What does it take for a leader to live in California but have teams of employees in multiple time zones across the globe? According to Mark Feldman, CEO of GSN, the answer is not very much sleep.
As companies expand with global teams and distributed workforces, leaders have to do more than just learn to have meetings at all hours of the day—they must also learn how to build a solid culture and keep teams working towards common goals, no matter where they are in the world.
As CEO of GSN, home to GSN Games and the Game Show Network, Mark oversees nearly 200 employees. Although his home office is in California, the company’s biggest office is actually in India. He has seen the distributed workforce experience tremendous growth since his career started more than 20 years ago, and he realizes that future leaders will have to work even harder as the workforce becomes more distributed, not just in terms of geography, but also in terms of age, culture, and numerous other factors.
I had the chance to interview Mark about his company and the future of leadership for my book, The Future Leader, and appreciated his insights and experiences on leading a distributed workforce by example.
Mark works from the GSN headquarters in California but has employees working in New York, Boston, Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Kiev, London, and Bangalore. Many other leaders will find themselves in a similar situation with global teams of employees, each with their own culture and location.
Mark believes that one of the biggest challenges of leading a distributed workforce is being present, even if you aren’t physically together. Every day, leaders must be authentic and transparent with all of their teams, not just the ones they can see in front of them. In every communication, leaders have to model the values, passion, commitment, and accountability that are crucial to the company’s success. Email communication can often come across as trite and meaningless, so leaders have to be constantly developing the mindset of being present across difference workplaces and cultures.
Leading a distributed workforce means building a strong company culture, but it also requires acknowledging and celebrating each individual employee’s culture. Practices that work at one location could be ineffective in another location because of the cultural beliefs of the area. Each team can be working towards the same goal to build the company, but doing it in slightly different ways that leverage their location, age, and culture.
“None of us can think we’re always going to be ahead of the increasing pace of change. You need to be open to hearing from the marketplace and from your teams where that change is needed because you’re not always going to be the one to see it first,” Mark said.
GSN is constantly thinking about developing future leaders and finding and training the best talent. But that process looks slightly different in Tel Aviv or London than it might in San Francisco. Leaders have to stay in tune with local employees to meet their needs in the best way possible while still staying true to the company’s goals and purpose. Staying present with employees ensures that leaders know what’s working and how to best connect with and train them. To lead distributed teams, leaders must be constantly learning and adapting to what works best for each group around the world.
Mark gave this example: “You can’t drop into the office in the Ukraine with a group of engineers with a particular task and assume that the way you managed and motivated the team you were just with in Barcelona is going to be the same. You need to be open to listening and learning and figuring out how you can get everyone on board. That demands a lot of openness to learning something new every single day.”
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Leading by Example
One way Mark tries to stay present with all of his teams is to lead by example. He told me this: “The question I ask myself every day is, ‘Does every person in this organization see that I model in my behavior what I expect of them?’ Put another way: I hope there’s not a person in this organization who thinks there’s anything I would ask them to do or has been affected by anything that I don’t ask of myself or expect of myself.”
Leading by example means being accountable and doing what you expect employees to do. Mark realizes that if he wants something to happen in his organization or certain values to be highlighted, he needs to set the example and facilitate positive change. Some leaders think they are above the rest of the company and try to create an aura that is separate from their employees. But part of finding success as a future leader is being authentic and inspirational, which comes from leading by example. Get your hands dirty, put your feet on the ground, and model the attitudes and behaviors you expect from employees. If you want employees to build strong relationships with customers, build strong relationships with them and involve yourself with customers. Real change, especially to attitudes and values, starts with leaders.
Leading by example can be uncomfortable and push leaders out of their comfort zones. Mark believes it’s important for future leaders to have a strong comfort level with the inherently uncomfortable nature of the role. After all, growth and progress comes from stepping outside your comfort zone and encouraging others to do the same.
How we work and lead is constantly changing, and future leaders need to be comfortable with change and discomfort. Being present and leading by example can help future leaders build strong connections, no matter where in the world their teams are located.
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