Founder of Beacon Executive Coaching. Illuminate your path forward: business, individual and team coaching.
Earlier this year, I was invited to coach a leader and his executive team. It was clear to the team and the company’s investors that they were not working well together. The company had trouble achieving its KPIs, and though the team shared similar visions for the company, they had vastly different ideas about how to get there.
We began our work before the pandemic and continued through the ensuing disruption. We worked to realign the executive team, focusing on building trust and constructively resolving conflict, but with disappointing results.
One day, circumstances changed the composition of the team, and our leader, Chris, was the only one remaining. You might think that Chris doubled down on fear-based responses — after all, a pandemic was fully in place, everyone was working remotely, the industry was facing new, sudden challenges, the executive team was gone and KPIs still had to be achieved.
Instead, Chris committed to a path of intentional transformation using both individual and team coaching.
Chris’s vision for the company had not changed. Specifically, it was to create a positive work environment that gives employees the tools to be successful while creating stakeholder value. Chris wanted to focus specifically on transformation, of both the company and its leadership. To him, a healthy organization was:
• Based on trust
• Able to mine for constructive conflict
• Committed once a decision was made (even if not every individual agreed with that decision)
• Able to hold one another accountable to commitments
• Striving for collective results over individual results
That’s the type of organization Chris wanted. So how best to get there?
Bottom line, Chris got there by leaning into a lot of uncomfortable conversations with all of the company’s stakeholders, including employees, investors, customers and suppliers. The first order of business was to quickly reduce costs so the business had a chance to survive. Chris had the hard conversations (more than once) when salaries were reduced, roles expanded and loans renegotiated.
Once cash flow stabilized, Chris decided that, at least for the near term, a flatter organization was needed, not the hierarchy that was in place pre-pandemic. Chris moved people into the right seats for them. He gave them more responsibility when warranted, let go of people who weren’t on board with the desired organizational goals, added people in essential roles that complemented the team he was trying to build, and clearly reinforced collective goals and results in every meeting and individual conversation. Chris was clear and consistent in articulating the vision over several months.
Even the nature of meetings changed: No longer did they consist solely of highlights of respective outcomes; rather, our leader added to each gathering an invitation to bring forward ideas on how to build a better business! While not every suggestion could be implemented, every idea was heard and considered. As a matter of fact, several ideas have been implemented, and they’ve reduced costs, increased revenue, increased efficiency and showed the team how their collective efforts make them so much greater than the sum of their parts.
After several months of building organizational health, two things became clear:
1. This company is now comprised of a team of people who are inspired to come to work each day, communicate in new ways that support innovation and the exploration of new ideas, and know exactly how their individual role contributes to the collective success of the company.
2. Our leader’s individual journey is inspiring. Chris’s humility, honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to try new ways of being has taken him from the role of team leader to team coach!
Together, Chris and his team hit their KPIs and positioned themselves for growth. Quite the accomplishment in these circumstances.
Transformational leadership means repeatedly committing to doing the hard work to get from where you are to where you want to go. The above team’s journey highlights several key learnings:
First, speak your future. Your words are incredibly powerful! It’s no surprise to anyone that if we speak of lack, risk and difficulty, that’s exactly what we get. We risk getting stuck in that fear-based mindset. Instead, this team and its leader speak their shared purpose in a way that’s bold. They commit to doing things differently and prioritize organizational health as well as functional capability. The results speak for themselves: They are poised for growth at a time when many businesses are not surviving.
Second, become a learning organization. Welcome new ideas. Not all will work, but some will; the benefit of people knowing that their voice matters, is heard and is respected is incredibly powerful to the foundation of the team. It builds trust, sparks innovation, improves performance and achieves collective results.
Finally, commit to becoming a value-creating team. High-performing teams are critical; they achieve collective results by working together. But the difference between high-performing teams and value-creating teams is that high-performing teams are focused mostly on inputs and outputs. A value-creating team has a shared purpose and is outward-looking: focusing on outcomes, impact and the value the team creates for others, specifically its stakeholder groups. Value-creating teams will be necessary to face the demands of the 21st century.
Remember, “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you are not going to stay where you are,” as said by J.P. Morgan. Transformational leadership and the lessons we learn from it can become the new normal if we so choose. Imagine, then, what we can accomplish.
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