10x Scaling as a Leader
Practical Strategies for Scaling Inspired by Amazon's Leadership Principles
In the world of leadership, one of the most challenging tasks is scaling. Leadership scaling is the capacity to administer and inspire effectively regardless of the scope of the team, project, or organization. So how does one achieve this? By taking a cue from Amazon’s leadership principles, let's explore how to scale as a leader.
Embrace the ‘Dive Deep’ Principle
One of Amazon’s leadership principles, 'Dive Deep', challenges leaders to keep their fingers on the pulse of every aspect of their operations. This doesn't mean micro-managing but rather maintaining strong awareness and understanding of your team and project’s progress. Your curiosity is your superpower. Regular audits, in-depth analysis of metrics, and maintaining strong connections at all levels are essential parts of diving deep. Realize that no task is beneath you as a leader, and your ability to operate effectively at all levels will greatly enhance the scalability of your leadership.
Hire and Develop the Best
Another pivotal principle from Amazon is 'Hire and Develop the Best'. Scalable leadership is not just about you; it is about your team. How you incorporate new members and grow existing ones plays a significant role in your ability to scale. Leaders must focus on hiring the right talent, recognizing potential, and offering opportunities for professional development within the organization. When it comes to scaling teams, raising the performance bar with each hire is essential. Recognizing unique abilities and having the flexibility to reposition talent where they can be most effective showcase the skills of an adaptable, scalable leader. By taking an active role in coaching, mentoring, and nourishing future leaders, you encourage the sustainable growth of your team or organization.
Delegation and Autonomy
Delegation is a key element of scalable leadership. Delegating responsibilities not only enables you to focus on strategic tasks and goals but also provides opportunities for team members to step up and demonstrate their abilities. As a leader, giving your team members autonomy over their tasks allows them to develop problem-solving and decision-making capabilities. This, in turn, raises the overall skill level within the team, preparing them for higher responsibilities.
Build Broader Influence
Scalable leadership requires the ability to influence and collaborate beyond your immediate team. Build bridges and foster relationships across the organization. By amplifying exposure and gaining buy-ins from other influential leaders, you leverage the collective strength of the network and exponentially increase your reach and impact.
Create Accountability Metrics
Scalable leadership also calls for accountability and self-evaluation. One way to track the effectiveness of your leadership scaling strategy is by establishing metrics for self-accountability. These could be specific project deliverables, the level of independence among your team members, or how well the team can function without your constant presence. These indicators will not only help you understand your progress but also identify areas that need improvement.
Implement Knowledge Sharing Mechanisms
Documenting and sharing information is a powerful enabler for scalable leadership. The creation of comprehensive guides, meeting notes, project updates, and technical documentation allows team members to self-learn and solve their problems, reducing the burden on leaders. It also fosters a culture of transparency and openness, further boosting team productivity and adaptability.
Scaling with Success
Early in my tenure at Springpath, I was deeply involved as a founding team member and stood as the largest individual contributor. Not only was I consistently contributing to the technical work, but I was also serving as a technical lead and managing a team of 10 engineers. This dual responsibility offered me a unique vantage point from where I could directly influence both the technical and human aspects of our projects.
However, the real challenge to my scaling abilities emerged when Springpath was acquired by Cisco. Post-acquisition, to meet rapidly increasing business demands, the team I was leading needed to expand from 10 to over 40 engineers, with responsibilities spreading across three different geographies. The task now was not just about managing a larger team; it was about navigating and integrating different work cultures, tools, and scaling my leadership to fit into this new, expanded frame.
One of the initial steps I took was fostering transparency within this expanded team. Since we were now distributed across different geographies, I made sure to implement systems and practices that kept everyone informed and connected. This ranged from using project management tools that showed real-time progress, to holding regular virtual meetings where team members could catch up and align on tasks and expectations.
Understanding the importance of effective management in a widely dispersed team, I strategically assembled a mix of new and seasoned leaders. I hired a fresh manager in Bangalore, nurtured an existing team member into a managerial role, and inducted a Project Manager. This diversely experienced leadership team was essential in preserving the continuity and stability of team functions during the transition. Bringing fresh perspectives while maintaining familiarity, these leaders played a pivotal role in steering the team through the changes, thereby fostering a well-balanced and efficient leadership approach.
As we scaled and brought in more engineers, I also emphasized the importance of a robust onboarding process. With the help of the new leaders, we were able to develop a comprehensive onboarding plan that extensively covered our work methodologies, project overviews, and specific roles of the new hires. This meant each new team member could quickly become a productive and integrated part of our team. During this period, handling communication across different time zones was another challenge that I actively had to manage. To balance this, I implemented a system of overlapping work hours where teams had a common working window to collaborate, coupled with asynchronous modes of communication for non-urgent matters.
Scalability extends beyond number expansion. It requires building trust, promoting autonomy, and cultivating an environment where each team member feels valued and motivated. Scaling my leadership at Cisco was a journey that demanded adaptability, strategic thinking, and a deeper understanding of individual and team dynamics. Delegation was a key aspect of my leadership during this scaling process. As our team grew, I recognized the importance of entrusting responsibilities to other members. By empowering team members at all levels, I helped cultivate a sense of ownership and responsibility within them. They felt more invested in their roles and it added to the overall team efficacy.
Scaling as a leader isn’t just about increasing team size; it's also about effectively managing change, nurturing a conducive work environment, and driving team success. Looking back, I am proud to have successfully scaled from leading a team of 10 in a startup environment to managing a 40+ team spread across geographies in a big company setting.
Scalable leadership is a fascinating blend of strategic vision, people development, and effective processes. By employing Amazon’s leadership principles of diving deep, hiring and developing the best, fostering new leaders, and promoting a culture of accountability and delegation, leaders can successfully scale their influence and impact.
Remember that scalable leadership is not a fixed attribute but a continuous journey. It requires consistent learning, adaptation, and evolution in line with the changing needs of your team and organization. Scaling as a leader is no easy feat, but embodying these principles can help pave the way towards effective and successful leadership at any level or scale.