The challenge of scaling leadership as an organization grows

By Brad Palmer

4 min read

The challenge of scaling leadership as an organization grows

When companies are small, it’s easy. The leader can simply walk around to keep everyone aligned and motivated. But as companies grow, great leadership becomes harder and harder to deliver. Leadership is most often the hardest thing to scale as you grow an enterprise.

How to scale leadership as your company grows

Scaling leadership into an organization involves two obvious things:

  1. Coaching and developing leaders
  2. Ensuring effective internal communication

Let’s take a closer look at what’s involved in developing leaders, making communication happen, and sustaining these as an organization grows.

1. Developing leaders

The good news is, leaders naturally emerge in an organization. The trick is to spot them early. Here are seven things to look for in a potential leader.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk has observed that most of the critical leadership skills and behaviors reveal themselves and can be practiced early in one’s career. As she points out, it’s a continuous learning experience:

“Becoming a capable leader is an evolution—a co-mingling of training, coaching, and exposure to the types of challenge that offer the opportunity for both insight and growth.”

One example of this in practice is McDonald’s, who prove this point by developing
65% of its corporate leaders from employees who started on the floors of their restaurants.

Developing emerging leaders happens step-by-step through ongoing coaching and by presenting them with the right series of challenges and training, as their leadership awareness develops.

2. Ensuring good internal communication

To be effective, leaders need to enable communication at all levels in their organization—from privately seeking input, to publicly pushing out a new initiative. Great leaders are thoughtful about these communications, sequencing things to build consensus, create alignment, and reinforce directions.

Let’s consider each of these stages, in the context of moving forward on a major initiative or project:

Building consensus involves reaching out to stakeholders and subject mater experts to clarify opportunities and settle down requirements. This entails things like one-on-one discussions, polls, and working groups, to bring different viewpoints together as the detailed plan emerges.

Creating alignment involves:

  • providing clarity on how the work will be split between certain teams and individuals
  • documenting the requirements and game-plan (and making this easy to find, reference and update)
  • sharing the high-level goals and approach with the broader organization, so everyone can rally and assist when required.

Ongoing reinforcement involves project reviews and keeping the broader team informed on progress. A big part of this is recognising individuals and teams for specific contributions along the way and celebrating each major milestone.

Note that emerging leaders need opportunities to develop and practice these activities around planning and communication. These are things developing leaders first practice as individual contributors, and then progress through small projects, to leading their own team.

In the broader sense, effective internal communication requires that leaders display transparency and develop trust. This needs to include easy, comfortable ways for employees to comment, suggest, and provide input.

Sustaining leadership accountability and workplace communication

Developing leadership and communicating effectively are never ending tasks. They need to become part of the “fabric” of your organization. That means they need to become integral components of your workplace culture. And you need the right infrastructure to support them.

Workplace culture provides a critical framework for emerging leaders—it sets out how you hold each other accountable for seeking input, communicating plans, and celebrating successes. And how you create an atmosphere where every employee can provide input and know it will be respected and considered. Be deliberate about your culture, provide clarity on the core values that underpin it, and help your emerging leaders understand all this.

To make internal communication happen—to provide an infrastructure for it to flourish—you need a unified place to communicate and share information organization wide. A single place where every employee can find the documentation they need and participate in the conversations they should be part of. An employee intranet should be this go-to place for communication and finding documentation.

In today’s world, where employees are dispersed across many locations and home offices, the intranet is the only effective place for leaders to observe, seek input, communicate plans and recognize contributions. Encourage your emerging leaders to be active participants, and get them to own parts of your intranet. Help them understand how the voice of the extended leadership team reinforces the culture and sets both the tone and cadence for workplace communication.

To sustain your internal communications, and serve leaders at all levels in your organization, your intranet needs to deliver:

  1. High participation across your employee base. An intranet cannot do its job if it is not attracting most employees most days.
  2. Instant messaging capability that works for both private one-to-one chats, and ongoing discussions for teams or working group.
  3. Vibrant news with the ability to target specific items at specific groups of people
  4. Organized documents that are easy to find, search, update, and maintain.
  5. Simple recognition so leaders (and peers) can easily celebrate contributions in real time.


As organizations grow, it becomes hard for leaders to connect and communicate with their teams. If this is something you’re experiencing, getting an engaging and effective intranet in place can provide a simple and lasting solution. It can even help you accelerate the development of your next generation of leaders.

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Brad Palmer

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