This is a follow up to my earlier post on building a leadership collective.
If structured right, some of the most powerful leadership development happens among peers. Peers can challenge each other in ways that only those with equal power can. Direct-reports who know how to influence their manager are invaluable. Bosses often have the most power to improve ones position in an organization. And if you win the boss lottery, you have a boss who cannot only help you manage the politics and relationships, but can coach you in your role. I find this type of boss rare these days. Leaders seem to have less and less time to invest in coaching and mentoring their teams. Though many of them want to spend more time developing their team, they struggle to make the time and many don’t have the skills to coach others. Companies are still promoting star performers and they don’t always make the best people developers.
Peer cohorts learning from each other is untapped energy in most organizations. If you are smart you have a diverse team with different skills and strengths. With the right set up, peers can coach and develop each other on important projects. They can provide feedback and tell each other the truth without the power imbalance of a direct-report relationship. They have insights into each other’s teams because of prevalent matrix structures. Peers are more likely than ever to share staff on different projects. When team members can’t (or don’t want to) go directly to their boss, they often go to a peer-manager they trust.
Instead of leveraging all this experience and knowledge, a competitive dynamic still reigns amongst peer groups. Clients tell me that they have to be careful with peers because they are in line for the same promotions. They hesitate to share information, learning, and knowledge because it could provide advantage. Too much energy is being spent on internal competition that would be much better spent focused on the external market and competitors. Peers aren’t siblings, even if they sometimes act like them. But what peers have in common with siblings is that the corporate (“family”) structure and dynamic largely determines how well they share, collaborate, “play”, support and accomplish goals.
If you see a lot of internal competition amongst peer groups, be worried. You should be wondering who you are ignoring while you are competing with each other. Peer learning is valuable untapped energy. With a little investment, it can power your business.
Building a leadership bench aligned with your strategy and armed with the capabilities you need now and in the future is challenging. Most organizations that I work with are more than willing to spend time and money on building individual leadership skills. They offer high potentials opportunities for challenging projects (the very best development, when partnered with coaching), executive level courses, individual mentoring and coaching. But they do little to build a “leadership collective”. A collective, as in “shared” and “united”, is much more valuable than strong individual performers.
So often clients are trying to “break down the silos” and inspire their leaders to work more collaboratively. They are surprised at how proprietary and competitive their leaders are (more on this in an upcoming post). Yet most of their people systems celebrate individual accomplishment. Performance, compensation, and succession are built off of old models focused on leaders who have outstanding individual, team and business unit performance. The cult of the “star” leader is wired into all of their talent conversations: “9 box” processes, performance calibration and succession planning. True, most organizations have a percentage of their incentive plans dependent upon overall business performance. But it isn’t enough.
You have to be very intentional if you want your top leaders to act as a high performing team with a collective charter, which should be delivering your strategy.
In today’s economy if you want to accelerate growth, you need all your leaders rowing together. You want them to have diverse experiences and perspectives for sure. You want them to have strong team leadership skills, to inspire and motivate their direct team. But you also need them to grow, challenge and inspire each other. When you leverage the “collective”, you raise the bar for all your leaders and their teams. I don’t know any business that can’t benefit from more collective leadership.
For the past 15 years I have been privileged to work with a number of CEOs and Presidents. When I get to know them, it becomes clear that they universally want to achieve great things for their company and people. But the higher up they are in their respective organizations, the less connection they have to what is really happening in their company. Their priorities become much more externally and board driven. This is their job. It makes sense. They can become isolated and cocooned in the executive suite and they mostly spend their time with people like them. Often they live in the same neighborhood or town as most of their team. All of this is understandable. It is also dangerous. Because when you are no longer routinely spending time with your rank and file, you also become much more distant from your customers. And that is dangerous.
This is a part of what I have come to think of as "CEOitis". Thankfully, though it is a prevalent condition, it is eminently treatable.
There are a lot of ways to ensure that you keep connected to the pulse of your organization. The standard round tables and listening tours are fine especially if they are unscripted. A rigorous skip level process can help as well. But nothing replaces leaving your office and meeting people where they work, being curious about their experiences and spending time with people who actually deal with your customers. If that is not possible due to the demands of your role, then make sure that your team is routinely out and about in your organization. Listen to what they hear and respond to it in ways that let your employees know they matter. Never forget that you have entrusted them with caring for your customers, representing your business and securing your ongoing success.
If you are lucky, your job makes you routinely "go back to school". It requires you learn something new...often. If your leadership role doesn't demand that of you, then it's probably time to put together your own curriculum. Standing still is not a great 21st century strategy. We need to be constantly learning new things. It's difficult. You have a thousand unread e-mails, back-to-back meetings and there is always more work to do than hours in the day. There are some simple and fast ways to infuse learning into your day and week. (Those of you who know what I am talking about already do some of these, but here goes anyway):
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a bi-monthly post about the work of building better people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.