The myth of the perfect CEO is prevalent in many companies.
We expect more from our leaders and invest great hope in their miraculous powers to turn things round, and then are quick to criticise them when they do not meet our unrealistic expectations.
The world has moved beyond the time when major challenges could be solved by the heroic CEO. We have created a world of such complexity, global interdependence, of continuous and fast-moving change, that leadership today is beyond the scope of the individual and requires more high-performing collective-leadership teams.
Seven key challenges that CEOs and boards need to address collectively are:
1. Manage expectations of all stakeholders.
A CEO of a successful financial company related how everyone saw him as having enormous freedom, power and choice. His experience was that he had less freedom, power and choice now than when he was a manager. He explained how his diary was driven by the corporate calendar, how he was constantly at the beck and call of regulators, board members, shareholders, key customers and partner organisations, and every division and function expected a personal visit at least once a year. With this type of pressure it is no surprise that the average tenure for CEOs is reducing.
The world now needs focused leadership teams with the cohesion and ability to transform the business, respond collectively to challenges and manage stakeholder expectations.
2. Run the business and transform it at the same time.
Transformational leadership is the process of collectively engaging the commitment and participation of all major stakeholder groups to radical change in the context of shared endeavour, values and vision.
Stakeholder groups at a minimum include employees, customers or service users, suppliers or partners, investors or voters, regulators, the communities in which the enterprise takes place and the natural environment.
Busy senior teams tend to allocate and disaggregate responsibility. The Financial Director looks after investors, the HR Director the employees; the Sales Director customers; the Compliance Director the regulators, and so forth. This can lead to conflict in the leadership team. There is a need to create integration through effective collective transformational leadership.
3. Increase capacity for working through systemic conflict.
A senior team can have too much conflict to be effective, but it can also have too little. The level of conflict in a team should be no greater or no less than the conflict in the system they are leading and operating within.
This being so, there is a need to help these teams expand their collective capacity to manage systemic conflict between different stakeholder interests.
4. Live with multiple memberships.
Rarely do senior leaders or managers belong to just one team. A chief executive may be a member of the board, lead the senior executive team, and chair subsidiary business boards, as well as sit on industry committees, joint ventures and working groups.
Yet psychologically most leaders struggle with multiple membership and belonging. It is easy to fall into a representational delegate role, where rather than act as a full team member you tend to represent the views of the other team you come from, and only speak when their interests are threatened or need promoting. Then you return to the first team to represent the views of the second one. One becomes what Barry Oshry in his book Leading Systems describes as a ‘torn middle’ between one team and another, and belonging nowhere.
5. The world is more complex and interconnected.
We live in a world where it is difficult to get enough distance to stand back, reflect and see the bigger picture. Increasingly senior leaders turn to coaches who can provide some of that protected space and outsider perspective. However, it is now even more important that the collective leadership team gets time and coaching support to collectively stand back, reflect and transform its capacity and performance.
6. The growth of virtual working.
Human beings have to rapidly develop ways of working for which there is no blueprint. The working day is now 24/7, its activity moving to different parts of the globe as the day progresses. Teamwork is often electronic, rather than face-to-face, all of which require not only new communication skills but also new ways of developing and sustaining trust.
7. The major leadership challenges lie not in the parts but in the interconnections.
No longer are people the main challenge, rather it’s the interfaces and relationships between people, teams, functions and different stakeholder needs. For too long leadership development has been addressed individually and not collectively.
We look to our leaders to manage the complexity that we have collectively created. These challenges are beyond the capacity of the individual leaders in whom we invest so much hope, then blame for our disappointment.
If organisations are going to rise to the challenge of making a contribution, they will need to become the laboratories in which we discover new forms of collective leadership.
These seven key challenges require leadership teams to raise their collective capacity to lead together and perform at more than the sum of their parts. The journey to being a high-performing leadership team cannot be achieved just by personal coaching or the occasional away-day. It requires sustained team coaching either from the team leader or a trained team coach.
Prof. Peter Hawkins is Professor of Leadership at Henley Business School in the United Kingdom, and a Non-Executive Director of Metaco Consulting in South Africa, www.metaco.co.za. He is the author of several best-selling books on the topics of Systemic Leadership and Coaching.
This article appeared in the September 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.