How To Engineer a Successful Leadership Team
In this guest article, Graham Roadnight, CEO of The LCap Group, discusses what it takes to build a truly successful leadership team and offers practical tips on how SMEs can start building one.
If you think about leadership as a waterfall – it flows from the top down. If the behaviours aren’t right at the top of an organisation, it is very hard to develop the right traits for success in the wider company. It is very important that leaders have the inherent behaviours that drive success and that they act authentically.
As a result of their research, Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen presented four enabling conditions that are fundamental to successful teams and group collaboration:
- A clear and compelling direction – The direction should inspire and engage team members, be challenging but achievable, and be relevant to their interests.
- The right composition and structure – Teams need a balanced mix of skills and diversity in knowledge, views, and perspectives. Any risk of poor communication or fragmentation is mitigated by adding only the necessary members and getting that balance right.
- A supportive context – Having essential resources in place is crucial and should include an effective reward system for good performance, easy access to data and information, meaningful training and development plans, and any necessary material resources such as funding and technology.
- A shared mindset – In order to overcome the challenges faced by today’s teams – often working at a distance from one another, reliant on digital communication and dealing with fast-paced change – it’s important to share a common goal and unite individual members.
Although one can argue that these are critical qualities for all high-performing teams, the research failed to emphasise or look specifically at the team that matters most – the leadership team.
Without effective leadership, those four enabling conditions are unlikely to exist within teams elsewhere in the business. Get it right at the top, and the company culture will follow, creating those all-important conditions for the rest of the workforce.
So how do you build a successful leadership team? A team with the traits that will support the growth and success of a small business?
These three practical steps can be taken by any small business in the pursuit of a successful leadership team:
1. Value behaviours over personality traits
There is a tendency for businesses to focus on and look for specific personality traits in their search for successful leaders and surfacing such personality traits has traditionally been achieved through the use of psychometric testing. However, in our work helping companies analyse their teams to identify the kind of people who will help them achieve success, it is high-performing behaviours rather than personality traits that are key.
Assessing and understanding an individual’s behaviours offers a more reliable and valid predictor of leadership success – telling you about how they operate, not just what they are like. Leaders need to be able to take appropriate action in order to achieve the company’s strategic objectives and build a high-performance culture – walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
Relevant skills, qualifications, experience and achievements are all insights you can glean from an individual’s CV. What’s harder to understand or assess are the more intangible behavioural qualities of leadership.
One way is through behavioural interview questions that focus on the following essential leadership qualities:
Leading by example
Smaller start-ups have a valuable opportunity for highly visible, transparent and authentic leaders to inspire and influence the workforce. Remaining engaged and, when needs be, getting stuck in alongside employees is a behaviour that could make all the difference.
A leader that is self-aware is likely to recognise when someone else is better suited to a task rather than blindly taking the lead on a project that they are not ideally positioned for. Behaviours that demonstrate self-awareness could include taking action with their own learning and development plan or instituting a culture that promotes honest feedback and deep reflection.
Ability to adapt to challenges
Leaders with a high level of agility are able to adapt to new environments and unforeseen circumstances, which is essential for good decision-making and problem-solving. A resilient leader has the energy needed to maintain BAU activities while under the pressure of making difficult decisions and taking action on unexpected events.
Empathy can be demonstrated in a number of different ways but something to look out for in a potential leader’s behaviour is that they are an effective listener. Communicating successfully requires knowledge and understanding of what drives the person or people you are talking to and the only way to gain that insight is to listen more and talk less.
Reflecting on earlier mistakes and how these were corrected is just the start here. An individual with high potential to become a leader will be able to recognise that they are not the finished article and never will be. Despite this, their behaviour will demonstrate an unwavering dedication to personal and professional development, extended to incorporate the people they lead.
2. Seek and promote diversity
Building a successful leadership team isn’t just about the individual members. Merely gathering together a team of high-performing leaders would be an oversight. In our work at The LCap Group, we have found that high-performing leadership teams are those that are diverse in skills, experience and, most importantly, behaviours.
Taking the essential leadership qualities above as exactly that – they are essential, a benchmark for high-performing leaders – a successful leadership team really takes flight when, as a group, they have all bases covered. There should be very few skills gaps or behavioural gaps.
Diversity creates the perfect microclimate for each individual to realise their potential. It’s critical to the way the team operates. For example, if you have a team with the same or very similar behaviours, you will find that they are prone to groupthink. Without alternative views, push and pull or any sort of challenge, leadership teams fall into complacency through their shared approach and ways of thinking.
Relying on a CV and an interview to hire for diversity isn’t going to get the desired results. Organisations need to move away from the subjective “gut feel” one gets from an interview or a judgement on whether the interviewer is the “right fit” for the company. To ascertain how well a group of individuals will make a successful team, people analytics can help achieve diversity by using objective data and insights.
Starting with a behavioural assessment tool like PACE provides that all-important insight into an individual’s behaviours and, once you have this insight on an individual level, you can start to build a picture of how those individual profiles will work together across a leadership team. In essence, a balance of individual leaders scoring differently on a variety of behaviours and behavioural categories produces a more diverse team, poised for success.
PACE stands for Pragmatism, Agility, Curiosity and Execution – four overarching behavioural categories that are made up of several sub-behaviours. For example, Pragmatism includes the following sub-behaviours: practical, proactive, optimism and personal agency. People who score high on Pragmatism are focused on low information environments, are able to take the initiative and are short-term thinkers. But you wouldn’t want all members of the leadership team to behave in this way – balance and diversity are key.
3. Invest in leadership development
For SMEs with ambitious growth objectives, there must be a plan in place to ensure the leadership team is fit for purpose at every stage of that growth. Having somebody with the right functional experience and behaviours lined up for both unforeseen changes and those that are planned could save the business time and money.
This is where succession planning comes in – identifying individuals to succeed key positions in leadership which can be achieved by bringing in external talent or developing internal candidates. There are many advantages to looking internally first and investing in robust leadership development programmes rather than turning to external sources:
- Internal hires retain institutional knowledge and an idea of brand behaviours
- Learning, development and continuous improvement can happen on the job
- The skills and strengths needed for a specific role can be targeted via a tailored development programme
- Having competent leaders at the ready will inevitably reduce costs, drive new lines of revenue, and improve customer satisfaction
- Retaining the talent that will help a business execute its strategy and reduce the negative impact of employee attrition
- Boosting employee engagement, motivation and job satisfaction
Many companies only pay lip service to leadership development programmes, without thoroughly planning them out and implementing them effectively. It’s hard to know where to start and how to get the best ROI for the development programmes you implement and the employees you enrol.
A sensible starting place is to understand where the ‘gaps’ are by identifying the skills, experience and behaviours required in your business and leadership team. From there you can look for the ‘plugs’ by identifying talented employees with the potential to become effective leaders using behavioural assessment tools.
Armed with a better understanding of what you need and what you have, effective, personalised leadership development plans can be created for both future and existing leaders within the company.