Good leaders surround themselves with quality advisers and valuable strategic experts who share a sense of purpose and values, and can offer sound insight and advice.
Which means those leaders need a solid leadership advisory team. Here are some things to consider:
Why form an executive advisory team?
A solid leadership team or board can bring different perspectives and ideas to strategic problem solving and planning discussions; they objectively consider options; and help collaborate on viable solutions.
For these reasons, it is paramount for a successful leadership team to be professionally diverse, objective and deliberate and work for the good of the whole as opposed to the good of the “self.”
How do I begin to build a team?
Start by objectively and critically identifying deficiencies and weaknesses — or blind spots.
A blind spot might be a discipline (legal, operational or financial) or an alternative demographic (age, gender or ethnicity). With these blind spots in mind, find an appropriate person fill each of these gaps.
Early on Michael Dell hired Mort Tofler away from Motorola to be his CFO, for example. Tofler, many years senior to Dell, brought requisite skills and experience to the leadership team, and financial acumen to the strategic decision-making process — Dell’s blind spot.
What is the composition of a good team?
It’s my belief an executive advisory team should be small and diverse. Having too many leaders around the table can be unwieldy, become political and can slow the consensus process.
A telling symptom of a bloated advisory team can be paralysis by analysis — or when groupthink unintentionally obfuscates discussion, stalls decision-making or even derails the process entirely. Smaller teams can more easily stay focused.
Professional diversity is another important consideration. Avoid duplication of backgrounds or granting entitled participation.
For instance, if an organization promotes sales leaders to vice presidents who automatically get a seat at the table, before long the table is surrounded by sales people. Examples of this type of leadership inbreeding can sometimes be found in financial institutions and manufacturing organizations.
Lack of diversity can lead to stagnation with limited innovation and change because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
There’s an old saying, “if you have two managers who agree on everything, then you really only need one of them.”
How to be effective versus dysfunctional
To begin with, the advisory team should discuss, agree and embrace shared goals, purpose and values. These should uniformly guide team efforts and provide the foundation for consensus on solutions everyone can support.
Allowing separate agendas or values can adversely affect discussions and outcomes.
Additionally — and most critically — a leader should create an environment of trust and openness without fear of ridicule or retaliation. By doing so, more ideas will be shared, more solutions identified and the ability to openly express painful truths can help an organization avoid crisis.
To make my point, consider the failed leadership teams in organizations such as Enron, Penn State University, Lehman Brothers, New Orleans Saints and AIG.
Good leader should know what they don’t know, then find the best people to fill those gaps, share candid advice and collaborate on optimal solutions.