Last night I finished up an important task which was finalizing a formal report for the Board of Directors of a company I’ve been working with for about a year and a half. This particular company decided in early 2016 to consider an unorthodox executive structure. They chose to have two CEO equivalents. Both of these individuals report directly to the Board. This company chooses this “out of the box” structure for a range of strategic reasons. In part this was chosen as a result of massive growth. Furthermore, the need for high level of executive leadership directed both at operations as well as systems and infrastructure. In order for this model succeed the executive relationships would have to thrive.
360 degree review
It’s a unique structure; one that comes with a range of benefits and risks. My job from the beginning was to coach the CEO equivalents in the development and implementation of the model. This spring I undertook 360 degree reviews with each of these CEO equivalents. As part of that process I interviewed a range of internal and external stakeholder referees to gather input on how the joint CEO model was progressing. What is the level of quality within the executive relationships?
It was quite remarkable to note the overwhelmingly positive outcomes that have emerged. Success with the joint CEO model is being achieved. It continues to be a great year for this company, with ongoing exponential growth. This Co leadership model meets the needs of the organization in a number of expected and unexpected ways. The co leaders are paying attention to their executive relationships and its paying off. Of course there are challenges and risks that come with this kind of an approach, but I won’t get into those here.
The primary purpose of shining a light on this unique structure and the evaluation of same, is that yet again as often happens when we dig into situations like this is that the most important elements that have led to success of the model include the relationship between the two Co leaders as well as their complementary skills and the way they deliver on those.
These are the top two findings/themes that I reported on to the Board of Directors.
1. The executive relationships
2. The complementarity of the skillsets
Why are executive relationships so important?
Yes, relationship, relationship, relationship is something I always harp on. In this scenario; executive relationships. Looking back over the last few months of business, as is normally the case, a number of bumpy business situations have arisen for my clients and there is ALWAYS a relationship component to the issues. It is not just relationship itself though. It is how the relationship plays out in terms of alignment of complementary skillsets to achieve a desired outcome.
Coaching Executive Relationships and Alignment
I think back to some of our very early coaching sessions with these two individuals 15+ months ago. In these sessions we laid a foundation for and then built a framework for the model. Some of the key success factors relate to the willingness these two had to probing around and setting up a set of principles that would guide how they work together. There is a commitment to clear, direct and honest problem solving. We also follow an actual mission statement for the Co–Executive lead model. Often times throughout the last year when challenges have arisen between these two leaders, we have gone back to this mission and these principles. Difficult discussions arise, yes. But these CEO equivalents are both willing to tackle them head on in a respectful and trusting way.
- Create the space for an open deep dive dialogue with your executive leadership team around the level of trust and alignment.
- Make sure your team can name ways in which they are NOT fully aligned at this moment. If they cannot, be curious about what is lacking such that people are not able to fully disclose as there are always issues getting in the way of perfect alignment.
- Agree on a set of principles that guide how your executive leadership team works together. This should include how they problem solve bumpy situations and misunderstandings. I can promise you these issues are arising in your team. If you and the team aren’t now naming and present with the issues, you don’t have a high functioning team.
- Focus on one feature over the next quarter to develop and strengthen executive relationships at this level.