A Tricky Balancing Act: Empowering and Overseeing Your Executive Team

A Tricky Balancing Act: Empowering and Overseeing Your Executive Team


Congratulations! You finally realized that your business can’t grow by doing everything yourself, and you have started to build the team of Executives that you always wanted. Now, how do you manage them?

Imagine the following scale:


Full empowerment

Aka abdication


On the extreme left is full empowerment which is a totally hands off management style. Of course, CEO’s trust their Executives, but blind trust can be dangerous, and it can also hurt performance.  With blind trust, CEOs do not see the need for monitoring and verification steps, so processes and results are doomed to go astray. When a CEO blindly trusts his Senior Executives, they are effectively empowered to do whatever they want, and if a problem arises, the CEO can plead ignorance. Chris Christie exemplified this style in his recent Bridge-gate scandal.

On the extreme right of the same scale is micromanagement which is where the CEO assumes and performs the Executives’ responsibilities himself. For example, he may jump the chain of command, issue an order to an Executive’s Direct Report and never even inform the Executive of what he did. Micromanagement can be costly. It saps productivity and morale, discourages high-performing employees and limits a company’s growth.

The Balancing Point


There are times when leading at the extreme ends of the scale are necessary. Most of the time, though, the midpoint, which I call “trust and verify”, works best. So how do you make this happen?

1. Clearly define roles and expected results.

Expectations are made crystal clear in three areas:

a.  Each Executive’s role and how it will be measured. The specific responsibilities, authority levels, and expected outcomes, including the metrics used to measure success for each position, should be clearly communicated by the CEO and must be understood and accepted by each Executive.
b.  Desired company results.  The CEO and his Executive Team jointly create both current and future multi-year goals in the SMART format.
c.  The Executive Team is the primary team.  When Executives believe that, and act as if their peers are their primary team, “silos” are minimized. The CEO needs to clearly state this expectation. An Executive Team is operating well when any one Executive makes a “sacrifice” in their own “silo” in order to achieve the company’s goals, and when the Executives hold each other accountable without requiring the CEO’s involvement.

2. Instill accountability in your company culture. In their book, How Did That Happen?: Holding People Accountable for Results the Positive, Principled Way, Roger Conners and Tom Smith define accountability as ”a personal “attribute” that exemplifies who you are. It is “a way of being…” that empowers you, each individual on your team and every single person in your organization, to meet, and even surpass, your highest expectations. Individuals with this attribute “become self-motivated and resourceful, focusing entirely on what else they can personally do to achieve the desired results.“

High-performing CEO’s build vulnerability-based trust. Trust and accountability form an interdependent circle, where they reinforce each other. Accountability builds trust and vice versa.

To verify the Executives’ claimed results, the CEO needs to meet at least once every month with each Executive for an Alignment Session. The purpose of this session is to verify that their goals, metrics and priorities are in alignment with the CEO’s expectations and the commitments made by the Executive.

Skilled CEO’s know how to make this a positive meeting by explaining its purpose and addressing the Executive’s concerns before they hold their first Alignment Session. Conners and Smith state that an “effective inspection not only creates a joint accountability and ownership for both checking in and proactively reporting; it helps ensure a positive inspection experience.“

It is the Executives’ responsibility to prepare a summary of their progress toward their goals and metrics relating to the performance of their area of responsibility. If goals aren’t met, the CEO has previously set the expectation that a revised plan to meet those goals will also be reviewed at this session. The CEO asks for proof and dives into enough detail with open questions until he is comfortable that he is receiving an accurate picture.

When necessary, the CEO practices tough love and initiates a difficult conversation.

3. Ask for multiple perspectives when making big decisions. Making  decisions is a critical part of any Executive’s job. To avoid psychological traps, the CEO should never rely on only one opinion when making an important decision. Instead, demand objective proof for the significant assumptions and facts presented by any Executive.

4. Trust your gut instinct. The  “gut” is a source of internal wisdom that lies just beyond the conscious mind. Our instincts often kick in when we draw on patterns we’ve seen but can’t articulate. When the CEO is presented with an argument that just doesn’t feel right, he shouldn’t give in. He should keep asking, digging, or doing whatever is necessary to resolve the conflict between what his mind and gut are telling him.

5.  Monitor your culture.  Culture, essentially, is how the employees of an organization behave. The CEO is directly responsibility for developing and maintaining the culture. This is never delegated.

However, the Senior Executives of a company have an enormous effect on it’s culture, and the CEO may not realize how a particular Executive is affecting it. To ensure that Senior Executives’ behavior is consistent with the culture, the CEO must:

a.  Routinely survey employees.
b.  Conduct 360 degree feedback on himself and his Executives.
c.  Frequently interact with employees by walking around.

Yes, managing your Executives can be challenging. When expectations are clear, though, and the Executives take accountability for meeting them, you can realize your desired results. By implementing these “Trust and Verify” processes, you can monitor progress along the way, easily realign priorities when necessary and eliminate unpleasant surprises. Now you are positioning yourself to make your business more enjoyable, less stressful and more profitable!

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