What if I can’t stay true to my leadership style?

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Last year, I experienced a significant career transition. I went from serving 70,000 professionals as chairman of the board for Deloitte in the US, to serving 244,000 professionals around the world as Deloitte Global CEO.

It was an incredible honor to be asked to serve the organization in this way, but it did raise some questions for me. Among them was whether I would be able to stay true to how I communicate as a Deloitte leader – which involves frequent, personal touchpoints with colleagues at all levels of the organization.

The challenge for me was how to scale my approach to a much larger, more virtual and culturally diverse population. Over the last year I’ve learned a lot about what works. I’ve also taken my share of hits for what doesn’t.

Below are my top six lessons learned. I believe these hold true for most leadership positions, no matter the scale of the organization – especially when employed collectively:

Don’t waste precious face time with lengthy prepared remarks. For in-person meetings, keep prepared comments brief so there is plenty of time for questions and discussion. And when you say you are there to answer questions, mean it. Encourage those you are meeting with to ask any and all questions – especially the tough ones. If you find you’re only getting softballs, call it out and challenge your colleagues to ask the difficult or “inconvenient” questions. Even allow them to pose anonymous written questions if need be. They will appreciate the open forum and you will benefit from hearing what is really top of mind for them.

Squeeze the most out of every visit. It’s important to make the most of in-person time with stakeholders, so load up your calendar. But that doesn’t mean talking shop every minute. When you are on the road, host a dinner or join the team to take in some of the local sights and sounds. Whatever you do, the key is to break from formality because building relationships happens in and outside of meeting rooms.

Create a regular cadence. Fully leverage every remote and virtual channel available (e.g., phone, email, videoconferencing, video messages) to create a steady cadence of touchpoints. Keep the content brief and informal. It is your consistency that will help foster a sense of connection over time.

Be strategic about how you use your voice. There will never be a shortage of important messages to deliver, but there has to be method to your madness. You can’t – nor should you be – the voice for every message. Stick to delivering those messages that tie directly to your top priorities, and do your best to add some personal flavor. Then give other leaders a chance to establish their unique voices on critical messages aligned with their specific roles.

Read, respond, repeat. Be diligent about responding to internal emails and send follow-up notes after in-person meetings. You may need team members to help manage your correspondence, but stay involved – with “eyes on” every message.

A little acknowledgment can mean a lot. Take the time to acknowledge significant milestones, achievements, or even challenges by connecting directly with individuals or teams. It could be as simple as a one-line email of congratulations for a leadership promotion or new business win. Or it may be a quick call to offer support when a colleague is managing through a difficult time.

While it may take some extra work to create a sense of connection in a global and increasingly virtual business environment, this past year has reminded me it is well worth the effort.

By Punit Renjen, CEO, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited

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