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How to Lead Your Executive Team to Lead Your Business
How do you lead the leaders—your executive team? It’s not by barking orders from on high, obsessing over the bottom line or trying to become a charismatic leader (whatever that means). The job of a leader is to incorporate who people are into what you’re asking them to pursue. To do that, you have to know who they are and what they need.
Here’s how to discover what drives your executive team, connect their needs with your company’s vision, and motivate them to lead your business to success.
Start with your own perceptions of the value that your business can provide.
Sit down and think about what you think matters to each person on your executive team. What do they need from their job? Is it recognition? Financial rewards? Career advancement? Do they need to feel needed?
We think we know people, especially those we work with closely. But on a daily basis we’re in such a rush that often, we really don’t know them at all. Before sitting down with your executive team to find out what they need, start by identifying what you perceive as their needs. This small investment of alone time is a primer for seeing more rapid change down the line.
Identify your team’s needs.
Identifying executives’ needs starts with individual, one-on-one conversations. These conversations don’t have to be formal, but they should be intentional. Give people the mental space to come to the discussion prepared. Help them to understand how your inquiry about their needs is connected to helping them to be more successful and fulfilled in the workplace.
Then inquire with care. You want to mine as many jewels as you can out of this discussion. As you do, you’ll start to see the gap between your perception of what that person needs and what their needs actually are. That’s a really important space to identify, because that’s the space you have to walk to deliver value to the executives you need on board to pursue the bigger organizational vision.
Give them something to rally around, in context.
Once you’ve gained a better understanding of your executive team’s needs, you can reintroduce the business vision in the context of each individual’s needs, whether those needs are emotional, financial, developmental, etc.
Suppose your goal is selling $3 million worth of shoes this year. You could just say, “OK, $3 million in shoes this year, let’s go!” But if you’re not connecting this goal to the individual’s needs, you’re missing a big opportunity to help usher in a passionate connection between the executive and the company—a connection that can inspire better paths forward for both parties. Take the time to think about the best way to put this goal in context for each person and to have a conversation about it.
Identify your management growth areas.
Take some time to reflect on what you’ve learned about your executive team and reset your expectations for who they are. How well do you think someone can really lead a team without taking this step? Look at the gap between your perception of what they need and what they really need. Ask yourself, “Why did I perceive this person was driven by A, B and C when they’re actually driven by X, Y and Z?” Challenge yourself to continually gain new insight and a more accurate perspective into each of these people. This could look like tectonic shifts in perspective or it could look much more nuanced. Either way, it’s a powerful tool for positive change.
In some cases, it might be important to share these management growth areas with the person directly. You might say, “It’s funny, I thought you were all about X, but you’re really about Y. That’s something new I’ve learned, and I’m looking forward to getting to know more about you this year and really connecting the business to how it can serve you.”
Those growth areas can be a crucial relationship-building tool for senior executives by providing transparency about the journey you’re on. Growing healthy relationships within the business enhances your team’s relationships with customers and other stakeholders, too.
Take the time to celebrate your executive team’s small successes, not just the big ones. Suppose an executive is looking forward to more pay this year, and a sale goes through early and they get a small performance-based reward for it. In the grand scheme of things, this little reward can feel paltry. But as a senior executive, your job is to help people feel progress long before they reach the goal.
This isn’t about convincing someone that something small is something big. That’s inaccurate, inauthentic, and reads as an inappropriate, disconnected pep rally. Instead, it’s about identifying otherwise forgettable, small moments and infusing them to a story of “We’re headed in the right direction, right?!” If you celebrate little victories like that a small check on the way to bigger checks, it highlights moments of progress and helps people get through the ups and downs of the journey.
Celebration is an underused tool. We don’t know how to do it well in business; it often looks fake. But think of a sporting event or a parent celebrating a child’s achievement, and you’ll see how celebration can be very natural. Remember, it’s about celebrating each step as it relates to its value within the context of the path we’re on. In the workplace, a celebration can be a public or private word of encouragement, an email or a senior executive bringing in a special coffee. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture; it just has to be truly caring, thoughtful, and connected to its hopeful context.
Need more ways to keep your team going toward a long-term goal? Learn how strategy can generate forward momentum and why strategic planning can enhance your executive team culture.
To successfully lead your executive team, you have to know what drives them. That might not be what you think it is. Take the time to talk to them and really listen to the answers, and you’ll be better able to motivate them to lead the rest of your team.
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