Boosting collective executive leadership effectiveness can transform organisational performance

In most organisations, the ‘C Suite’ or executive team makes 2 major contributions. Firstly, they provide high-level leadership, define strategy, develop operating plans and manage strategic execution. Secondly and as importantly,from our experience of working with executive teams worldwide, we see that the collective leadership ethos, culture and practices of the executive team directly influence not only the leadership system but the whole organisational culture. Therefore, it potentially impacts everything that gets done and how customers and stakeholders experience that organisation.

While much has been written in the business press and academic literature about strategy and operations, the second area of executive contribution has had relatively little attention. That’s not because it’s less important but perhaps that it’s less obvious?

In 2017, a study of executives by the Centre for Creative Leadership highlighted that fewer than 20% rated their organisation’s executive teams as ‘very effective’ yet over 80% agreed with the statement “increased effectiveness of my executive team will have a positive impact on organizational results.”

In sport the concept of ‘marginal gains’ is huge, often separating a winning team’s performance from another’s by 1000ths of a second. An individual executive’s leadership performance has often been considered a ‘marginal gain’.

What if that gain could be scaled up? How big a gain could there be if the collective executive leadership was not just improved but transformed?

In their 2016 book Mastering Leadership, Bob Anderson and Bill Adams wrote that “collective effectiveness of the leadership system makes the difference between organisations that perform optimally and those who do not. It is not merely individual leadership effectiveness that results in high organisational performance. Individual effectiveness is necessary, but insufficient, for extraordinary performance”.

Their study of leadership effectiveness of around 60,000 leaders evaluated by over half a million evaluators, then correlated to their business performance, makes compelling reading. It is encapsulated in this graph which shows the high correlation between leadership effectiveness and business performance. © Full Circle Group

What is Executive Team Effectiveness?

There are 3 characteristics that will be consistently in evidence:

Strategic Mindset

They spend time and energy defining organisational purpose and values and determining the best strategy to move the whole entity toward that purpose. In addition, they maintain a ‘helicopter view’ of the organisation and its context to gain a broader view, whether that’s related to geopolitics, innovation, investment and growth opportunities. One might even say they constantly ‘scan the edges of their universe’ looking for opportunity and risk.

Collective Competence and Systems Thinking

The best executive teams collaborate to create aligned, unifying action. They model their entire approach in terms of what is best for the organisation, rather than just the various functions. In that way, problem solving and problem prevention become systemic rather than reactive and localised. As Michael Roberto said in his 2011 book Know What You Don’t Know, they become ‘Problem Hunters’, constantly seeking out challenges, anticipating risks and heading them off in systemic, sustainable ways that enable growth.

Healthy Team Dynamics

They have explicit team processes, norms and behaviours that are embraced by all members. These include, amongst other things: the importance of trust, how to deal with conflicting views, holding oneself and others accountable, commitment to membership of the executive, first and foremost and a focus on executive team performance.

What Next?

The best executive boss I ever worked with used to say that all leaders have 2 primary responsibilities; firstly, to their customers and secondly to build a brilliant team, and that starts with their leadership team. Do that and the rest will follow. Every CEO should have building and developing a highly effective executive team as a core personal objective. The challenge for CEOs is that very often the mindset and practices that got the established or new executives to enter the executive arena are generally insufficient to succeed there in the long-term. As Marshall Goldsmith said; “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There”. So here are 5 tips to consider if you are wanting to boost the effectiveness of an executive team:

Diagnosis

CEOs should work with their HR leader and qualified professionals using an appropriate diagnostic instrument such as the Leadership Circle Profile (LCP)® to understand what drives the executive team members collectively. At the same time each member should also be working with a coach, using their own personal profile to build individual capability.

Craft the Leadership System

Every member of the executive must have an unambiguous understanding of what it means to a member of that team and to operate at that level. They must willingly sign up to the fact they are firstly an executive and leadership of their own function flows from that. Naturally there needs to be willingness to behave appropriately as an executive, not for compliance reasons, driven by what other team members think but for deeper engagement reasons; because it’s simply the right way to be and do things.

Growth Mindset

Many executives view getting to the ‘C Suite’ with a sense of relief. They’ve made it or fulfilled one of their life goals. We see many executives who arrive there and quickly take the ‘foot off the gas’ in terms of their own development. However, every new role brings new challenges and CEOs need to ensure that each executive sees deep personal growth and development as part of their role. As mentioned above the LCP® supported by appropriate coaching can stretch executives as they develop their Inner Game (Gallwey, 2015) alongside their day to day responsibilities.

Team Processes and Behaviours

They value diverse options and actively dig deep to uncover difficult topics. They then explore all perspectives using processes such as Immunity to Change and Deconstructive Dialogue (Kegan and Lahey, 2009 and 2001) in the service of achieving the BEST POSSIBLE outcome. These processes are underpinned by high quality behaviours of inquiry, advocacy and acknowledgement; and of course, active listening. By doing this they model the way everyone in the organisation should interact as part of the wider cultural norms.

Engagement

This is critical as no amount of executive effort will create value unless it’s diffused effectively throughout the organisation. Executives need to develop their capability in moving around the organisation as ambassadors and champions of the organisational purpose and vision. They need to have the skills and flair to translate those high-level messages into meaningful action for every employee and authentically model ‘how we do business round here’.

You may be left wondering whether your organisation is getting what it needs and deserves from its executive team. To learn more about boosting your executive team performance using The Leadership Circle Profile® as part of a development programme, call Primeast on +44 (0) 1423 531083 or contact me directly by email here.

  • Russell Evans, Managing Director and CEO at Primeast