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Why leadership today has to be a collective pursuit

According to an Ernst & Young survey, ‘The power of many’, 90 per cent of companies agree that their organisations’ problems are so complex that they need teams to tackle them. And the amount of time spent collaborating in teams across organisations has increased by around 50 per cent in 20 years, according to the Harvard Business Review article ‘Collaborative overload’.

Why leadership today has to be a collective pursuit
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  • Rob Pyne
  • July 30, 2021
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As a result, although most companies retain a CEO as frontman or frontwoman, these days they are rarely a ‘one-man band’. Business is too complex for one person to make all the decisions alone, so behind every good leader is a leadership team. The chief financial officer on bass, perhaps, keeping the rhythm. The chief revenue officer on lead guitar, punching out occasional solos. And the chief people officer on drums, keeping the beat going.

Three benefits of leadership team

You need your leadership team to help you navigate the complexities of modern leadership in three ways.

First, they need to help you make sense of incoming data. If you consider your business to be a complex system of interconnected parts, then having leadership team members able to report on each of the moving parts – finance, operations, sales, marketing helps create collective understanding of the business’s performance trends. In turn this will help you make integrated decisions instead of developing siloed strategies. And it will keep the company leadership in touch with what’s really happening on the frontline.

Second, you need them to help you generate possible strategies and solutions to chart a course forward. That’s not to say that all decisions and strategies benefit from getting a committee involved, but a leadership team will help you generate a wider range of options than you can do alone. Evidence from the MIT Centre for Collective Intelligence and associated researchers suggests that teams can be smarter than the sum of their parts when they show certain characteristics including social sensitivity and equality of conversational turn taking. In practise, this means your role as CEO includes being a facilitator – ensuring that different views are heard, that it’s ok to disagree with ideas (even your ideas), and that the loudest people don’t ride roughshod over the more introverted team members.

Third, you need them to help you turn decisions and strategies into action by leading the execution of projects and plans with their functional teams. McKinsey’s work on How to Beat the Transformation Odds reveals that the chances of a transformation effort meeting its goals are significantly improved when a group of leaders take ownership of the transformation. They do this by making the transformation relevant to each individual in their area, developing specific KPIs for each person and role modelling the required behaviour change. Collective leadership helps close the gap between strategy and execution.

Bringing the band together

Leadership teams can lead to better overall leadership of an organisation. Not only that but, according to McKinsey’s ‘High-performing teams: A timeless leadership topic’, being in an effective leadership team can also make individual executives five times more effective in their role.

That’s not to say it’s easy for a CEO to change their style from ‘front man’ or ‘front woman’ to ‘bandleader’. There are many pitfalls – especially if you build a committee instead of a team. But if you get it right, you will find your leadership team helps you make better music. They can help you write the song, play the tune, and inspire the crowd.

Rob Pyne, bestselling author of Unlock: Leveraging the Hidden Intelligence in Your Leadership Team

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