True Story: I was coaching a senior executive – fictional name: George – who is the head of a big division in a global technology company and he was expressing his frustration about the fact that his direct reports, who are also senior executives, were not gelling together as a team the way he needed them to and the way he expected and hoped they would.
George’s organization went through significant changes in the last year because he was asked to take on an expanded mandate of running one of the key growth areas of the company. As a result, he ended up with a brand new team that was larger than what he had before. He also inherited a senior leadership team that was comprised of more senior executives than he had before.
Being senior executives, each of George’s direct leaders had a sizable organization, budget and mandate in their own right. His leaders were also a collection of highly opinionated people who had type-A personalities and didn’t like to collaborate, share or allow others to interfere with their businesses or organizations.
But, they were all seasoned executives who knew how to play the corporate political game. In leadership team meetings, they all said the right things. However, after the meetings ended, they often paid lip service to what the team agreed to and each went on his or her merry way to do things the way they wanted.
When the leaders had issues with each other, they would come to George and complain to him about their peers, rather than engaging in courageous conversations with their teammates to address and resolve conflicts and issues.
George was not alone in his frustrations and predicament. I have supported many other senior executives with the same challenges and dilemmas.
What I have noticed is that senior executives tend to have a paradigm about their leadership team to the effect of: because their leaders are senior, they should work together more effectively to resolve issues between them. In fact, they are capable of becoming a team by themselves, without needing the help of their senior leader.
Because of this view, many senior executives tend to adopt a management style in which they do not spend enough time with their leaders. Their logic assumes, “their leaders are highly paid senior executives, hence, they don’t need hand holding.” This assumption leads them to leave their direct reports to deal with conflicts, challenges and issues–many of which stem from bigger organizational design issues–by themselves, while they deal with the higher level things.
This paradigm is fundamentally flawed and a big mistake. I have seen it weaken teams many times.
People are always people and teams are always teams, no matter how senior they are. A team always needs to have a leader whose role is to unify and inspire the members around a common platform and purpose.
In fact, one could make the case that the more senior the executives are, the more crucial it is to build the leadership team as a real team. Senior leaders tend to like their silod independence, even if it comes at the expense of the collective effectiveness of the larger organization. So, without a deliberate and focused effort by their senior leader to gel them as a team, they would happily continue to work on their area and avoid dealing with the conflicts, challenges and issues with their peers.
Yes, creating a dynamic in a team where the leaders are running the day-to-day operations of the business, as well as dealing with conflict and issues among themselves without needing their senior leader to baby sit them and mediate between them is a desirable state. However, if a leaders wants to create that reality they must first spend enough time in collective leadership team meetings and one-on-one coaching and development sessions with their leaders in order to ensure that their team has the right level of collective trust, cohesion, communication and team spirit to work more independently as a strong unit and take the game to the next level.
The role of a leader is always to build their team. At all levels! This is something they must never outsource to others or neglect.