During my career, I must have spent thousands of hours reading books on leadership and leaders, on attending training sessions, and studying management and leadership. I learned a lot of things which have worked and made me a better leader, many that didn’t and several I should have just avoided.
I’ve led large complex programs, worked in difficult, high-pressure situations tasked with turning around failing projects and underperforming departments, which taught me many valuable lessons about how people, including myself, work in stressful situations.
But my biggest, most powerful and most important learnings about being a leader came from when I had to lead a global team of 1000 staff. A team that spanned the globe, working in different time zones, comprising many different cultures and languages, one that included Baby Boomers, Generation Y, and Millennial employees.
Here are nine things I learned from leading in a large, distributed, multicultural and multigenerational team, which boosted my skills as a leader and that will help improve yours.
Keep things simple
- Keep your goals simple.
- Keep your approach simple.
- Keep your messages simple.
The more complex the environment you work in, the simpler you have to keep things.
If you don’t then you’re just adding to an already complex situation, and that will lead to increased ambiguity and misunderstanding, and the probability of your success drops rapidly towards zero.
Simplicity is crucial, without it, large teams struggle to function effectively and efficiently.
Be bold, but start small
Everyone wants to play for a winning team, achieve big bold goals and share in the collective success.
Big bold goals can be an inspiration which engages your team, but you need to build in some small quick wins to create momentum and excitement.
Keep priorities to a minimum
When everything is a priority nothing is a priority, so keep priorities to a minimum, ideally no more than three.
This also helps to keep things simple for both the teams and for you, because if you have too many big goals, these can break down into multiple small goals and now you have too many to track and follow.
Keeping goals to a minimum facilitates understanding and helps to get everyone pulling in the same direction.
Building a culture of accountability is crucial for the success of any large teams. The more people you have who take ownership and meet their commitments and deadlines the more success you will have.
With a large global team trying to hold everyone accountable can become more than a full-time job. It can become both difficult and time-consuming.
The best way to help drive accountability is to be accountable yourself.
Take ownership, meet commitments, be true to your word and model the behavior you want to see. The more you are accountable, the more your teams will become accountable.
Trust is a cornerstone of leadership. And nothing builds trust like transparency. Be open in your actions, don’t operate with a hidden agenda, people see that, and it kills trust.
Be transparent about how you feel the team is performing. Be transparent about your goals and objectives and why you want to achieve them.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
When you’re leading a team of 1000 people not only do you get a valuable set of resources but you also get a world class rumor mill. One that can create, confirm and circulate the wildest ideas in the blink of an eye.
The best way to keep rumors under control is through clear, consistent communication. The more your teams understand and know what’s going on, the easier they can kill incorrect rumors and speculation themselves.
We live in an era of social media where the majority wants to be connected, especially Millennials. You can choose not to connect, and I know many leaders who take that option, but I found that connecting helped to drive engagement.
I was in Asia, and one of the team approached me about a movie I’d mentioned on Facebook, they didn’t really want to talk about the movie they wanted to discuss something else, but this helped them to break the ice and get the conversation going.
I also received a lot of messages from the team about things that were not going so well. Things that they preferred not to put in an email, which allowed me to take corrective action to address the situation before it became critical.