What guiding Fortune 500 companies taught me about team leadership

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What guiding Fortune 500 companies taught me about team leadership

Leadership develops from many places. Watching your role models, interacting with your friends, and from your many jobs. But what makes a memorable leader among the many greats?

I’ve been a manager since my earliest days. In summer camp, I was a counselor-in-training. Then in college, I worked in the Student Union convenience store. I trained and managed people to run events on college campuses. I also led teams at respected financial services companies. I’ve even taken management courses and training to enhance my leadership skills.

But one thing I always come back to is my upbringing. Hard work, responsibility, respect, and kindness were words always heard in my home. My parents worked long hours (my father was a butcher then a chef later in life, and my mother was in retail sales). They always provided for us, taught us the value of a dollar, and showed us how to be good people.

As I advanced in my career, I managed both small and large teams, and, at times, had no employees at all. Even when I wasn’t a direct manager, I showcased my leadership skills in other ways. This was now defined as “relationship management.”

My responsibilities were to lead partnerships and manage projects (between our company and non-profit or Fortune 500 companies). Solving customer issues, building marketing plans, and reporting back on account growth was the goal!

In a very large organization, relationship management is key. There are many personalities, competing priorities, and deadlines coming at you faster than a speeding train. But everyone has the same story, right? It takes a unique skill. And a lot of juggling and finesse. You must be a good listener and show empathy, to manage through it all. Just like mom and dad taught us.

So, what are these lessons that I picked up from the many inspirational leaders, colleagues and family members along the way? Here are some “notes” I wrote down, and I hope they will soon be “music” to your ears too…

Takin’ Care of Business

Clearly state your objectives. Use quantitative and qualitative measures. What do you expect and how will you work together? Get the team involved, have them pose questions and share their opposing thoughts. Make them feel accountable and understand the ‘why’ behind it. 

This is not only for team objectives. What happens if you are an individual contributor leading a project? Write the most stellar strategic or creative brief with every detail in it. Take input, add detail to it, then lock it down. Be adaptable but stick to the timelines. They will thank you later!

What’s Going On?

One thing I’ve learned is that the team wants to know what is going on throughout the organization. I can’t stress how important it is to communicate updates, hold staff meetings, and send out recaps. This includes timelines, goals, presentations, etc. 

Schedule implementation meetings and invite only necessary people. Provide agendas and pre-mails, so they know what to expect. Rinse and repeat.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success.”  – Henry Ford.

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me

Everyone loves a good ideation session. Do it frequently to encourage fresh thinking! Make sure to set ground rules. Discuss ideas without raining on anyone’s parade (another song reference, I know) – no idea is bad. Kindness only. Save the unused ideas in a parking lot for later use.

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Additionally, recognizing people for a job well done is inspiring and icing on the cake! Don’t forget to have someone send out a recap (communication, remember!)

It Was a Very Good Year

Schedule monthly sessions with the team to review their lessons learned. (Notice I didn’t say failures!) Highlighting the team’s value to their peers, business partners and clients is crucial to their satisfaction. It gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment, but also empowerment. 

Allowing the team to present business updates and results is a good practice. It provides the team an opportunity to develop leadership and analytic skills. It also offers the team to expect questions asked by senior management. You cannot get any more value out of that!

In his book, The Fred Factor, Mark Sanborn states, “You must continually create value for others (and it doesn’t have to cost anything).”

I’ll Stand by You

Make sure the team knows you have their back. Even if something didn’t go well, you are the leader and will defend them. This will create trust and will push them to try new things. Test and learn, share ideas.

How often have we heard about inventions that took years to come to life? Or products that were in beta mode and enhanced over time – iPhone, anyone? Out of failure comes greatness!

Adult Education

One of the things I’ve always appreciated were managers who educated and inspired the team. Bring in speakers, presenters and subject matter experts. Provide a point of view. Have a robust discussion. Listen to a podcast together. Conduct an agency walk-through. This reinforces an environment of learning. It also helps the team to teach each other, share ideas and thrive.

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Leaders who talk about their experiences, background and career paths are very inspiring. The team looks up to mentors who they can learn from but aspire to be and understand how they got into their role. What was the path they took? Did they take lateral career moves? How much schooling did they get? Executive and leadership access is vital for employee satisfaction.

A Change is Gonna Come

Help the team understand that change is good. Roles change, management evolves, budgets decrease, and (unforeseen) worldwide events occur. With everything, people adjust. It’s your true character that shines through during times of adversity. Make sure to portray a positive attitude. Smile. With change comes opportunity! Stronger bonds will form as a result.

It is the true leader that can manage through this and develop the team. Redeploy them to different roles (even if temporarily) to learn something new. They may come out feeling refreshed and renewed, and what a resume boost to add. Get them to see the big picture and a sense of camaraderie.

“A smile remains the most inexpensive gift I can bestow on anyone and yet its powers can vanquish kingdoms.” ― Og Mandino, The Greatest Salesman in the World

Core to leadership is a focus on relationship management. I’ve always been a believer in focusing on relationships first and customers, as a result. These customers could mean your client, business partner, executive leader – and yes, your employees. It’s who you are bringing value to and listening to! So, make it memorable. Not only for your customers but for your employees. 

Take these lessons, make them your own. But most importantly, listen to your employees and hear what they say. Remember it’s a partnership and build a relationship with them. The path to becoming a strong leader is a journey, one with continued learnings and is not perfect. Always recognize this. I know I am always open to evolve, listen and learn. I guess this means I’m on the right path.


Rick Waxman is a marketing director, with repeated success guiding Fortune 500 companies to achieve maximum brand awareness, account growth and revenue goals, based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a chef’s son and music lover, you’ll find him cooking that next great meal, food blogging, or preparing a holiday feast for his family and friends while listening to some great tunes.

Feel free to reach out to him through a personalized message on LinkedIn.