Remember when you were a kid and you sat on your parent’s lap and tried steering the car, usually in the driveway or car park? Maybe not, that could have just been my era. However, you get the picture, it was (relatively) safe because you were moving slowly.
Anyone can steer when we’re moving slowly, but the real challenge is steering at speed. Leadership is much the same.
Imagine if professional racing wasn’t about performing at speed and whoever gets to cross the finish line the fastest wasn’t the winner, do you think there would be more Formula One drivers? Or less?
Let’s not oversimplify professional motorsport; think of all the work that goes into making sure all the rules are followed, the aerodynamics are right, the correct tyres are chosen, the engine, suspension, and steering are all tuned correctly. Again, all of this is the same as leadership.
As the company and the team grows, the speed must be maintained for the company to remain relevant and agile. Klaus Schwab said, “In the new world, it is not the big fish that eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish that eats the slow fish”.
To lead a large company and team while maintaining the speed is difficult. That is why leadership is so hard to scale.
Often the worst things you can do to a talented leader’s career is elevate them too early, leave them unsupported, or not allow them to develop their leadership skills that will allow them to scale with your organisation.
I am often asked how to handle this, and the answer isn’t simple. However, there are a few things you can do that will set a foundation for developing leaders.
There’s a lot of unpredictability in leading people — we are complex and have different needs. But here’s what you can do.
- Introduce something that is predictable — your time and availability. Make time every week, fortnight, or month to meet and make sure everyone stays on the same page. It’s probably more regular in the beginning or during a period of change. Make it at least an hour, set a basic agenda, and keep the conversation around solutions and outcomes.
- Commit to a maximum team size. Knowing where you have to apply your energy and to how many people (and therefore personalities) will allow skills to be honed.
- Share your own successes and most importantly your failures. If you are prepared to be vulnerable, you will multiply the learning opportunities for developing leaders who are in your charge.
In my experience, this is not the silver bullet, but it will go a long way towards supporting leaders and helping build their ability to cope or keep up with the pace of change and that of your organisation’s requirements.