Developing a Highly Successful Leadership Team

Early in my career I was an active participant on a senior leadership team that was reluctant to call its struggling executive director to task. After several painful months that left the organization on a treacherous downward spiral, the chairperson of the board of directors finally made the correct call and the executive director was dismissed. It took the organization years, not months, to recover and regain its footing. When the new executive director came onboard, his first comment to me was, “Let’s talk about what happened and how all of you on the senior leadership team had a role in the downfall of the former executive director.”

Initially I was irritated by this comment but in thinking about things, I began to appreciate his wisdom. It is what Patrick Lencioni refers to as “Dysfunction 4,” the avoidance of accountability, in his classic work, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Personally, I prefer to think of senior leadership teams not as inherently dysfunctional but rather as extremely complicated and specialized groups that can easily lose their direction, especially when confronted with very challenging circumstances. 

In working with senior teams, I steer away from the term “dysfunctional” and focus on motivating the team members in a more positive fashion to embrace the essentials of effective communication. Here are three of those essentials:

So why should senior leadership teams care about increasing their ability to work together cohesively? As a starting point, compelling evidence and a growing number of anecdotes point to the need for effective teams as the present and future building blocks in contemporary organizations. And then there’s VUCA. Coined by the military to describe the increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous nature of today’s highly competitive, global environment, the acronym is shorthand for why it has become almost impossible for any leader to single handedly solve the complex business issues that are now commonplace in any global organization. Under the right conditions, team-based structures have been shown to deliver superior business results, but the road to success can be bumpy and treacherous unless senior teams are taking full advantage of the emerging best practices in the field.


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