The CEO Team

March 6, 2024
# min read
Grant Tate

When I meet a CEO who is a visionary, a dreamer, or a strategist, I ask, "Where is the implementer, the person who can translate the CEO's dreams into action?” If I meet a CEO who is a mechanic, focusing on the short term, with an office (or computer) full of charts and graphs, I ask, "Where is the strategist, the person who focuses on the long-term success of the organization?" Some CEOs can serve both roles at the top, but that's less frequent. Regardless of style, the wise leader understands their strengths and finds colleagues who create balance in the front office. Often, that means choosing associates with drastically different styles and talents.

Of course, the phases of an organization's life may require different kinds of leadership, but leading a complex organization at any time demands a variety of skills and mental capabilities. The wise leader builds an executive team whose members complement and trust each other. Diversity counts. A team with individuals with different resumes and differing behavioral styles can be both creative and practical if, of course, they know how to worktogether. (That's a topic for another day.)

The top position, the CEO, is the integrator. It's the place where all the elements of the organization come together for consideration and decisions. In a functional organization structure, the leaders of the various units are often specialists in their particular functions and become strong advocates for that function, sometimes lacking a broad perspective for general management. The CEO, then, is responsible for making tradeoffs among the different elements to ensure the best direction for the firm.

Adam Grant, the famous organization theorist, suggested that theCEO job is too big for one person and that the responsibilities should be shared among two or more top executives.[1]

That is something large companies could do. Still, it takes careful planning to ensure the co-executives have the appropriate mix of skills, can work well together, know how to resolve conflict, and can implement well-designed decision-making processes. One of my consulting colleagues uses music to teach executives this process. Making music together is a good analogy for this management approach.

Most smaller companies cannot afford dual CEOs. Yet, the CEO can still create a diverse leadership team.

Start by defining what unites the company and the team:

1.    A strong statement of the organization's purpose.

2.    A set of principles that guides the way the team members treat each other.

3.    A set of principles that shows the way the company treats its constituents.

4.    A code of ethics for all the business practices.

5.    A well-articulated conflict management system.

Only people who pledge to support the unifying principles should join the team. Diversity should be built on that foundation.

Diversity means a variety of decision styles, personality types, skill sets, points of view, and experiences. Recruiting such a team requires more than interviews and resume' reviews. Personal assessments, discussion of case studies, and other such exercises can provide important information about a person's potential role on the team.

After joining the team, each team member should be committed not only to their differentiated role but also to their role on the team. The CEO should measure members' contributions to the team, not just their individual functions. Similarly, the CEO needs to guide and evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the TEAM functions. This should include debriefing sessions after important team activities, as well as self-evaluation and feedback for each team member.

Selecting and building the team is one of the essential responsibilities of the top executive.


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