THE LEADERSHIP TEAM


“Look, I don't really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we'll figure out how to take it someplace great.”
- Jim Collins

This seminal quote has always stuck with me since I read it over 20 years ago. Strong CEOs are great talent scouts and fearless in making the hard decisions necessary to ensure the leadership team has the right people in the right roles and mindsets. They don't settle for underperformers and don't tolerate toxic politics. They understand that without a top team with the right mindsets, it is nearly impossible to be a high-performing leadership team.


Always start with the people on the team


The staggering salaries of top executives contrast sharply with the fact that nearly 70% fail within their first 18 months. The scene of a weak leadership team often unfolds as a distressingly visible debacle, where poor leadership inflicts damage through political maneuvering, ambiguous strategies, incompetence, and failure to motivate or effectively lead, among other deficiencies. It's common for leadership groups with subpar performance to include several ineffective leaders. A critical step for a CEO in enhancing the effectiveness of a leadership team is to recruit individuals who not only possess the desire and capability to meet upcoming challenges but also fit well with the team's dynamic. The essence of building an exceptional leadership team lies in assembling a group of competent and motivated individuals who synergize with one another. In doing so, you assess the will and skill of the individuals and the team composition focused on identity, experience and expertise, and cognitive and behavioral diversity.


leadership team executive maturity

1. BUILDING A TEAM OF A-PLAYERS WITH HIGH WILL & SKILL


In the pursuit of becoming a market leader, the makeup of the leadership team is paramount. For CEOs, the Will Skill Matrix is a practical framework to classify their leaders based on will and skill and provides a blueprint for how to evolve their teams into A-players. The evolution of a leadership team from a group of individual leaders to a cohesive unit of high-performing A-players with high will and high skill is crucial for any organization's success. This process involves a diligent assessment of the current team, a commitment to develop potential, and a strategic approach to recruitment and promotion.

A high-performing leadership team, characterized by A-players, is the cornerstone of a thriving organization. These leaders are skilled in their respective domains and exhibit a strong will to drive organizational goals. Their positive attitude, perseverance, strategic insight, and professional expertise set a standard for excellence within the organization. Such leaders inspire their teams, foster a culture of innovation, and effectively translate strategic visions into actionable results.

For CEOs, the first step towards building a high-performing team is to assess the current leadership team and make a plan for each leader. This evaluation goes beyond identifying skill gaps; it involves understanding each leader's motivation, commitment, and potential for growth.


Will Skill Matrix

1. High Will and Skill (A-Players)


High-performing leaders exhibit an abundance of both will and skill. Their will is reflected in a positive attitude and unwavering perseverance. They are relentlessly committed to excelling in their roles, displaying a proactive approach to leadership and organizational development. High performers are visionaries who focus on the bigger picture, working on the business to drive innovation and strategic growth.

The skill aspect of high performers is evident in their extensive experience, leadership acumen, and deep knowledge. They are adept at developing and executing strategies that propel the organization forward. Their expertise enables them to lead their teams efficiently, fostering an environment of excellence and achievement.

Organizations led by high performers benefit from a culture of high morale and low turnover. These leaders delegate effectively, constantly challenge their teams, and focus on strategic growth rather than getting bogged down in operational minutiae. Their ability to work on the business rather than in it frees up the CEO's mental capacity, allowing for a greater focus on overarching business objectives. The primary focus for CEOs regarding these leaders is to keep them challenged and engaged, providing opportunities for growth and leadership.


1. The Aspiring Dynamo - High Will, Low Skill


Leaders with high will but low skill present a unique challenge for CEOs. These individuals are marked by their enthusiasm, dedication, and a strong desire to succeed. They possess a commendable work ethic and are often highly motivated, driven by a passion for their roles and a deep commitment to the organization's goals. Their attitude is characterized by positivity, resilience, and a readiness to face challenges head-on.

However, their shortfall lies in their skill. These leaders may need more experience, technical knowledge, or strategic insight to lead and manage teams effectively. This deficiency can manifest in poor decision-making, inadequate strategic planning, and challenges in executing complex projects. Despite their best intentions and efforts, their lack of skill can hinder their ability to translate their will and enthusiasm into tangible results.

The presence of high-will, low-skill leaders within an organization can be both a challenge and an opportunity. Their energy and commitment can be infectious, inspiring, and motivating to their teams. However, the gap in their skill set can lead to inefficiencies, errors, and missed opportunities.

To harness the potential of these leaders, organizations must invest in their development. This involves providing targeted training, mentorship, and opportunities for skill enhancement. By aligning their strong will with the necessary skills, these leaders can evolve into effective, well-rounded managers who can significantly contribute to the organization's success.


1. The Talented Demotivator - Low Will, High Skill


On the other end of the spectrum are leaders with high skill but low will. These individuals have the experience, knowledge, and technical competence required for their roles. They are often experts in their fields, capable of making informed decisions, and adept at executing complex tasks.

However, their lack of will or motivational drive poses a significant problem. They may exhibit apathy, lack of engagement, or resistance to change. This lack of enthusiasm can stem from various factors, such as burnout, misalignment with the organization's vision, or personal dissatisfaction. Their high skill level keeps them competent, but their low will prevents them from being proactive or visionary leaders.

The impact of low-will, high-skill leaders on an organization can be subtly detrimental. While their competence ensures a certain level of performance, their lack of drive and engagement can stifle innovation, hinder team morale, and create a stagnant work environment.

CEOs need to understand and address the root causes of their low will, which may include providing new challenges, aligning their roles more closely with their interests, or addressing any underlying issues affecting their motivation. These skilled leaders can be transformed into dynamic and effective contributors to the organization's success by reigniting their will. But, if their will cannot be reignited, CEOs must deal with them swiftly, often having to exit them out of their business, given their potential toxicity can be cancerous to an organization.


1. The Worst Type of Leader - Low Will, High Skill


Low-performing leaders have a deficiency in both will and skill. Their lack of will is evident in their attitudes and perseverance, or rather the lack thereof. These leaders typically exhibit a narrow focus on self-promotion and self-preservation. They tend to immerse themselves in operational intricacies, working in the business rather than on it. Their approach limits their strategic perspective and makes them indispensable for routine decisions, stifling organizational growth and innovation.

The deficiency in skill is equally detrimental. Low-performing leaders often lack the experience and knowledge to effectively devise winning strategies and lead their teams. This shortfall in skill manifests in poor decision-making, ineffective team management, and inadequate execution of business strategies.

The combined lack of will and skill leads to a trickle-down effect, adversely impacting the organizational culture. This results in a toxic work environment characterized by low performance, poor morale, and high employee turnover — detrimental to any organization's long-term success.

Leaders who fall into this category present the most significant challenge. They lack the motivation and the necessary skills, often leading to detrimental impacts on team morale and organizational performance. For these leaders, the CEO must make tough decisions. Intensive coaching, reassignment to roles better suited to their capabilities, or, as a last resort, transitioning them out of the leadership team might be necessary steps.


When Necessary, Recruit A-Players or Promote those with Potential


CEOs must look externally and internally when development efforts cannot bridge the gap or new expertise is required. Recruiting A-players becomes essential to infuse fresh skills, perspectives, and dynamics into the team. This strategy ensures that the leadership team remains robust, diverse, and capable of meeting evolving business challenges. Similarly, promoting internal candidates who demonstrate A-player potential is vital. These individuals often bring a deep understanding of the company's culture and operations, which, combined with the right skills and attitude, can propel them to excel in leadership roles.


Start Developing an A-Team Now


The creation of a high-performing leadership team is a dynamic and ongoing process. It requires a strategic blend of assessment, development, recruitment, and cultural cultivation. CEOs must recognize the importance of having A-players in their team and take proactive steps to either develop their current team members into A-players or bring in new talent that meets these criteria. Through these efforts, CEOs can build a leadership team that is skilled, motivated, and aligned with the organization's vision of becoming a market leader.


2. TEAM COMPOSITION


In the modern business landscape, the composition and diversity of a leadership team are more than just buzzwords; they are integral to the success and resilience of an organization. A leadership team encompassing a wide range of identities, experiences, expertise, and cognitive and behavioral styles is an asset and a necessity in today's global market. Such diversity brings a wealth of perspectives, insights, and skills crucial for fostering innovation, effective decision-making, and strategic management. This approach goes beyond mere compliance with diversity standards; it's about strategically leveraging varied talents and perspectives to build a robust, adaptable, and forward-thinking leadership team.


Identity Diversity


Identity diversity in leadership is particularly significant in our increasingly globalized world. It refers to including various aspects such as gender, ethnicity, age, and cultural background in the leadership team. This diversity is essential for developing a more holistic and empathetic approach to leadership and management. Teams rich in identity diversity are often more capable of innovating and are better equipped to understand and cater to a diverse customer base. This enhances not only the internal dynamics of the team but also the organization's external market relevance and appeal. However, the journey to achieving such diversity is complex. It requires a dedicated effort from the highest levels of management, notably the CEO, to ensure that recruiting and retaining diverse talents is grounded in genuine inclusion and respect for different perspectives.


Experience & Expertise Diversity


Diversity in experience and expertise is another critical dimension. It encompasses a broad spectrum of professional backgrounds, educational qualifications, and functional expertise. Such diversity within a leadership team ensures that a variety of problem-solving approaches, technical skills, and insights are available, enabling the team to address complex issues effectively. A team that combines diverse experiences and expertise is often more adaptable to changing market conditions and can innovate more readily. The key challenge here is to create synergy, fostering a collaborative environment where different experiences and skills complement each other, working towards unified organizational goals. This requires a leadership style that not only recognizes but actively seeks out and utilizes these differences constructively and harmoniously.


Cognitive & Behavioral Diversity


Cognitive and behavioral diversity is equally important, referring to the differences in how individuals think, process information, solve problems, and interact with others. This type of diversity is crucial for a leadership team as it encourages a culture of innovation and adaptability. Teams with diverse cognitive and behavioral patterns can approach challenges from various angles, leading to more creative and effective problem solving and solutions. Such diversity also helps mitigate the risks of groupthink, ensuring that decisions are well-rounded and thoroughly considered. An inclusive and flexible leadership approach that values and utilizes these varying perspectives is needed. Implementing frameworks such as StrengthFinders and the CIA's Animal Kingdom can provide valuable insights into managing and leveraging these differences, ensuring a balanced and high-functioning leadership team.


Developing the Right Team Composition


A leadership team's composition must embrace diversity – encompassing identity, experience, expertise, cognitive, and behavioral aspects to create a strategic advantage that transcends traditional views of team composition. The goal is to develop a leadership team that is not only diverse but also cohesive, innovative, and capable of leading an organization to sustained success in a complex, ever-changing global market. The role of the CEO and top management in cultivating and harnessing this diversity is pivotal. It involves the leadership team's commitment to fostering an environment where diversity is celebrated and seen as a key driver of organizational excellence. This approach transforms the leadership team into a dynamic and versatile group with various skills, perspectives, and innovative ideas, ready to steer the organization towards new horizons of success and market leadership.


THE RETURN ON UPGRADING THE LEADERSHIP TEAM


CEOs with low-performing leaders and the wrong composition face seemingly difficult decisions. Yet, once they pull the trigger on exiting low performers and upgrade their leadership and team composition, they often rhetorically ask, “Why didn’t I do that a long time ago?” The delta in performance and potential between a low performer and a high performer is massive, and with the right leaders and team composition in place, business transformations and performance accelerate.

A leadership team with the right people, composition, and mindsets has the foundation to become a high-performing leadership team while accelerating its journey to creating a leading and mature business model in its market.


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