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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • February 13, 2022
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A Memo to a New Senior Leadership Team Member 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

Kai – 

Earlier today,  I invited you to  join our senior leadership team. 

As you know, I and the rest of the team are delighted with the work you've been doing for us as a VP over the last few years, and we feel it is time you joined us as part of our most senior decision-making team. 

That said, accepting our offer to join the senior leadership team is something I want you to consider carefully. It is not something to accept lightly, or without due consideration.

Accordingly, I thought it would be helpful to give you some indication of what we expect from you in your capacity as a member of the executive team, and what you can expect from me and your peers if you do decide to join us.

Let me start with our three governing principles. You’ll need to fully grasp these in order to make sense of what you will see in action at our executive team meetings:

1. Check Your Hat at the Door. 

As a member of the executive team, your role is to share in the leadership of our organization. The entire organization. Not just your department.

In executive sessions, you’re not there to represent your functional department, you’re there to lead the overall enterprise. You lead your department the rest of the time.

Look at it this way – in leadership team meetings, you check your functional hat at the door.

"As a senior leader, you’re not there to manage your department, you’re there to lead the overall organization. You run your department the rest of the time." - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success

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Of course, you will need to put it back on again when there are specific decisions to be made about which we need your subject matter expertise, or special insights that you can give us because of your functional knowledge, but you’ll find that this is less frequent than you might expect.

The consequences of this is that you can expect to see the following in our team meetings:

  • Everyone (including you) is expected to contribute strategically to everything we discuss, not just those matters that fall into your functional ambit. That doesn't mean you're expected to 'chip in' to every discussion, but it does mean that you are expected to be engaged at all times;

  • Everyone (including you) is required to help us reach decisions that are for the better good of the organization as a whole, not just good for you or your team;  

  • As a leadership team, you'll notice that we don't react positively to contributions that are either self-serving or defensive regarding the contributor’s specific functional area. 

This may come across as somewhat schoolmaster-ish, but what I want you to see clearly before accepting the offer to join us, is that adding value as a member of the executive leadership team is dependent upon you moving beyond your proven functional brilliance and working for what is best for the organization overall, even if that occasionally means agreeing to (or even proposing) solutions and initiatives that don't directly positively impact your functional area.

2. Think Laterally, Not Vertically. 

Until now, your key relationships in this organization have been vertical: upward to your manager (me), and downward to your direct reports. Once you agree to join the executive team, your key relationships will shift from the vertical to the horizontal.

As of then, your first and overriding commitment will be to your peers – the other members of the executive leadership team – not to your functional group.

Why? Because as I already mentioned there will, on occasion, be conflicts between what is good for your team and what is good for the organization as a whole. 

When those conflicts occur, your commitment must be to the organization – represented by your executive team members – not to your specific functional area.

Now, this of course does not mean that you can no longer be loyal to your functional group, and (so long as you heed the first point above about being self-serving or defensive) it doesn’t mean that you cannot lobby for their best interests or represent their needs – indeed, we expect you to do just that.

So let me repeat, so as to be clear: we don’t expect you to weaken or dilute any of the existing loyalties that you have. Instead, we expect you to add to it another layer of commitment: to the members of the executive leadership team. Think of it as an 'and', not an 'or'.

The reason I'm taking the time to emphasize this point is that over the years, I've learned that there are many highly competent, committed functional leads who simply don't want to give up on their primary allegiance being to their functional team - they only really live and breathe happily when fully immersed in their area of technical excellence, surrounded by their team, and are uncomfortable being asked to make or agree to decisions that are not wholly in their own teams' best interests. 

There's not a darn thing wrong with that mindset, and there is plenty of room for it to thrive in our organization. So if you think this might be you, let's talk a little longer about whether being on the senior leadership team is right for you, or would simply leave you feeling hamstrung and frustrated.

3. Bring a Dollar Bill.

We practice what we call ‘dollar bill management’.

What I mean is this: As you will discover, we necessarily discuss a huge range of issues – often intensely. We each say our piece. We argue hard, sometimes at length. We say what is on our minds (courteously and civilly). We challenge each other and our ideas.

Sometimes it gets heated. But by the time we finish talking, and we proceed to make a decision, the dynamic changes: When a decision is made, we all uphold it, 100%.

It's something the Brits call 'cabinet responsibility', and the implications of this are important:

  • Team members don’t second-guess executive team decisions. After our meetings there's no lobbying to pick apart any decision we made.

  • Once they're made, team members don't complain about our decisions - to anyone.

  • When it comes to implementation, team members participate fully - which means no obstructing, ignoring or sandbagging any decisions or their implications or consequences.

You do get to be a role model in implementing agreed-upon decisions – swiftly, fully and with enthusiasm, whatever your stance was while the decision was being debated.

Think about it this way:  once the decision has been made, you can't get a dollar bill between us.

Now, to be clear - this doesn’t mean that we believe the leadership team is infallible (far from it), or that we all have to act like robots and persevere with the consequences of poor decisions.

The executive team makes mistakes: sometimes a decision proves to have been the wrong one. When that happens, any executive team member can bring evidence that a decision needs to be re-thought – but only after an agreed period of supportive compliance, and only in a scheduled executive sessions.

Kai, this is probably enough for you to take on board while considering our offer to join the executive team. I'd like to close by assuring you that none of the above is meant to deter you from joining us - as you'll find out, we have a wonderfully strong, collegiate relationship as a team and - thanks mostly to the guiding principles above - our interactions are marked with mutual respect and good humor. 

I look forward to you joining us.

What about you? What steps do you take to integrate new members to your senior leadership team?

Let Me Know In The Comments Below!


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  1. I think that’s one of the best Introduction I seen for many years, short precise and does not leaves any uncertain issue on the table.

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