Resources

  • For more advice on how a Fractional Leader can help you grow and scale your company, you can find Fractional Leadership on Amazon.

About The Author

Ben Wolf is the founder and CEO of FractionalLeadership.io, the first platform dedicated to referring vetted fractional leaders to small and midsize business owners and leaders. Ben recognized the value of fractional leadership while building operations at a healthcare startup from pre-launch into the largest organization of its type in New York State. Today, he operates Wolf's Edge Consulting, a Fractional Integrator firm for small and midsize businesses, and hosts the podcast Win Win - An Entrepreneurial Community. He lives with his wife and four children in Long Island, New York. Connect with him online at www.FractionalLeadership.io.

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