Demystifying Leadership Scaling!

posted by Dilip on January 22, 2018
Demystifying Leadership Scaling!


Leaders do not create followers, they create more leaders! –The Bhagwat Gita

To show a person their shadow, you must first show them their light! –Carl Rogers


One of the challenges my clients face, especially in scale-ups and even in mature companies is how to multiply their leadership force to sustain growth. Many of my entrepreneurial clients in the early stages of their start-ups also voice this concern: When my venture succeeds how am I going to scale this company?

Typical business opportunities are inspired by the vast market potential offered to many companies and yet they are throttled by their ability to grow sustainably to address those markets. Yet another avenue for such opportunities may come from realizing that the current product/manufacturing paradigm for a product already selling in a market can be challenged with a shift in how such a product is re-designed and made using entirely different approaches.

A good example of this shift is a story (soon to be a Bollywood movie) about how an uneducated Indian villager threatened the well-established sanitary napkins market by adopting manual, cost-effective methods of manufacturing, and employing over a million women to make the product at a fraction of the incumbents’ offerings. Many good managers know how to be effective leaders, but they often need help in understanding how to scale their leadership to grow their organization in a sustainable way. This Arunachalam’s story is a good use case of this approach.

This blog is about how to be an effective manager in addition to understanding how to scale your leadership to multiply its effect up and down in a growing organization so that leadership becomes a truly scalable and sustainable factor in its growth.

Having now worked with thousands of clients in a variety of pursuits and leadership positions the one major factor that stands heads-and-shoulders above all other leadership issues is how to create, build, and sustain and organization that scales organically and that spawns more leaders as the need for such leadership grows. Concomitant with this need is its flip side: How to create an organization that also scales down without the loss of valuable human capital. In my view both sides of this challenge are rooted in developing a leadership structure that creates winning outcomes systemically.

Let me explain this contradiction later, but first, let us focus on factors why scalable leadership is a difficult proposition for most “leaders.”

  1. Lack of clear vision: One common factor I often see pervading the myriad complaints I hear repeatedly from my clients why they are not able to get their team members and, in turn, those that report to them down their organization is that there is a lack of clear vision about what the organization’s mission is and how each one fits in delivering that mission. Such clarity of purpose is the first step in getting the team a leader inspires to accomplish their vision. Often, such statements are made without conviction or without fully understanding how the leader’s team can be mobilized to do its best, no matter what obstacles get in the way of its mission. If the leader does not breathe fire in their view of how they frame their mission they cannot expect their team members to get excited about applying themselves to what lies ahead! If you are still puzzled by this notion, watch the Arunachalam’s impassioned video.
  2. Leading Vs. Managing: Good leaders lead instead of managing: If you can provide leadership to your team and set clear boundaries based on expectations, commitments, resources, and an environment of safety and trust, managing things takes a back seat. It is when the leader falls short in their ability to show their team members a clear path to success and it is when the teams do not have the faith in their leader to provide them the guidance they need in difficult times that management itself takes the front seat—which inevitably then devolves into micromanagement. Good leaders do not need to manage: their team members figure out a way to get things done as long as some basic processes are in place to provide guidance and to set operating norms for everyone. A competent and self-inspired team is often self-policing; team members only let other, like-team members to enter their fold—for anything less they have an instinctive allergic reaction! In a well-led organization the team members manage their leaders, not the other way around!
  3. Acknowledging the people dynamic: No matter what the mission is and no matter what the team structure is there is always some tension between few members of an organization. This tension often stems from personal agendas and personalities. For example, if A holds a higher position in a hierarchical team and B reports to A, often B wants to go around A to their boss and vitiate the set structure and flow. This often happens when during the times of restructuring both A and B were seen as viable candidates for the higher role and A ends up getting the prized role. Unless this change is handled with some leadership, both of them will figure out a way to make the leader’s role difficult by constantly butting heads and by B’s skipping the expected reporting norms.
    In such cases—and these are frequent in a typical organization—the leader has the responsibility to anticipate such tension and discord before announcing the change and has the obligation to talk to both A and B to preemptively address this tension and how, by working collaboratively each will advance their growth and how B must go through A to keep the workflow sane. The leader is well advised to apprise their boss of this situation so that they have the needed support from up above. The leader must also acknowledge the need for B to have ready leader access in case there is a conflict that A and B cannot resolve on their own. In my coaching practice I find this single factor of not preemptively addressing this inevitable dynamic between A and B to be the most frequent factor for team discord and dysfunction.
  4. Knowing leadership priorities: A leader’s role is to lead not manage as I mentioned previously. I’ve seen too many cases where “leaders” are too busy micromanaging at each level and thwarting the team members in their ability to letting them do what they are good at by providing an environment where they can seek guidance and help if they feel stuck, without anyone judging them. Creating this environment is the leader’s first priority. Setting up a team structure, where team members openly exchange their concerns and have the ability to both, resolve their differences at the lowest levels, but at the same time have the ability to escalate issues as needed is the single most important act of leadership a person can spend their time and energy on.
  5. Knowing how to frame your agenda: In many conversations with my manager clients who come to me for help, their team is rebelling against them primarily because their boss is promiscuously allowing all sort of exchanges across team members, violating the structural norms. By this statement I do not mean to imply that a strict command-and-control protocol of how information or communication flows is a sine qua non. On the contrary, the ethos of an organization must allow anyone a safe haven to feel trusted and heard, without the shackles of bureaucratic organizational strictures.
    So, what does a leader need to do to permeate such an organizational ethos? It is rooted in how you frame your agenda and then knowing how to communicate that agenda so that teams feel that it is THEIR agenda.
    For example, taking the case cited above of A and B. When the restructuring is planned, one way to communicate this change to both A and B is to openly acknowledge the tension between the two by having individual conversations and then saying to each one of them that the reason for this new design is deliberate and it is to help them both grow in their new roles by learning how to work in a conflicted structure and how to accommodate each other’s views to further the organization’s vision—and mission. If the leader can take the effort to show preemptively how this opportunity would provide a growth arena for both to elevate their own leadership maturity and if they both walk away convinced that this is in their future interest, then the leader has done a good job of framing their agenda with a good chance of success.

Now, coming back the apparent contradiction of scaling-up an organization and then scaling it back down, both requiring the same leadership is rooted in the premise that once you create leaders that learn how to scale their organization with the principles stated here, then scaling down the same organization is a natural extension of this framework. If scaling down leaves members of your team out of work in your business their inherent value of who they are as a result of their leadership evolution does not diminish their value or esteem; they can carry that mantle as their gift to another business to make that successful in their new role.

The second quote by Carl Rogers, To show someone their shadow, you must first show them their light, is a reminder of how “leaders” often vitiate their own success by focusing on the negative of any member of their team. The other common quality of poor leaders is how they dazzle and blind their team members with their “brilliance.” If, instead, they make the effort to show the team members their own light, each team member then can see their own shadow and learn how to deal with it—with some mentoring help from their leader!

Leadership is not an act; it’s a process and a mindset. Hope that you learn how to manage that process and go on to become the leader everyone looks up to.

Good luck!