Companies often spend a lot of time and money developing the leadership skills of their individual senior managers, but give very little attention to the collective skills of the senior management team as a whole. These companies may be missing a trick: the collective behaviours of the senior management team underpin the company’s reputation or brand.
Leaders’ behaviour will affect the behaviour of employees – which will in turn impact customers. Leaders who collectively live and breathe their company’s brand can influence employee behaviour to benefit customers. Customers receive a positive experience not only from the company’s products and services, but also in their dealings with employees.
Here are some top tips for putting in place the kind of collective leadership skills that lead to motivated and engaged employees, and customers who have confidence that the company is responding to their needs:
1. First thing’s first
Start with the basics. Without credibility, consistency and resilience the senior management team won’t get far. Its members also need to build trust, and be open and effective communicators. All of these characteristics are interdependent: if your senior management team demonstrates only some of the above, or if each individual has only some of these skills, you are probably not doing as good a job as you may imagine.
2. Create a collective leadership ‘wish list’
Identify and add the behaviours that are specific to your company and brand and that you want all managers to demonstrate. And then think about how to make them happen. For example, if innovation is important, your managers could take time out each week to develop new ideas – and encourage their teams to do the same. Or they could kick start a new intranet initiative to champion new ideas around the company by developing and showcasing some ideas generated by the senior management team.
Remember: whatever behaviours you choose, it’s vital that every member of the senior management team can ‘buy in’ to and demonstrate them, so make sure the behaviours are achievable.
3. Brand your leadership
Ask yourself “What do I want the leaders in my company to be known for?” This is the leadership identity, which should be articulated in a clear and compelling way – and ideally in one short statement – that supports and reinforces the organisation’s brand. Share this statement with your staff and customers – and above all, live it! A leadership brand gives clarity to all your managers and gets them moving in the same direction.
4. Know, understand and involve your customers
It’s a given that without customers you will have no business. You need to know what they want and how they want it – not just now, but in the future – to stay ahead of the game. Ask them questions such as: would they recommend your business to others without hesitation. If not, ask them what they think you need to do better.
5. Understand yourself – and your team
Self-awareness is crucial to good leadership. Few senior managers are good in all areas – relationship building, generating ideas, getting people on side and really empowering individuals can be particularly challenging in fast-paced business. Using tools such as psychometric assessment and 360 degree feedback will allow you to objectively identify the strengths and weaknesses of individual leaders and the strength of the senior management team as a whole.
If, for instance, these assessments reveal that creativity and generating new ideas is a weakness across the senior management team, you can then address this either by training and coaching the existing team, or perhaps by recruiting new blood to the senior management team who can help foster a drive towards greater creativity.
6. Create a coaching culture
Lead by example. Show that you are willing to receive and give feedback by openly asking for it. And encourage your colleagues on the senior management team and your employees to do the same. This doesn’t just involve giving out feedback forms for big initiatives like new customer launches or employee events, it also means asking employees or customers for informal feedback, for instance after a particularly tricky meeting or discussion.
7. Recruit the right people…
Don’t get too hung up on ‘technical’ skills. These are important but perhaps even more crucial is that people have the right motivational and cultural fit. Someone who thrives in a creative and fluid environment may not function effectively in a highly regulated, procedure-driven organisation. Provide honest information about what the company is like and what you expect of your people from the very start of the recruitment process. Give people the opportunity to sift themselves out before they make an application. And make sure any manager involved in recruitment follows this policy. This avoids disappointment for both parties at interview stage – or once they have been recruited.
8. And make sure you keep them
Recruiting someone is only the first step. Nurture and develop your people, otherwise you are unlikely to get the best from them. Worse still, your good people may leave. Remember too that all your employees are ambassadors for your company’s reputation and brand – so they need to follow the example set by the senior management team of how to fulfil this role.
9. Actively listen…and respond
Whether it’s a customer or an employee, whether they are saying something you want to hear, or not, make sure you actively listen. And show you are listening by asking questions to clarify and consolidate what people are telling you. Once you have listened, acknowledge and respond, quickly – otherwise customers and employees will assume that you weren’t listening in the first place.
10. Share knowledge
If you don’t share knowledge within your company, your customers will suffer. Many managers are unaware that the team that sits right next to theirs is doing some great work that that could help the business deliver a better service to customers, or open the door to a new market.
Host regular knowledge-sharing sessions – whether virtual or real; keep your knowledge management system updated and make it interactive. Or invite individuals from totally different parts of the business to team meetings and then reciprocate. Start with some of the managers. Proactive knowledge sharing is one of the key ways to remain one step ahead of your competitors – and senior people need to make the time to lead by example.