Getting the most from your Executive Leadership Team (ELT)
How well does your ELT function?
Coaching leaders is not enough
Over the past 15 years thankfully, there has been a great deal of emphasis on coaching for individual leaders. Generally, the focus has been on addressing the development needs of the individual so that he or she can become a more effective leader. Coaching has seen the emergence of people with a truly special skill set, the ability to facilitate growth in others both at professional and personal levels. The most talented coaches are those who refuse to take responsibility away from the person being coached. Instead, through skilled exploration of both inner personal dynamics and external factors, they facilitate their client in seeing options, making choices and implementing, sometimes even profound, personal change. Because of essential confidentiality and genuine humility, many of their achievements are unsung and that is how it must be.
Why people on the ELT hate meetings
No matter how effective an individual leader may be, one limiting factor is inescapable. This is the effectiveness or otherwise of the team he or she leads. We often hear the frustrations of CEOs, MDs and Managing Partners of firms as they tell of how difficult it is for them to get their senior leadership teams to pull together. Issues they list include things like, some on the team hoarding information, some seeing their role on the team as simply representing their own function or department or division. Overall, it is a failure to realize how much the team can achieve across the whole business. Improvements would happen quickly if only members supported each other more and saw themselves as having collective responsibility for success in every part of the business.
Recent research we carried out with 15 CEOs of FTSE 100 companies found that, many senior leaders 'do not see leading the team' as part of their role. They are more concerned with what results the Board wants and with meeting shareholder demands. There seems to be an unwritten expectation that senior teams are effective by just coming together. People are generally appointed to the ELT simply because they are the head of an important function. The team never articulates what its collective purpose is or how to measure its own effectiveness. There is no skills analysis of what is required for individuals to operate effectively at this level.
Equally, some senior executives have shared with us their frustrations with leaders who come to meetings with decisions already made and want teams to rubber stamp them. We have also heard of barely disguised agendas where a CEO or Managing Partner has secured the prior agreement of an established power group on the ELT, and simply bulldozes decisions through. Whether the faults lie with how team members work or, with how leaders behave, the outcomes are the same. The business fails to achieve the alignment necessary to build a culture fit for a tough market and fails to maximize financial performance.
It doesn't really help to pick off 'difficult' individuals and 'get coaching for them'. If the team does not function as effectively as it should, individual coaching cannot provide the remedy. Why? Because when we bring a group of people together, the group takes on a life of its own which is far more than the sum of the individuals in it. The team quickly establishes its own way of doing things, be that arriving late or early, reading papers in preparation or not bothering to prepare in the hope there will be a quick summary at the meeting, allowing everyone time to speak and inviting all to contribute or, a few power people dominating the agenda and forcing decisions in their sectional interests. Observed from outside, the team can be said to have set up its own culture, the way they do things when they meet.
Quick improvements if you address these 5 questions
Do members on your team have a shared understanding of the role of the team?
Has the team clearly articulated metrics for how effective it is?
Do you review together occasionally how well you are working as a team?
Have your consulted others in the business on how they see the team, what they expect from it and how the team is viewed across the business?
Is 'Performance on the ELT' among the performance objectives of it individual members?
To enable a senior leadership team to become more effective, team-based coaching is required, using the skills of systems dynamics and facilitation. In fact, Professor Richard Hackman at Harvard University sees team coaching as one of the five enabling conditions for high performance in senior leadership teams. We are one of the few organisations providing this highly skilled ELT operating review and effectiveness coaching.