The Elements Of Scalable Leadership

Being a leader isn’t just telling people what to do.

June 22, 2017

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. — Warren Bennis

Without vision, leadership is lost.

If there is no clear path as to how to lead the people below you to some measurable and attainable goal, then there is no way to lead those people.

Defining a vision and the constraints of that vision is mission critical to being able to scale beyond yourself as a leader.

Not having vision is like not having a basket to shoot at in Basketball. You can take shots all day, but no one really knows when they score, and no one even knows why they are shooting.

There are many ways to define a vision — you can create it from scratch on your own, glean from someone else’s work, or attach yourself to someone else’s mission.

When gleaning (copying) from someone else’s work, don’t consider it copying as if you haven’t done any work. The fact that you are choosing to copy that specific method or vision means you are honing in on the specific vision you have for your team.


The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution. — Igor Stravinsky

Typically, a natural born leader (or someone who is passionate about a certain thing) will have vision for a project / team. Honing that vision and clearly defining it is typically the issue with getting the people below you on board.

Without clear, well defined constraints on the tasks and services that those below you will be performing, the only way to lead them is by micromanaging.

Micromanaging may work for a time, but soon you will be overwhelmed by the work coming from all directions. You’ll be wondering why nothing is getting done, and you’ll feel like you are still doing all of the work.

Upfront definition and communication about the specific constraints of whatever task or job a subordinate is going to do is critical. It will allow for not only the work to get done the right way the first time, but also to allow you to truly step away from the work — knowing full well that it’s going to be done right the first time.

By imposing constraints, it alleviates the burden of checking the work that is being completed to make sure that it lines up with the vision that is in your head.

These constraints must be documented and controlled by leadership. If the constraints are not documented, how will people be able to work within them?

Like Sean McCabe says, “You don’t have a process if it isn’t written down.” Processes with well defined constraints and vision need to be put in place to be able to scale the work beyond yourself.

The great thing about a well defined process is, you can edit it over time. And, instead of reinventing the wheel every time, you can make minor edits when necessary.

If you care a lot about the way a specific thing is done, then you as the leader need to figure out the way that it is going to be done and write down the process for achieving that result.

In the end, if the process is well defined and the person does a task that is within those constraints, and you don’t like the result, it’s not the person’s fault. It’s your fault as the leader for having faulty constraints.

This level of communication allows people to flourish, because they know they can put out work without the boss yelling at them for doing it the wrong way.


The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. — Ernest Hemingway

When the vision is well defined, and the constraints are well documented, it’s up to you whether or not you will trust the people beneath you to carry out that vision.

Assuming you hired well (this is a separate conversation), trusting the person to get the job done right is a binary decision. It’s not something that you decide over time, or wait to see whether or not they can make the cut.

Without trust, the people beneath you can’t flourish. If you don’t trust them to make the tough decisions that are based on the constraints applied above, they won’t be willing to put in their best effort. People like to have control, and when they don’t feel like they have control, they don’t feel like doing it.

Proper and full trust will also allow you to truly alleviate the mental tax of thinking about the tasks that you have given to your team. Because of this, you can actually focus on the things that you make the biggest impact doing, and the rest of the work will work itself out.

Trust is the most underrated component to scalable leadership, because it also cultivates a climate of safety and creativity. It allows people to push themselves creatively and play to their strengths.

Teaching Them To Lead

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.” — Andrew Carnegie

When you teach the people beneath you to become leaders, then there is no end to how large your organization can be.

If you are the only person leading one layer of people, then the work is barely scaling beyond yourself. But when you add multiple layers of people beneath you, then the amount of work that can get done is staggering.

A tiered structure of leadership is key to proper leadership and communication. You, as the visionary, can communicate that to one layer of leadership, then they to the next, and so on.

It’s important to put natural born leaders into roles that allow them to have the biggest impact. If you don’t, you may lose them. Recognizing talent and rewarding it is critical to getting amazing work done.

The majority of leadership can be boiled down to proper communication, but it’s much deeper than that.

If you have mastered these traits of leadership, you are well on your way to operating at scale.