How to build an A-player leadership team
In the previous 5 minute growth tip article, I shared some tips for developing a successful strategy to compete and thrive in your market. Yet, developing a great strategy takes more than a framework. It takes a high performing leadership team. That, in turn, takes high performing leaders.
As a CEO, president, owner or entrepreneur, you’ve likely had department heads on your team that didn’t meet your expectations or were poor leaders. It can be frustrating to be repeatedly disappointed or to have to continuously push, cajole or just grin and bear it.
Yet, it’s entirely feasible to resolve these headaches and prevent them from happening in the first place.
This is about ensuring that, on the leadership team, we have the right people in the right seats doing the right things in the right way.
First, we want to ensure we have the right seats - the right roles needed on our leadership team - eg. sales, marketing, operations, finance, accounting, human resources, information technology, etc. We want to consider that each team member is likely playing more than one role. By thinking of it this way, we can identify what functional roles are being played, and whether the right roles exist on the team.
We also want to get each leader, and the whole team, on the same page about what each role means. This includes being clear about the expectations for each role in terms of results (eg. role: marketing => results: qualified leads). It’s best if these results expectations are quantified with targets (eg. X number of qualified leaders per month). The results, metrics and targets are the productivity side of each role.
We also want to be clear about the behavioural side. This includes defining the behavioural expectations needed across the leadership team and across the company.
These behaviours are captured to a large degree in our core values. These core values distill the essential behaviours for working in the company, and also across the leadership team. This is what enables great teamwork, productive conversations and problem-solving, developing a strong strategy and execution plan, and coordinating to execute.
Clarity on core values is also critical because leaders living them is one of the main ways the company’s culture is brought to life among employees.
With productivity and behaviour expectations clear, we want to ensure we have the right person in each seat. We want to ask ourselves: is each person on the leadership team meeting our expectations...in terms of both the results expected in their role AND the behaviours captured in our core values?
Furthermore, if we want to build a thriving company, we’ll need A-players. We define A-players as being among the top 10% performers for the specific role and for the pay we can afford, AND they live and breath all of our core values.
Being a top 10% leader doesn’t just mean doing a great job at one’s function: marketing, accounting or human resources, etc. It means getting great productivity from their people - both quantity and quality of work. This takes strong planning, delegation, mentoring, coaching and monitoring skills.
Often leaders tend towards one of two extremes: micro-managing or laisser-faire management. Strong leaders will stay involved enough to monitor and be supportive while at the same time letting capable employees use their skills, be self-sufficient and take initiative.
A-player leaders create an environment in their department that inspires employees to perform at their best.
When it comes to leaders who don’t live our core values, it’s usually a dead end. Because a person’s values can’t really be changed.
People behave according to what they believe. If they grew up believing that learning and adapting is valuable in its own right, they’ll learn and adapt on the job. If they believe that tradition, duty and compliance are noble, they won’t behave in adaptable ways.
And if they don’t believe in one of our core values, there’s not much we can do about it. We can coach them on that core value, and they may start behaving more in alignment with it for a while. But often, they’ll slip back into their habits.
This means that very often, a leader that isn’t living one or more of our core values never truly will. And so they’ll never be an A player leader, at least in our company.
Addressing the Gaps
As CEOs, presidents and owners, we can often be hesitant to let a leader go who doesn’t fit. Our underlying concern is often that maybe we weren’t clear on our expectations or maybe we didn’t coach the leader enough or very effectively.
So, it can be reassuring to start by establishing clear expectations and providing better coaching where needed. At the end of the day, the leader may still not meet our expectations. But at least we’ll know that we did what we could to support them.
A good practice is to, every quarter, ask ourselves how each of the members of our leadership team are performing both in terms of results AND core values. Then, for any team members that aren’t performing, ask, what will I do about it this quarter? Will I coach them or cut the chord? If we keep coaching the leader on the same issue quarter after quarter, we should not only question their leadership, we should question ours too.
A caution: sometimes a leader’s poor performance IS in fact our fault. It’s entirely possible for a CEO to create an environment where people can’t perform well. Maybe we’re the micro-manager, or the laisser-faire manager. Or we set a poor example by not being accountable or not living some of our core values. If we have just one or two leaders whose performance is in question and the majority of the leaders reporting to us are performing great, we do have a people issue. Yet, if most or all of our leaders are struggling, chances are our own leadership is what needs work.
Working Through Our Own Stuff
Usually, the decision to let a leader go isn’t hard. Once we think it through, it’s often pretty clear. It’s just that we avoid thinking it through. We avoid it because of how it feels. It’s sad. It’s disappointing. It’s nerve-racking. We can feel guilty or like a failure.
If we acknowledge, accept and process those feelings, we can then face the facts of the situation and come to a logical, firm conclusion. This can usually be tackled with some pros and cons thinking, considering all the impacts of the leader, on both the culture and performance of their department, the leadership team and the company as a whole.
Replacing a Leader
It’s one thing to come to realize and accept that a leader has to go. It’s another to feel confident we can successfully replace them with an A-player. If you’re concerned about this, you probably have a recruiting and selection problem. And you’re not alone. The average hiring process picks an A-player 25% of the time.
Implement the Top Grading or A-Method hiring process and you’ll knoch that up to an 80 or 90% success rate. Replacing a top level leader is a great reason to make that change. You’ll get two trees with one stone: an A player leader and a drastic improvement in hiring throughout the company.
As Jim Collins found in his research for Good to Great, the foundation of a thriving company is “disciplined people”. This includes being a Level 5 leader (determined AND humble) and getting the right people on the bus in the right seats on our leadership team. Only then can we create a great strategy collaboratively with our leadership team, to achieve efficient team buyin. And with buyin and a great leadership team, we can implement the right decisions and system to grow more rapidly, profitably and sustainably.
Right? Not quite.
This is where great execution comes in. In this next article, I’ll share the common challenges with executing a strategy and the three key execution disciplines to minimize drama and maximize profitability.
How can you have more A-players in your company?
To find out how to have stronger talent and leaders to grow more easily, quickly and profitability, AND enjoy the ride, try our complimentary Agile Growth Checklist. This self-service questionnaire takes 5 to 10 minutes to complete. You'll receive the checklist with your responses immediately. Within 24 hours, you'll receive a compiled report highlighting areas to improve. Complete section 2 to check your A-player processes. Or complete all 7 sections to find out how your company is doing in each of the 7 areas needed to produce more rapid, profitable and sustainable growth. This report is complementary and involves no obligation.
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