Scaling #2: What You Know
The first blog entry on scaling addressed relationships, or who you know. This focuses on what you know. Your paradigm for leading may be stressed when you no longer can immediately and independently access a robust or accurate sense of what’s going on out there in the things you are considered to be responsible for by others. The lack of immediacy and comprehensiveness means that for you to check in on the status of anything, much less everything, takes extreme effort that displaces other effort. Or, it creates stress for others, if you are pinging people to get what you need—while they wonder what you are up to.
Now, at scale, it is too difficult to walk around, talk around, locate all of the critical and timely data, and keep a metaphorical ear to the ground in whatever ways might reveal the intangibles. You don’t have a handle on it all, and you are not always ready when someone else wants an answer.
In the end, you are increasingly reliant on others, typically direct report leaders (back to relationships), to do that accessing and processing and filtering of status for you. Which also means that they often are guessing what you really want to hear and in factoring in, consciously or not, what they want you to hear. You are dependent on them, and therefore it is, to some extent, out of your control.
When there is noise in the system about issues that concern those above or beyond you (structurally speaking), you may be called on for answers with an urgency that you, in your standard paradigm—the one that worked pretty well earlier—would have been “all over” as you seized the moment to provide all of the answers on the spot. Now you can’t. How that affects you depends a great deal on the context, though many scaling leaders experience this with anxiety, especially if someone suspects that something is going wrong and you suspect there is doubt in others’ minds (not to mention your own) about whether you are “on it” and already taking action to correct it.
Scaled leadership involves forming and sustaining a “system of knowing” that you can access. That system moves information easily and without fear. It is not bogged down, energy-wise, with anxiety from guessing about what to do or how to do it. That system also becomes collectively intelligent, which that research continues to indicate is not the inevitable result of putting smart people in proximity to each other. Scaling leaders create the conditions for this, and accept that they still are on some hook to see that it works. Even it they will be held accountable for it and all that is beyond their control. The scaling leader gives up control for something better: the kind of sense making that can lead to wise judgment.