Successful Leadership in Large Complex Global Organisations

Team Capital Guest Blog by James Brazier, Head of Credit Risk Control Middle East and Africa at BNP Paribas.

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The key to successful leadership of an organisation with teams and operations split geographically and by default culturally revolves around maintaining enthusiastic and committed people. As the old adage goes, nothing gets done without enthusiasm. Ensuring all staff, however remote, are aware of and projecting the organisation’s brand, its objectives and head office’s vision, goes hand in hand with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm ensures commitment.

What is the secret to enthusiasm? Read on.

In 1921, 38 year old Charles Schwab was one of the first to earn a million dollar salary when Andrew Carnegie appointed him chairman of the newly formed US Steel Co.  Mr Schwab turned US Steel into the world’s most successful steel company. When asked, Schwab would claim that the secret to his success was nothing to do with his knowledge of steel, as he employed people who knew far more than him on the technicalities of steel production, but that his success was solely due to his people skills to promote enthusiasm. He added that in his communications with employees he always aimed to praise employees and never castigate[1].

Of course that was in 1921 and things are different now. Having said that, organisations are and will remain, however complex and sprawling, staffed by people.

In the same way that enthusiasm breeds commitment, communication breeds enthusiasm.

So, to inspire enthusiasm in an organisation, leaders need to communicate from the top down. This is not something that can be done overnight, it takes time. Nor does one hat fit all. I have seen many forms of communication some of which were good and others that were counterproductive, especially if there is a lack of integrity. It is also important to remember that a deluge of communication dilutes any message.

I often hear that in larger organisations it is not possible to personally reach every employee. This is defeatist. Every organisation has an Organisation Chart that provides the perfect mapping for a top down message which can be disseminated in regular town hall meetings. In order to maintain consistency, the message can be scripted. When an organisation is faced with a significant issue, a scripted message correctly communicated helps to form internal buy in and projects a united external corporate front.

A corporate culture that lacks transparency will foster a lack of interest from employees, or worse still open hostility. This, while fixable, takes time and commitment from the leadership, via targeted, authentic and relevant communication at all levels. Transparency requires regular group meetings, regional and global seminars, and other forms of staff gatherings. Remember true leaders communicate by being seen, and seen to listen as much as by speaking.

Digital Media is still relatively new, and becoming much more relevant for mainstream communication. In a company with a strong communication culture the benefits of a “one to many” approach are well documented. However, not everyone has a twitter account, nor responds well to the social media medium. Remember the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate; if you watched it on television you would think Kennedy the more convincing, whereas by radio you may have thought Nixon had the upper hand. Either way, it is good as a leader to be aware of different media channels.  To conclude, balanced communication is the engine of enthusiasm, too little power on the pedal and the message fades, too much, and your messages pass people by.

Authentic communication encourages constructive feedback

Leadership without balanced communication and feedback is dictatorship. Leadership must rely, especially in larger organisations, on influence in order to communicate vision into reality and never on authority alone.

Some of the strategic questions on every leader’s mind are: how to determine if your leadership is truly effective at all levels, which areas require attention and how to prepare for the future. All such questions need effective methods of measurement. One method is an anonymous online survey; say yearly, companywide, for all employees to give feedback. The survey needs to be tailored to questions on leadership, direction, and culture, and will over time evolve into a gauge to monitor the success of various leadership initiatives over and above those such as sales, revenues, costs and other conventional measurements.

Feedback from regular surveys may assist in highlighting cultural differences which may require some forms of regional adaptations to properly recognise sympathetically these issues. Remember, when taking initiatives based on feedback received, that one cannot please all of the people all of the time, and if one tries one will fail.

Smart communication translates into skilled leadership

Smart targeted communication and intelligent action on feedback leads to enthusiastic employees who will grow the organisation and provide the fodder for succession. Jack Welch is quoted as saying “before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Welch was CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001, a period when GE’s value rose 4000%[2]. Welch was adamant on good positive and inspiring communication.

Communication is one of many attributes that are key to successful leadership. Another, and perhaps for another article, is that you are only as good as the team you manage. How to adapt or create a dynamic multi-location team is another leadership skill that can be learned. Let’s return to near the beginning of this article and Mr Carnegie. The steel titan, from the era of JP Morgan and Rockefeller also had insight into teamwork, and wrote his own epitaph “A man who knew how to enlist in his service better men than him”. Clearly in his last communication he was a team player to the end.

[1] “How to win friends and influence people” – Dale Carnegie, Oct 1936 “
[2] (see “Jacked Up, Inside Welch’s Communication Revolution at GE” by Bill Lane)

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