Discover more from Scalable Operations
Your destiny is comin' close. Stand Up and Fight.
Thoughts and tips on becoming a leader of a large organization overnight
A few years ago, I found myself thrust into a leadership position of a large organization, with over 100 people, virtually overnight. The role was unexpected, and as such, I was not fully prepared. I felt overwhelmed. This prompted me to reflect and formulate a strategy on how to steer the organization effectively and the kind of leader I aspired to be. My experience in this leadership role offered me several insights. Here are the steps I took and my learnings from this experience:
Acknowledge the status quo whether positive or negative
Establish a new vision and develop a structure to communicate it regularly
Explain the importance of every role within the organization.
Aim for quick wins to foster trust.
Formulate operating principles and reinforce them
Get out to the field
Let's delve deeper into these key takeaways.
So, here’s where we are
It usually takes several weeks to adjust to any new role, especially leading a large organization. It's vital to quickly articulate a forward-looking plan for the organization, starting with acknowledging the present situation. It's essential to be honest about what's working well and what's not. Glossing over the reality will seem disingenuous, potentially damaging the respect your team may have for you. Openly recognizing challenges gives hope to your team members and reassures them that their daily efforts are not in vain.
Follow me this way
Once you have candidly addressed the current situation, define what will change under your leadership. This doesn't imply you need to upend everything. It means you need to clarify what remains the same and what you intend to change. Provide approximate timelines for these changes.
Start by laying out the long-term vision. What is the company's ultimate objective? What is your department's final vision, and how does it contribute to the company's broader goals? Then, break down this vision into more immediate goals for the coming quarters. Regularly revisit these goals and progress made toward them in forums such as department-wide meetings. Be candid about the progress and any challenges encountered. Ensure you are not overly focused on areas of struggle, as this may demoralize your team. Regular feedback from your team and direct reports can help fine-tune your message delivery.
Put the puzzle together
When setting a vision or goals for the organization, it is crucial that every single team in your department understands how they fit into that goal. This is a key motivational tool for the team so that they understand that their work not only matters, but that what they do is fundamental to the company’s ultimate success. When people don’t feel like their work matters or that they’re not appreciated for it (a separate topic entirely), things start to fall apart quickly.
There’s nothing worse than being sold on a beautiful vision that goes nowhere. When you get up in front of your team and set a vision as to what things will look like, you need to get to work quickly on the goals at hand. Getting some quick wins (no matter how small) and communicating them, tells the team that you mean business and that change is happening. It builds trust which I believe is the most critical piece of an organization’s success. You should be aiming to get a win within a month or two of being in your new role. Again, small wins are perfectly fine, it just needs to be a win.
Thanks for reading Scalable Operations! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
This is what I want to see
When leading a team, no matter how large, I believe it to be critical to articulate to that team the behaviors that you as a leader value and what to see played out on a day to day basis. I’ve seen organizations do this through sharing company values. I’ve also done it through operating principles that are more specific to my organization. This could be principles like: “Go above and beyond”; “Be data-driven”; “Automate wherever possible”. Being clear about these values helps the team understand what’s expected of them regardless of their roles and the mindset with which you expect them to operate.
The most important piece here though is not articulating the values, but setting up structures to ensure that the team is actually living up to those principles or values on a day to day basis. This structure should reinforce these principles as often as possible. I’ve had success with having the team shout each other out on a weekly basis in a Slack channel for living up to these principles. You’ll be surprised with how quickly these things become a natural part of how your organization operations. To get it to that place though you should expect to need to lead these efforts initially and remain consistent. You should also expect your direct reports to help you drive these efforts until it becomes an innate part of everyone in the team.
Hi, I’m Eric
One of the biggest mistakes I see leaders of large organizations make is not take the time to get acclimated with every person in their organization. At some point it becomes humanly impossible, but you should make the effort to cast as wide of a net as possible. If you have field teams, you should travel to speak to them in person and understand their challenges. This not only builds empathy, but also helps you roadmap and prioritize the things that need to be addressed. If traveling isn’t feasible, then set up a 15 minute coffee date with every person in your organization. This might take you months to pull off, but it is highly valuable. At a minimum, slack every person to introduce yourself and open up a line of communication.
These efforts go a long way to building a team that’s loyal to you and will work their butts off to achieve the vision you lay out in front of them.
I tend to use music as a source of energy and inspiration. The day I found out I was becoming the leader of this large organization, Beyoncé’s song “Spirit” had just come out. The song goes:
Watch the heavens open, open
Can you hear it callin'? (Callin')
Your destiny is comin' close
Stand up and fight
So go into a far off land
And be one with the Great I Am
Cheesy? Yes! Inspirational? Hell yes!
Whenever you step into a new role especially one where you’re in the spotlight and leading a group of people, you will (or should) be nervous. That’s your body’s way of telling you that you’re heading toward a new challenge. One that will help you grow in countless ways. Believe in yourself and create a plan of action that you can hold yourself accountable to and others can use a gauge of change and success.
I hope these insights make you more effective in your role. Don’t hesitate to reach out if I can assist you in any way.