Executive Leadership

Board & Governance

Executive Leadership

The words executive and leadership do not necessarily need to go together in the way that most people imagine. Many of the best executives are not natural leaders and lack charisma, but there are certain objectives and strategies that they all have in common.

What seems to define effective chief executives are the following:

  • They think and speak in terms of ‘we’ and not ‘I.’
  • They implemented productive meetings.
  • Their focus was on opportunities as opposed to problems.
  • They took responsibility for communication and decision-making.
  • They developed and successfully implemented action plans.
  • They wanted to know what was right for the enterprise.
  • They wanted to know what needed to be done to ensure success for the enterprise.

Gaining necessary knowledge, converting that knowledge into effective action, and ensuring that the whole organization is accountable and responsible are keys to successful executive leadership.

Executive Leadership

Build Knowledge

It is essential to understand the difference between asking what you can do and what needs to be done. You will need to establish what needs to be done as a whole, not necessarily only your role in the transformation. The answer should always be taken seriously if you want to achieve success.

Tasks that are identified when establishing what has to be done may be urgent. Effective executive leadership requires a leader not to split their attention. As far as possible, concentration should remain on one thing at a time. In some cases, an executive might alternate between two tasks, but once a third or more are attempted at any one time, efficiency suffers. Tasks need to be prioritized, as knowing one’s priorities ensures efficiency.

A CEO might begin by trying to redefine the business mission. Once a task is complete, an effective executive leader will reset their priorities instead of just moving on.

A decision must also be made about whether an action is suitable for the enterprise. The focus of this question should not be on the executives, the employees, or the stock price, or the owner interests; it should be entirely on the enterprise. While the employees and executive leaders are important, the enterprise is the heart of the business, and what is suitable for the enterprise ultimately will be right for the rest of the business, including the stakeholders and employees.

This part is especially key in a family-owned corporation when making a decision in a company that concerns its people.

Write an Action Plan

Before taking action, even for day-to-day operations, a strategic plan is required for things to run smoothly. Strategic plans need to include execution times and should, to a reasonable extent, account for problems that might arise. Solving problems is a large portion of what a C-suite executive is responsible for.

An action plan is based on what the enterprise needs. The second consideration is related to any restraints. How acceptable the action would be in an organization, whether it is an ethical move, what the legal implications are, etc. Violating any restraints can have dire consequences for an organization, so it is important that top management understand the restraints related to their strategic decisions.

An action plan is not a commitment but rather how executive leadership states its intentions. Action plans are regularly revised by the executive leadership team, as any success or failure of a previous step will have implications for the next step. An action plan must include some manner for checking results.

Executive Leadership

Take Action

Taking action is an exciting part of this process. Decision-making, communication, etc., are all essential elements of a successful action.

Focus on opportunities.

Effective leaders do not focus on problems. Their focus lies with opportunities. While problems need to be addressed, they are not going to produce productive results. Nonetheless, problem-solving is an essential skill to prevent damage. Seeing change as a threat can be damaging to any business.

Examples of situations that can be opportunities:
  • new technologies or new knowledge
  • changes in perception, values, meaning, mindset, mood
  • demographics
  • changes in market and industry structure
  • innovation in services, products, or processes within or without the enterprise or industry
  • gaps between what actually is and what could potentially be in a service, product, process, or market
  • unexpected failures or successes

Effective leaders must ensure that no problem overwhelms opportunities. Something to consider is the monthly management report. Usually, it starts with key problems, but companies are advised to rather start with opportunities and then move on to problems. Staffing can be a great tool through which to address opportunities. Effective leaders ensure that the right people are placed in the right positions or projects to make the most of any opportunities.

Take responsibility for communicating.

An effective executive ensures that their plans are understood and that everyone knows what is happening and what is expected of them. Flows of information must be efficient, and such efficiency depends on the communication plans that management has in place.

Take accountability for decisions.

In order for a decision to be considered as ‘made’ people must know the following:
  • Who is accountable for carrying out the decision;
  • the deadline;
  • who will be impacted by the decision, and
  • who needs to be informed of the decision.

Reviewing decisions through direct reports can be advantageous to those in leadership positions as it provides opportunity for bad decisions to be adjusted.

Some of the most difficult decisions that executive leaders will need to make are who to hire and who to promote. Effective executive leadership checks up on their decisions about hiring and promoting at least six months later; if failure is detected, the executive understands that it is not a lack of performance but instead the wrong person appointed for the job.

It is important that people in important jobs perform well, and effective executive leadership will always address nonperformance in these jobs. Even when the employees are not to blame, they need to be removed. Such a person should be allowed to return to their former position at their previous salary level. For the most part, however, individuals affected this way tend to leave the company instead. Often times the success of a company is dependent on how willing employees are to take risks.

A systematic review of decisions helps with self-development. Keeping track of decision results can indicate a possible need for improvement in your ability to make a decision related to the team. Knowing where the problem lies can help a manager to develop strategies that can help improve their decision-making skills over time. Executive leadership needs to be able to place the right people in positions of power, but many executives struggle with this. Development can be beneficial in improving the necessary leadership skills to face these challenges.

It is not unusual for decision-making discussions in an organization to place all accountability on members of the executive team. However, it is not only senior executives who are responsible for making decisions. Within an organization, decisions are made at all levels, but all employees and many of the lower-level team decisions can be essential to the success of executive leadership. This is yet another reason why it is important to inspire employees within the organization to shine and why appointing or promoting people can be so difficult.

Make meetings productive.

In the average organization, an executive will be engaged in a meeting at least half of each business day. This makes it all the more essential that top managers keep meetings to the point and that these meetings are productive. The kind of meeting will determine the kind of preparation that is required to ensure productivity.

When a meeting is arranged to provide information to the executive, they must listen and ask questions. Meetings where most or all members are expected to report should limit discussion time and aim questions at clarification. If questions are to be encouraged, teams should distribute information in advance of the meeting so that employees and the executive leadership team can prepare their questions in advance. Where only one member of the team reports on the report that needs to be discussed. A meeting where an announcement is made should only involve discussion about the announcement.

Where a statement needs to be prepared, a draft is done by one member in advance, and other members then add to it. Additions are added to the document by a responsible person who then also ensures that everyone in the organization receives the final version.

An effective executive must occasionally engage in a type of meeting that cannot be made productive as its only goal to for employees to meet with the executive leadership team.

The biggest challenge to keeping meetings productive is to remain on topic. Leaders may struggle to keep employees focused on the point of the meeting as they tend to go off on a tangent that they might deem essential but is not related to the purpose of the meeting that has been called. An effective lead will keep the meeting on track and adjourn. Should it be necessary, an additional meeting can be arranged among members to address to issue they wanted to bring up.

Effective executives understand that a meeting is either a waste of time or it is productive.

Executive Leadership

Think and Say “We”

Ultimate responsibility lies with executives who have authority because the organization trusts them. They keep the needs of the organization above their own and build trust through successfully meeting long-term goals for stakeholders. Effective executives know that long-term goals are achieved in organizations where even a small group of employees understand the importance of everyday tasks. A company depends on the skills of employees who function at all levels of the team, not only those in leadership positions.

There are no specific personality traits that make effective executives; rather what they do have in common is that each effective executive gets the right things done. Whether this is a natural ability or one that they develop throughout their careers through leadership skills training.

In Summary

While there are some personality traits and skills that can help leaders to succeed, there is no single set of skills that provides a leader with everything they need to be effective. Executive education can be greatly advantageous as it can help a leader to grow their vision and understand what needs to be done exactly to sustain that vision and to ensure that teams function optimally from the founder of the company down to the entry-level employees.

Ensuring that all employees know what they need to know and where they fit into the various teams and into the vision of the company is a foundational step to success for leaders. Further, ensuring that teams are kept abreast of important information and that all employees are caught up with matters in the company that can affect their teams or their individual positions is another key element. Each executive must be responsible and accountable for their teams. For example, the chief technology officer takes accountability for that entire department as they form the leadership tier for the department.

Leaders are responsible for appointing employees and handling promotions. When the wrong person is promoted or appointed, leaders must act accordingly and ensure that the issues are addressed. Leadership teams can make or break an organization, and effective leadership can be a fantastic advantage in business on all fronts.