The demise of the lone ranger CEO

by 04 Mar 2008

THE DEMANDS of the top job in organisations are becoming too complex for any one person, and the ‘lone ranger’CEO is being replaced by recognition for the emerging importance and focus on the senior leadership team.

Research undertaken by Hay Group and HarvardUniversity has found that many CEOs stumble when creating their leadership team. Based on a study of 120 top teams from around the world, including some from Australian organisations, the findings outline what CEOs need to do to ensure their top team is effective.

In today’s volatile market conditions, the study found that the CEO who leads an effective senior leadership team can draw on a depth of experience, talent and organisation-wide understanding.

The research, which is presented in the recently launched book Senior Leadership Teams: What it takes to make them great, found that senior leaders establish the essential conditions for leadership teams by: creating a real team, rather than one that is a team in name only; providing the team with a clear and compelling purpose; and ensuring that the team comprises members who have the knowledge, skill, and experience that are required for the team’s work.

When these conditions are in place, the team has a solid foundation for carrying out its work, and is positioned to set out on a course of even more competent teamwork.

Sandra Treadwell-Monk, associate director for Hay Group Pacific, said that Australian leaders want positive working relations within their teams, and will work hard to build this.

“At times, this concern for harmony will get in the way of leaders selecting the best team and making some tough decisions about team membership,” she said.

The research found that less than a quarter of teams are actually effective, which means that many CEOs have actually never experienced an effective top team.

As such, Treadwell-Monk said HR has an important role to play in this process.

“I believe HR professionals need to start with the business context – effective leadership teams are not an HR initiative. Ultimately, the CEO needs to know where he or she wants to take the company and is supported in this by HR,” she said.

Another vital role for HR professionals is in helping implement this, according to the research. “For example, preparing a CEO for and facing up to the challenge of taking people off the core team may be one of the most helpful things you can do for any leader,”Treadwell-Monk said.

“If the HR professional is a trusted advisor to the CEO he or she can raise questions such as what sort of team that the CEO needs.”

The book, which is published by McGraw-Hill, identified four types of teams in the research: information sharing (providing updates and information to team members); consultative (is it there to allow the CEOs to consult to team members on specific initiatives, for example, preparing a CEO for board presentations); coordination (is it there to coordinate and ensure alignment across the organisation); and decision making (is it there to make key decisions across the entire organisation).

“Only when the type of team has been decided, can the HR professional advise on the purpose, skills and capabilities of the members of the team and put in place plans to support this,”Treadwell-Monk said.

Another implication is that for HR to genuinely contribute to the team, they must have an enterprise-wide perspective, rather than being a sole advocate of the HR function.

“The single most important step for HR is to ensure direct line of sight between a small, focused number of leadership and team development initiatives aligned with where the CEO and top team want to take the organisation,”she said.


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