The Five Biggest Missteps of Executive Teams

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

Over the last five years, I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of executive teams across a variety of industries. From that experience, I have observed five common missteps executive teams make, regardless of industry.

In this article, I’ll

  1. Identify these missteps,
  2. Explain what happens when these executive teams make these missteps, and
  3. Recommend how executive teams can operate at a higher level

The Five Biggest Missteps of Executive Teams

1. The team operates as a collection of individual contributors, not as a team.

Every executive team member should see the executive team as their primary team. They need to think, operate, and discuss from a position of being responsible for the organization, not just their own division.

2. The team is not focused on improving as a team.

Instead, they are focused on getting stuff done. A great executive team is continually working on (1) coming together as a team, (2) improving how they function as a team, and/or (3) improving how they function as leaders for the organization.

3. The team does not chart its priorities and regularly assess progress toward these priorities.

Alan Mulally recommends using a weekly Business Planning Review Meeting to ensure priorities are in proper order and to have all members of the team report on the progress being made across all of the priorities.

For more, watch this: Alan Mulally of Ford: Leaders Must Serve, with Courage (start at 24:11).

4. Organizational culture is not on the executive team’s priority list.

Healthy and effective organizational cultures rarely occur by chance. They are created through intention. And, that starts at the top.

5. The team doesn’t work together to lay an effective leadership foundation.

The best executive teams prioritize and work together to establish the following elements to help guide their leadership:

  • A clear, inspirational, and stakeholder-centric purpose statement
  • A clear, inspirational, and stakeholder-centric mission statement
  • A clear, inspirational, and stakeholder-centric vision statement
  • Clear and inspiring values
  • Psychological safety

What happens when executive teams make these missteps?

When an executive team makes any of these missteps, here are the consequences that follow:

  • The team doesn’t work effectively together. Often, there is competition instead of collaboration. And, there is generally poor critical thinking, poor strategic thinking, and poor decision making.
  • The team doesn’t operate as effective leaders for the organization. When the missteps occur, it presses leaders to have to lead as command and control leaders as opposed to empowering servant leaders.
  • The team becomes results-focused instead of purpose-focused, status-focused (external) as opposed to culture-focused (internal), and short term-focused as opposed to long term-focused.
  • Overall, the executive team operates in a manner that dims the life and energy in the organization.

How can leadership teams elevate?

I think there are two perspectives to this question: Looking at the CEO and looking at the team more generally.

An executive team needs a leader, preferably the CEO, who prioritizes the effectiveness of his or her team. When the CEO doesn’t make the executive team his or her team a priority, the team will not work effectively together.

More generally, the team needs to be collectively concerned about their health, their dynamics, and their level of sophistication. Here is a helpful video to consider: Investigating the Sophistication of Your Executive Team.

How can I help?

I would love to help your executive team elevate in its effectiveness. I generally do this by assessing how the team works together, as well as assessing how each team member is operating via self-assessments and 360-degree feedback.

My process allows me to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of an executive team, and I am able to provide both vertical and horizontal development activities to help the executive elevate and operate at a higher level.

If you would like to explore having me work with your executive team, let’s connect.

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