How to Leverage Your Executive Leadership Team
A Note From The Editor
Think your company has what it takes to make our Top Company Cultures list? Apply now.Apply now »
One of the hardest things to get right as a founder is building out a strong and capable leadership team that can propel the company to the next level. The next hardest thing, once the leaders are assembled, is determining: 1) How much ownership of the strategy should those leaders have? and 2) How involved should a founder be in the business as it grows?
Entrepreneurs tend to gravitate toward two extremes: They are either too involved in the minutiae of the business, and become micromanagers; or they hand off almost the entire business to others. The key to success here is achieving the right balance -- knowing when and how to partner with the leadership team.
Founders need to trust and leverage their leadership team to make decisions and keep the business moving forward. At the same time, they need to stay connected to leaders, ensure they’re aligned on the vision and support them as they grow their own teams. It’s a hard balance to strike, but an important one to get right.
Here’s how to find the right tone between leading and trusting an executive management team:
Hire leaders with complementary experience.
Everything in business starts with people -- they’re an organization’s most valuable asset. So, to ensure that a leadership team is trustworthy, its membership must consist of professionals with the skills and experience the business needs.
Remember, leaders can be developed if they have the right foundation for success. Look internally and externally for the right talent to fill the leadership team. That doesn’t necessarily mean these professionals need to be industry veterans with an extensive resume. It just means their experience and skill set align with what’s necessary for the company at this stage of growth.
Further, these leadership additions should balance the management style and business approach of the founder. Look for people who have skills and experience in areas of business the founder doesn’t, and find people full of new and innovative ideas. Work to bring together a group of leaders who have diverse knowledge and experience, but who also share the same values.
Overall, founders should choose people who are great representatives of the business and whose skills and judgment can be trusted in their absence.
Get to know any candidates really well before offering them a spot on the leadership team. This can be done through a thorough interview process. During interviews, focus on building a relationship, understanding these candidates' leadership style and talking about what their leadership would look like within the company.
Finally, do due diligence by reaching out to references and asking for referrals to collect feedback and confirm the facts.
Allow the team to lead.
Once a trustworthy, capable leadership team is assembled, it’s time to step back and let the team members do their jobs. Although it can be difficult to hand over control, the alternative is much worse. Micromanaging at any level of the organization is harmful. A 2014 survey conducted by Accountemps found that 59 percent of employees surveyed reported working for a micromanager at some point, and 55 percent agreed that that experience had hurt their productivity.
Empower the leadership team members to do what they were brought in to do. Set specific goals for the company; and for each department, ensure that they are aligned with the vision and values. Then, allow the team members to execute these goals and drive the strategy however they see fit. Give them room to develop new processes, innovate and launch new ideas and provide them with the tools they need to succeed.
Start small at first, and as the leaders prove themselves, hand over more and more responsibility. At the end of the day, the goal is to have the leadership team managing up to the founder versus the other way around.
Hold regular meetings.
Taking a step back and allowing leadership to do their jobs doesn’t mean they should run the show without any guidance. The leadership team still needs support from the founder. When founders don’t keep in touch with the executive leadership team, they set the tone for a lack of communication throughout the organization.
In fact, only 25 percent of mid-level managers in Global 1000 companies surveyed by Insigniam in 2014 said they had 13 or more interactions with executives over the course of a year.
This is why the founder should become the facilitator of cross-departmental partnerships. Make sure the leadership team members are communicating with one another and lower-level managers, and that they’re collaborating at all the right decision points.
Stay connected to the team to offer guidance and support, stay updated on projects and initiatives and take control when necessary. Hold ongoing one-to-one and team leadership meetings to keep everyone on the same page and updated on individual and company goals.
Meet with team members regularly, not just to offer guidance, but to learn from them as well. These meetings should be two-way dialogues about the key business topics. In this way, founders can learn about the health of that arm of their organization.
Further, founders should ask for feedback about what they themselves can do better to enhance overall company engagement and adoption of the company vision.
As the business grows, founders can’t be everywhere at once or aware of what’s happening at every level throughout the organization. That’s where the leadership team comes in. Gain insight on what different departments and employees are thinking and feeling, what programs are working well and which need to be rethought and stay informed on different operations.
Leverage the executive leadership team’s detailed view of its business to improve, inform and drive plans for growth. This team exists to help boost the founder to the next level of operating the company. So, if you're the founder, help team members do exactly that.