For a business to thrive, there needs to be people at the top table who work together to challenge stale ideas and inject fresh concepts into discussions. As a CEO, how do you construct a leadership team that is both effective and experimental?
Technical ability is always going to be important, but more than that is required if leaders are going to perform at the highest level. Julian Goldsmith
, Senior Relationship Manager at Criticaleye, says: ““A CEO needs to create an atmosphere in the boardroom that encourages people to think differently and speak-up.
“There needs to be a healthy amount of mutual respect between colleagues where disagreement is seen as conducive to a richer discussion and outcome. A strong and self-confident CEO will want executives who challenge constructively as this will lead to break-through, innovative outcomes to the benefit of the CEO and wider organisation.”
We asked four Criticaleye members about the best ways to build a leadership team that combines operational excellence with an appetite for innovation.
This is what they had to say:
I was brought into Dunnhumby with a mandate to refresh the organisation and to achieve this I needed to replace the majority of the top table.
The team had been built almost exclusively from the internal promotion of long-standing employees. They had a lot of “institutional memory” between them and some were very capable, but the group lacked external perspective.
Instead, I needed to find people who were what I call ‘additives’, who could add radical new ideas to a discussion that challenged our perceptions. Once we had our new team, it was then necessary to create an environment that enabled it to thrive. Team members had to feel that they could not only contribute to discussions, but openly challenge each other without repercussions.
To make this happen, I tried to encourage a sense of psychological safety within the team. This gave everyone the confidence to be the lone dissenter in the group if they felt they needed to speak up. You need to know when to stop debating though and be clear on who makes the final call. From that point on, everyone must commit to the decision.
Taking a Long-Term View
, Board Mentor, Criticaleye & Chairman, Dashboard
Leadership teams that work together very well tend to be comprised of people who have absolute trust in their collective ability to perform each other’s tasks.
Not only this, but all senior team members should be able to contribute to discussions about a company’s overall strategy. Everyone needs to know their own role, but they also need to be willing to play a part in the wider running of the organisation.
CEOs are not always this lucky. I have seen instances where the effectiveness of a leadership team is blunted because divisional heads, who are competent in their functional role, lack a willingness to think about the company’s overall direction of travel.
It is crucial to have a leadership team comprised of people who can contribute. After all, divisional heads are better placed than the CEO to collect intelligence from customer facing employees on the ground. It is this information that can help define a wider strategy.
Making Ideas a Reality
As a CEO, it is my responsibility to offer a clear vision about where I want the business to be heading and to articulate this to the leadership team. This is the best way to ensure that everyone is aligned and that the team is pulling in the right direction.
There is a risk that people on the team will nod in agreement and then not follow through on what has been agreed. This is something that I have seen happen time and time again and it will undermine the team as a whole if it is allowed to go unchecked.
Here, it’s my job as a leader to listen to those ideas, pick them up and make sure that they are delivered on and become a reality.
You have to give people the opportunity to right their ways, but ultimately the CEO has to take people who fail to follow through on commitments out of the game. While this is difficult to do, the collective is much more important than the individual.
, Board Mentor, Criticaleye & NED, Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability
Ensuring that the leadership team is as diverse as possible is vital, as people from different backgrounds can look at issues through an alternative lens.
It is also important to remember that if there is diversity in the business as a whole, but not at the top, this will risk damaging the legitimacy of the leadership team.
Bringing diversity into that team is not easy. For one, hiring for simply takes longer and senior leaders tend to push for a quick decision to fill a vacant seat. It is the HRD’s responsibility to put the right structures and mechanisms in place so that the leadership team understand and accept that the search for diverse candidates will take longer, and that a thorough search is worth the investment in time.
Creating the willingness to do this is one of the most difficult mindsets that a HR Director will have to overcome. It will be hard work, but it's critical for the company that it is done.
Building an effective leadership team will be just one of the topics to be discussed at Criticaleye’s forthcoming CFO Retreat, held in association with BIE Executive. For more information, please click here