“My senior team – I have struggled with it for the entire time.” A ten-year CEO told me when I asked him what his main challenges are. This is a common refrain I hear from CEOs and EVPs. The truth is that it is hard. Why? What is so hard about getting executives with a combination of the right skill set, good people management, work well with each other and the CEO, and are able to wear multiple hats? To some leaders the “jelled” executive team is a rare animal – spoken of with longing, and rarely seen in person.
So what’s going on here? From my perspective –from the sidelines as an executive coach – there are a bunch of things happening. A key one being knowing when and how to act when there are problems. Knowing when to hold ‘em and when to let them go or to send them for executive coaching.
Skipping over the important issue of how you got these people on your team in the first place, lets jump to knowing when it is time to act – let them go or get them into coaching. The danger is for a CEO to let bad behavior go on too long. Helping staff overcome the negative impact of only one bad executive sends a lot of work my way. The impact to an organization is deep and long and should not be minimized.
How do you know when the flaws you see in someone are normal weaknesses or potentially fatal flaws? Mark Nader outlines five behaviors for us in his Harvard Business Review article:
- Performance. Start with the basics. Is the executive in question getting the job done? Are his or her units achieving their goals? Are responsibilities being met? Is the executive demonstrating the managerial skills and technical expertise the job requires?
- Internal consistency. Is this executive meeting the goals they set for themselves? It’s one thing to argue that imposed goals are unrealistic; it’s quite another to fall short of what you came up with yourself.
- Shifting the blame. Generally, you can assume you have a serious problem if executives start blaming everything on forces beyond their control—the sagging economy, wily competitors, fickle customers, undependable suppliers, uncooperative colleagues, surly employees.
- Denial. If executives keep insisting they are going to make their numbers despite all indications to the contrary, you have something to worry about. The same goes for a refusal to acknowledge the existence of readily apparent problems in relationships—with the CEO, with peers, or with subordinates.
- Signals from peers. The members of the executive team generally know when one of their peers is fouling up. Yet in most organizations, the prevailing culture discourages them from openly criticizing a colleague. A CEO who suspects there is a problem should start watching for subtle messages in the language and behavior of the executive’s peers.
No doubt you can think of others. Most people that I have worked with are good of heart and well intentioned and they just do not know how to change to be better executives. Nonetheless, bad behavior from one executive equals a team that will not jell.
If you are confronted with less than optimal executive performance, here are your choices: decide to accept the behavior/performance as is; let the individual go; help him or her change.