Membership on a senior leadership team gives you immense cachet. You’re in a circle of highly visible, powerful leaders.
Your role is complex. You simultaneously manage your own business unit, function, or division while serving on a senior team that creates the organization’s future. To boot, you may be vying with those peers for a higher spot in the succession plan.
As an executive coach, I’ve noticed that many of you are grappling with some loaded questions: Do I have influence with my peers? How do I add value? And how do I handle the conflicts that arise when strong-willed leaders butt heads?
Here are a few ideas to ponder:
1. Listen on Purpose. Solving problems is embedded in your DNA. Most executives have been rewarded for advocating and executing plans. Is it possible that your listening skills are underdeveloped? I’ve found that many leaders don’t truly hear each other. They nix ideas before hearing others out because they slip into “Here’s my two cents” mode. Listening is the desire to hear. The more vantage points you hear from smart people, the better. Better listening leads to better speaking and adds more value to your team.
2. Choose Cooperative Over Competitive. Peter Drucker likened senior leadership teams to football squads because each member plays a fixed position. Therein lies the problem. Executive teams must overcome the inherent fragmentation when each member has his own role to play. You’re competitive ... and you should be. But look beyond the mission of your individual unit and ask yourself, “How can I cooperate with my colleagues in pursuit of a common goal?”
3. Allow Mutual, Fluid Influence. You can’t be an influencer unless you’re willing to be influenced. Power-sharing is crucial when take-charge movers and shakers gather. When it’s time to make things happen, chemistry is as critical as experience and expertise. Everyone craves respect – which means you need an extra dollop of self-awareness around other senior leaders. Stay open to mutual influence and adapt to the fluidity of the group.
4. Help Them Help You. Connect the dots for your fellow leaders. Guide them to see the big-picture issues of your unit. Share the macro before the micro. Don’t assume that they know how your group rolls. Help reduce fuzzy vision by sharing compelling stories rather than ambiguous, text-laden presentations.
5. Make It Virtually Possible. Global teams have the compounded challenge because you’re collaborating across multiple time zones, often by telephone. Contextual cues such as facial expressions and body language are wiped out when we communicate cross-nationally. Reciprocal adaptation and respect for different styles are vital to developing trust and ensuring that critical viewpoints are heard.
Senior leadership teams who reach their potential understand that a unified agenda is key.