The 10 challenges facing today’s leadership teams
It’s tough at the top of an organisation. Sure, the view is better, you can see a bit farther – but the air is thinner. It’s colder. And often lonely.
Our work with top teams suggests that they are facing a period of unprecedented challenges. Here are some of them:
1. Running the business and transforming it
The need to drive top line growth and operational efficiency while at the same time, transform the business into a more agile, consumer focussed organisation.
2. Trying to reduce complexity in an increasingly inter-connected, volatile world
Companies today, on average, set themselves 6 times as many performance requirements as they did 50 years ago. Then, CEOs committed to 4 to 7 performance imperatives; today they commit to 25 to 40 (Reference: BCG Perspectives, 2011). Most of these requirements are deeply inter-connected and some are even in conflict.
3. Managing membership of multiple teams
Every member of a top team runs their own directorate. They are also members of other cross-functional teams. Many undertake a non-executive directorship. Managing memberships of multiple teams can be a real challenge for executives. Those who do it well have a mindset of ‘Leading out’ from the top team as opposed to ‘Reporting in’.
4. Consumers and employees demanding greater transparency and more authentic conversation
The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer found that countries with higher trust levels overall also show a greater willingness to trust new business innovations. Consumers and employees, particularly new generations in the workforce, now demand an unprecedented level of transparency, immediacy of communication, and trust. And they have powerful ways to protest if they don’t get it, which can damage an organisation’s reputation.
5. Balancing personal and family needs with significant travel and business demands
Long hours and extensive travel takes a toll on executives’ ability to take part in the activities they enjoy and to connect with the people around them. Whether that be difficulty keeping up with regular commitments, keeping fit, maintaining social contact, or being present with family, their ability to renew their own energy is key for survival.
Those executives who are ex-pats have the additional challenges of navigating life away from their support network, and supporting family who have travelled to a different country with them. Be it settling children in new schools or supporting a spouse in establishing themselves in a new community, these are responsibilities not often talked about in the boardroom and can put a tremendous strain on executives.
6. Rapidly increasing virtual and remote working
Virtual working requires a different quality of engagement and personal focus, as well as a need to create and manage strong boundaries between the home space and virtual office.
7. Managing a multi-generational workplace
Lynda Gratton’s (2011) research on the future of work predicts that over the next two decades, many companies will have potentially 5 distinct generations in the workforce. She argues that generations fight for a number of reasons: they don’t understand each other, they have differential access to resources and power, their working style and use of technology is in conflict, or they are not really sharing knowledge and experience with each other. It is the job of the top team to lead this inter-generational workforce and create a competitive advantage from it.
8. Senior leadership teams are typically not as diverse as they could be
Be it gender, race, or the balance between extraverts and introverts, most top teams are not as diverse as they could and should be. Our experience in working with those teams that have managed to create diversity in membership, suggests that they are either brilliant or terrible. There is no middle ground. The differentiating factor is the extent to which they have built capability to lead inclusively – lowering the cost of speaking out and raising the cost of silence.
9. Executive development is mostly done at the individual level, not collective
Many companies have exquisite high potential programmes, designed to accelerate the development of those who have been identified as having the potential to become future leaders of the organisation. We don’t take any issue with this – but we are concerned that in most organisations, development is done at the individual, not collective, level. Executives are groomed for individual brilliance. When we look outside business to high performing teams in the health service, military, and competitive sports, they all have one thing in common: they train together.
10. The major challenges are not in the individual parts but in the interconnections between them
We work with very few top teams where the individuals are not exceptionally talented. They have worked seriously hard to get to where they are. Consequently, a team often has brilliant individuals who are collectively average. We believe that the challenges lie not with the individuals, but in the space between them, their stakeholders, and their extended leadership teams.