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How to scale your leadership

How to Scale Your Leadership for Bigger Influence and Results

by | Aug 2, 2021 | By Karin Hurt |

5 Ways to Scale Your Leadership and Motivate Your Large Team

You have a solid track record of building high-performance teams.  But, now your team is bigger and you need to scale your leadership.

Perhaps you’ve been promoted and your team has tripled in size.

Or, maybe you’re leading a fast-growing start-up, and it’s no longer feasible to have the direct influence you once had with every employee and customer.

How do you scale your leadership, motivate your large team, and continue to get the results you need?

How I Learned About Scaling Leadership the Hard Way

After a decade of leading HR teams at Verizon (my largest team until that point was forty), I made a lateral leap to lead three large contact centers (about three hundred people). I also happened to be pregnant with Sebastian, so I was preparing to scale my responsibilities at home too.

The contact center gig was a turn-around scene. The previous director had been fired and quickly escorted out of the building with no opportunity to transition.

I quickly jumped in and did everything I could to motivate the team and help them regain t heir results and mojo.

I established a clear vision and performance expectations.

Then, I met with each agent to build trust and got to know them and their concerns.

I attended as many team meetings as possible and spent all the time I could on the contact center floor.

I regularly held town-hall meetings and other motivational meetings to get the team fired up and connected to our bigger purpose.

Yup, I even dressed in costumes and made up songs reinforcing our MITs (most important things). I know it sounds wacky, but showing up a bit vulnerable also helped the efforts to create psychological safety and rebuild the culture.

By the time of my baby shower, we had a lot to celebrate with a highly engaged team getting it done.


Four weeks into my maternity leave, my boss called:virtual online leadership training

Karin, I hate to ask you this, but how soon can you come back? All the results are sliding backward. You’re team’s just not ready to do this without you. “Laura” (the person I had left in charge) just doesn’t have the influence you do. I visited your Silver Spring center today, and no one on the floor even knew about the new initiative we rolled out last week. Please, please, come back as soon as you can.

That’s where I learned about scaling leadership the hard way. You can’t lead a team of 300 like you lead a team of forty.  I don’t regret the components of my overall approach. What I do regret was putting myself at the vortex of the transformation.

How to Scale Your Leadership For Lasting Results

As a leader of a large team, you’ve got to scale your leadership by creating a solid operating infrastructure and processes that work without a charismatic cheerleader pushing them along.

Here are a few tips that can help.

1. Translate your leadership vision to tactical, measurable behaviors.

If you want to scale your leadership, you’ll want to ensure that employees at every level understand what success looks like in their role, but also the daily behaviors needed to make it happen.

For example, something as simple as “hold regular one-on-one meetings,” can be open to a wide range of interpretations. What does “regular” mean? What happens in those one-on-ones?

Or, suppose “We are highly responsive to our customers” is vital to your vision. What does that mean for your managers and front-line employees? Does responsive mean you return the call within one hour, or 24? How do you balance responsiveness with productivity? How do you distinguish the truly urgent and important from the noise? What do you do with a chronic complainer?

Playing through these scenarios helps to make your vision real, and makes it easier for your team to provide a consistent experience no matter who is watching.

2. Teach your team how to think.

Be a Hero FarmerWhen you’re a strong, influential leader, and things are going well, it’s easy to overestimate the leadership capacity of your team.

It may seem like they’re leading well, but they may just be following your lead.

When I came back from maternity leave, the first thing I did was to build a clear development plan for each member of my team with a clear focus on critical thinking.

I asked more questions than I answered.

If you want to scale your leadership, teach your team how to think.

3. Build a highly integrated communication plan.

In the great maternity leave debacle, my biggest mistake was that I was at the center of all the communication.

Instead of attending skip-level meetings to SUPPORT my team leader’s messages and approach, I brought the message and worked to build trust WITH ME. I answered all their tough questions, as opposed to preparing my team managers to do so.

When I stepped away, my managers did not have the experience, skills, or courage to step into that role (see also How to Be a More Courageous Manager).

I’ve learned that to scale your leadership, one of the best approaches is to ensure that every manager on the team has a closely aligned and integrated 5×5 communication plan.

Of course, as the leader, you want to be a highly visible communicator. Even better when your direct reports are all amplifying and supporting your messages with their own 5×5 plan.

4. Build an infrastructure for courage and innovation.

One of the real joys and benefits of having a large team is all the hearts and minds you include as you work to improve the business.

To scale your leadership and encourage courage, build a deliberate approach to asking for and responding to ideas (note: sharing this article with your team can help).

5.  Find, develop and encourage informal influencers.

In addition to your direct report team, if you want to scale your leadership, seek out (and build relationships with) the informal opinion leaders and change agents on your team.

As my teams got larger and larger, I found this was absolutely vital to creating buy-in for our change efforts.

For example, when I was leading a 2000 person sales team, we consistently held operational excellence rallies where our highest performers were not only recognized for their contributions, but also served as teachers of best practices.

We also pulled a dozen front-line sales reps out of their day jobs and turned them into change agents for our key strategic initiatives. This worked like magic because they were well-respected, fun, and less intimidating than those of us with bigger position power. Their fellow reps could be real with them about their challenges and concerns, and then they could roll up their sleeves together to try out the new desired behaviors.

Each year, I also led a skip-level mentoring circle of high-potential store managers where we worked on real business challenges together.

When we needed to make a change, communicate a new priority or gather candid feedback, I had a whole network of trusted relationships beyond my direct report team to help quickly engage with the larger team.

Not only was this a great way to scale my leadership, but also enabled me to grow leadership bench strength at a very deep level.

Your turn.

What has helped you to scale your leadership and motive your large team?

See also: How to Be a Better Leader as Your Responsibilities Scale 

Tips for Scaling Your Leadership: A Summary

  1. Translate your leadership into tactical leadership behaviors.
  2. Teach your team how to think.
  3. Build an integrated communication plan.
  4. Build an infrastructure for courage and innovation.
  5. Find, develop, and encourage informal influencers.

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today?

1 Comment

  1. Sneha

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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