Top 7 Characteristics of High-Performing Executive Leadership Teams
Basketball fans, how’s this for a starting five: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan, Dwayne Wade, and Allen Iverson.
Now, imagine the only coach to win both NBA and NCAA Championships, Larry Brown, is running the show, and throw in 5-time NBA champion Gregg Popovich and 3-time NCAA champion Roy Williams as assistants.
Are you seeing Gold?
So was Team USA when they put this squad together for the 2004 Olympics. On paper, they looked unbeatable. On the court, they lost three games and “won” Bronze.
That’s what happens when leaders take a short-sighted view of team building. Throwing together a group of high performers who can’t work well together towards one BIG goal usually leads to the whole being much less than the sum of the parts.
Instead of assembling a flawed collection of all-stars, top CEOs stock their C-suites with executives who can coalesce into a team that embodies these seven ideals.
High-performing executive leadership teams function seamlessly as a collaborative unit. If they’ve been in the trenches together for a couple years, they usually have an effortless rapport and a deep understanding of how everyone’s unique management styles keep each part of the company in sync. Instead of hoarding resources, these executives are always at each other’s disposal. In fact, they often actively pursue opportunities to cross-pollinate the talent at their disposal, assigning diverse groups of teams from different departments to work on problems they can attack from unique angles. And no matter who ultimately brings a project across the finish line, every team member is acknowledged and appreciated for their contributions.
2. Complementary Skills
Some companies try to get to BIG by doubling down on their strengths. But while solidifying your core competencies is essential, high-performing executive teams give businesses the ability to adapt to the rapid pace of change, and to the unexpected. Does your current c-suite need another logistics, sales, or accounting pro? Or is it time to hire an AI ace who can fill in some tech gaps at multiple levels of the organization? Likewise, if looking around your meeting room is like looking into a mirror, you probably need to seek out more candidates who have different backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives than you do. Diverse executives are going to see both problems you’re overlooking and opportunities you haven’t imagined.
3. Unified Vision and Purpose
The absolute best companies have a singular vision: the CEO’s. Annual planning sessions and the year-round meeting cadence give other executives and team leaders opportunities to provide their input on the company’s direction, and even challenge major goals and best practices. But once the CEO has set the course, high-performing executive teams commit and align their departments to that BIG goal. That’s not conformity, it’s unity. And without unity, a CEO risks spending more time arguing about where the company is headed than getting there.
4. Mutual Trust
Unity is also a cornerstone of trust. When your leaders know that they’re all moving in the same direction, they’re far less likely to question each other’s motives or try to one-up each other. The CEO can help establish that kind of atmosphere by being transparent about pending decisions and significant challenges. And rather than keeping various departments in their own silos, use weekly leadership meetings to foster understanding about how each leader’s objectives are working together towards BIG goals and explore ways for teams to collaborate more.
Just as high-performing executive teams should be encouraged to “debate and commit” when the CEO is developing strategic plans, they also should demonstrate decisiveness with their individual responsibilities. Like good CEOs, good executive leaders should be open to ideas from their team members, even challenging ones, and gather all available data before making choices. And when arrows are pointing down, that leader has to act. As CEO your most valuable resource — time — is finite. If you can’t trust a subordinate to replace a lagging head of sales or fix a failing marketing initiative, then you’ll be micromanaging someone else’s job instead of taking care of your own.
6. Clear Communication
Again, the CEO sets this example from the top down. Effective leadership teams then spread the CEO’s message with clarity, transparency, and, when necessary, empathy. If the company is facing hardships — especially layoffs — remember that the only thing that spreads through an organization faster than bad news is paranoia. Keep your people in the loop and they’ll spend less time worrying about what they don’t know and more time focusing on their key tasks. And when your teams hit major milestones, celebrate in a BIG, public way that creates a wave of momentum toward the next goal.
You’ll know you have the right people in your C-suite once you have the confidence to set a BIG goal and get out of the way. High-performing executives tend to exceed expectations when the CEO empowers them to find their own optimal path from A to B. Not only do they rise to the challenge, but they set their own BIG sub-goals to inspire their teams to achieve more too. They also reinforce the CEO’s culture of accountability at the ground level, where every scoreboard and weekly meeting is focused on consistent, measurable progress.
Build Your Dream Team
Now that you know what a high-performing executive leadership team looks like, work with your HR department and your CEO coach to upgrade your hiring process and find the best person to fill that open C-suite seat. Don’t let flashy resumes and Ivy League degrees overwhelm potential culture fit issues. Start using tools like the TTI DISC profile to identify behaviors and motivators that could help or hurt your team building.
And have tough conversations with any executives who seem more focused on playing their own game than winning yours.
In 2008, Kobe Bryant, LeBron, D-Wade, and the “Redeem Team” bounced back from the 2004 debacle and won Gold. CEOs don’t have the luxury of 4-year windows to get their team building right. Cut players who can’t get with the program. Give promising role players a chance to step into the spotlight. And when you identify free agents who can turn you into a real contender, spare no expense to make that hire and start Making BIG Happen.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 53.5% during their time as a client, more than three times the U.S. average, and a revenue CAGR of 26.2%, nearly twice the U.S. average.