Does Your Leadership Work Effectively as a Team?

l-teamOrganizations go to great lengths to recruit highly talented, successful executives to fill key leadership positions. Yet, all too often, these executives fail to function effectively as a team when brought together. Why? The answer frequently centers on a few of the same recurring problems. Here are eight of them that I’ve encountered on consulting assignments where I’ve been asked to help diagnose and turn around poorly performing executive teams:

  • Failure to keep peers informed of relevant issues and to handle inter-department conflicts
  • Absence of open and vigorous debate at executive meetings to resolve obstacles
  • Harboring and not addressing personal resentments
  • Undermining/not supporting leadership team decisions
  • Placing personal and department interests above what’s best for the organization
  • Difficulty in dealing with the leadership styles of other executives
  • Lack of emotional intelligence
  • Unwillingness or inability of the top executives to recognize and address organizational dysfunction

These aren’t the kinds of problems that get fixed through team-building exercises. Rather, they require an “up, down, across the organization” approach that focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of each executive team member through behavioral intelligence (BI) assessments, mini-360s, emotional intelligence (EI) training and departmental mini-surveys to identify areas of conflict. Many of my past blog entries have talked about these tools in more depth. I encourage you to read them and call me if you would like to discuss further.

As I’ve always stressed, without the necessary levels of commitment, accountability and open dialog to address these behaviors, progress will be severely stymied. A lot to think about, and you can start by asking the tough question: How does your leadership function as a team?

Powerful Tools for Professional Development – 360s and DISC/EQ

Can leaders and managers get to know more about themselves, become more self-analytical and self-aware? Is there a systematic way of improving the competencies and behaviors that will better equip them for their continuing growth and career progress?

The answers are: yes and yes! The first comes about through the use of behavioral intelligence (BI) assessments, more specifically DISC and EQ (emotional quota, the measure of emotional intelligence). The second is through the use of 360° reviews. And they are a powerful combination.

The effectiveness of BI assessments was reinforced for me a few weeks ago in Accra, Ghana, where I conducted a workshop for 27 participants — deans, chairs of academic departments and heads of operations — from GIMPA (Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration) and Ashesi University College.

The program consisted of two days of individual one-on-one coaching based on each participant’s BI assessment results, followed by a two-day workshop — a day on leadership and self-awareness and a second day on performance management. The latter focused on goal-setting, reporting and accountability, coaching skills and difficult conversations.

I routinely use DISC and EQ assessments because they enable executives and managers to better understand the effective use of emotional intelligence in managing their relationships, particularly when coaching or in conflict situations. The increased self-awareness that’s derived from the analysis and interpretation of the results, and the consequent identification of opportunities for behavioral change, are significant. As frequently referenced by Dr. Daniel Goleman, self-awareness is the cornerstone of successful leadership.

The 360° review zeroes in on the competencies that need to be either celebrated or improved and, in my experience, always substantiate the findings from the BI toolset. In contrast to standard online 360° reviews, I also find it extremely worthwhile for executive coaching to conduct one-on-one meetings with reviewers since it allows issues to be probed in-depth.

Who should have access to the reports generated by these tools?

  • Behavioral intelligence assessments: the person completing it, but with guidance and coaching from trained HR professionals; external coaches; or professional trainers.
  • 360° review reports or findings: the reviewee; the consultant conducting the review and responsible for providing coaching and feedback; and/or coaches (internal and external).

Naturally the coachee or reviewee may share these reports with whomever appropriate.

The impact of both these tools — the behavioral intelligence assessment and 360s — is, in many cases, a major stepping stone to higher levels of leadership and management.

Case Study: Making Vision, Mission and Values Meaningful

world in handThe enthusiasm around developing an organization’s vision, mission and values tends to fade quickly and these fine notions are promptly forgotten. The whole point is the need for ongoing awareness, to have those beacons provide the philosophical underpinning of why we’re in business and how we do business.

Very simply and worth mentioning,

  • The vision is the dream, the aspiration for the future.
  • The mission is the purpose for being in business.
  • The values are those fundamental ethics and principles that anchor business practices and guide decision-making.

I recently worked with the leadership team of a microbrewery in Utah, perhaps an unlikely location! The newly appointed CEO recognized the need for a new focus and strategic direction. He also needed to infuse new methodologies for strategic thinking, collaboration and professional management.

We went up into the mountains — a charming chalet and truly a retreat from daily operational responsibilities. This was not a casual exercise. It was preceded by an online survey which required responses to the following:

  • Choice of words that might best represent the company’s values.
  • Preliminary ideas using examples of vision, mission and values statements from industry giants and well-known breweries and companies to stimulate creative thinking.

In addition, participants were required to complete a behavioral intelligence assessment, including their DISC behavioral profile and their EQ (emotional quota, the measure of emotional intelligence).

The first step was to work on the team-building, starting with a review of the DISC and emotional intelligence aspects. The underlying theme was to develop greater self-awareness, identified by Dr. Daniel Goleman as the cornerstone of leadership. Most important to the team-building, each member of the leadership team shared results of their assessments, with the CEO kicking off. Reason for sharing? Frank discussion of personal characteristics with comments and feedback from colleagues and all about building trust. The importance was recognizing and respecting differences in style, and identifying opportunities for modifying behaviors to manage relationships more effectively. It worked and continues to work a few months later.

This was the first part of Leadership and Self-awareness program, followed by group discussions on leadership styles, characteristics, leadership derailers (self-assessments were completed), leadership versus management and case studies.

The online survey captured input in advance of the work session. All comments were circulated to executives prior to the meeting, together with existing vision, mission and values statements. Small groups worked the details and then presented to the full group for review, discussion and debate. The result – an outstanding set of statements, truly reflecting change and setting the parameters for the desired culture. An interesting by-product was the determination that “purpose” was a superior term to “mission,” since mission is all about the purpose for being in business. The intent? Focus on Purpose in planning, decision-making and determining priorities.

Fortunately the process didn’t end with descent from the mountain. Next steps:

  • The draft statements were communicated to the entire organization.
  • The company’s marketing consultants refined the wording.
  • Leaders held meetings with all staff to discuss the relevance to each of them.
  • Posters were prepared with high visibility throughout the facilities.
  • The company values have been built into the core competencies portion of the performance review, highlighting accountability for demonstrating these values.

Following up a few months later, all managers participated in two days of training in Leadership & Self-awareness. This was supported by performance management training, including goal-setting, coaching skills, managing with EI, managing the difficult conversations, time management and meeting management. The underlying theme was reinforcing values and purpose. The rationale is obvious with importance lying in alignment, a common vernacular, and a consistent approach to key aspects of leadership and management.

Will it work? This is a function of leadership and management at all levels, starting at the top and sustaining the focus. The desired outcome? Professional development and growth of leaders and managers and translating the learning into higher levels of performance, productivity and profitability.

The “Right” Organization Structure


Recently, I completed two OD studies. The first was for a not-for-profit; the second, for a well-known sports management enterprise. Both required competitive set benchmarking. The sports management company also wanted to understand the effectiveness of its current structure and the changes needed to position it for future growth.

I’ve learned, after completing many OD projects, especially with small and midsize companies, that organization structures can be made to work by leadership and people. Organizational analysis is therefore a combination of assessing people along with structure. Structures that work at one point in time can become obstacles to effectiveness and growth later on as market conditions change. Individuals who are effective leaders and managers in early stages of growth may not have the vision, strategic thinking and management skills to fulfill their roles at the next stage of a company’s development.

The leader sets the vision, pace and direction for the organization, and fundamentally affects its culture and emotional climate. It’s not unusual to find leaders who run the show with informal or “invisible” structures. These are often built on long-standing relationships with certain members of their team who have gained the leader’s trust and confidence and are known for getting things done. Unfortunately, these structures also develop when leaders are disinclined to address their people management issues because it’s too difficult or unpleasant, or when there’s no immediate successor or quick fix.

In short, arriving at the “right” structure is complex and there’s never an ideal or single solution. Trade-offs abound. However, there are five principles that are critical for an organization to function effectively and efficiently:

  1. Alignment around the organization’s mission and goals
  2. Clear and logical lines of accountability and communication
  3. Manageable spans of control (typically five to seven direct reports depending on the nature of responsibilities)
  4. Departments sensibly grouped around internal and external customer needs
  5. Leadership and management positions filled by competent, qualified people

The first four principles focus on the specific structure (boxes on an organization chart); the fifth focuses on talent management (the people in the boxes). All are inextricably linked to the company’s strategic plan (i.e., where do we want to be in the next three to five years?). The right structure must be scalable without the need for major reorganizations or management reshuffling. The right talent must fulfill the company’s human capital requirements both short- and long-term.

How can we ensure the right people are consistently placed in the right jobs? The answer lies in succession planning. Too often, companies focus on the short term and make the wrong decisions. People who are not ready for the job are promoted. The scope and complexity of the job are neither recognized nor understood or simply overlooked. Insufficient time is taken to craft the ideal candidate profile. As a result, selection becomes a pragmatic choice between availability, familiarity with the department’s work, loyalty to the organization, a promised though unjustified promotion — the list goes on.

A robust succession planning process mandates that an organization:

  • Start with a complete inventory of skills, identifying the gaps
  • Review available talent and bench strength, including HiPos (high potentials)
  • Develop the succession plan
  • Pull together a menu of potential development programs and training activities
  • Prepare IDPs (Individual Development Plans) using performance evaluations and the inventory of skills
  • Obtain budget approval
  • Communicate and execute

It’s an investment that requires the full backing and participation of the leadership team, as well as the funding to make it work. It also requires a commitment to recognize and deal with weak or failing job performance. Doing nothing and hoping things will improve or, alternatively, “juggling the boxes” to move someone out of one job into another seldom works. More important, it sends a negative message to employees that poor performance is acceptable. The more constructive course of action is to coach and train, provided the expectation for a positive outcome is realistic. The alternative is to address the issue with termination or demotion to a more appropriate position, sometimes a welcome relief but which generally doesn’t work.

What’s the bottom line in all of this? It’s the absolute importance of integrating succession planning with the strategic planning process and recognizing the vital role each plays in determining the “right” organization structure.

Leading High-Performing Teams, Part 2 – The EI Component

In my last post, I focused on two out of the three elements that can significantly affect team performance: (1) the leader’s role in motivating the team, and (2) his or her impact on the level of engagement. I’d now like to address the third element: team emotional intelligence. In short, the team leader, regardless of level in the organization, needs to create emotionally intelligent norms, which are the attitudes and behaviors that support building trust, group identity, and group effectiveness.

Creating emotionally intelligent norms means creating a team culture that builds emotional capacity, that is, the ability to respond constructively in emotionally uncomfortable situations. Dr. Daniel Goleman, the preeminent authority on EI states: “social competence is awareness and regulation of others’ emotions.” Teams that develop greater emotional intelligence boost their overall performance.

When team leaders build emotional capacity, team members can express their feelings and others can respond positively. The result is an environment where an emotionally intelligent group engages in healthy conflict and confrontation. Without confrontation, disruptive behavior can fester and erode a sense of trust in a team. Effective team leaders create the psychological safety where members recognize that the climate is safe for addressing issues and the accompanying interpersonal risk-taking.

This is supported by research from MIT and Carnegie Mellon that indicates that effective teams demonstrate EQ to be more important than IQ. As a noteworthy aside, the research also finds that teams that include women have higher levels of collective EQ and are more successful.

Harvard’s Leadership and Team Simulation is built around the concept that members of great teams trust each other and can be completely open. Trust leads to healthy conflict. When team members trust one another, they challenge and question in the spirit of finding the right answer and making the right decisions. This results in commitment and mutual accountability. Team members no longer rely on the team leader but go directly to their peers. They put what’s best for the team ahead of career aspirations or personal status and focus on team results.

And what’s the common denominator driving all these variables? The team leader!

In his Stakeholder Centered Coaching approach for leaders and their teams, Marshall Goldsmith, recognized as the leading coach of Fortune 500 CEOs, advocates creating an environment of trust, healthy conflict, mutual accountability and superior results. As a certified coach of Goldsmith’s program, I have found the process of establishing trust through mutual stakeholder accountability extraordinarily effective.

I hope I’ve given you much to think about. Just remember: select the right leaders and give them the right tools.

Leading High-Performing Teams

Question: What makes two teams in the same organization doing precisely the same kind of work, with the same relative competencies, perform at significantly different levels?

The answer is three-fold:

  1. The leader
  2. The level of engagement
  3. Team emotional intelligence

The second and third elements flow from the first.

The daily work experience of each team member flows from the tasks and activities of the job, the support received from fellow teammates, and his or her feelings of purpose, progress, and personal success that emanate from the team. It is here that the team leader makes the difference, fostering teamwork, collaboration, customer focus, quality, efficiency, creativity and innovation, while demonstrating the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances and requirements.

Effective leadership flows from effective management skills, which start from having the right technical skills and knowledge to train, coach, provide support and guidance, and facilitate productive working relationships with other departments. Building a strong team requires a leader who will invest in professional development and recruit competent talent to fill the gaps or replace those who fail to deliver to the required standards.

Once the climate for initiative, independent thinking (asking why?) and autonomy is established within the team, the leader can delegate and change his or her focus, moving from hands-on decision-making and involvement to being visionary and strategic—inspiring, motivating and creating the environment and culture that lead to successful high-performing and highly engaged teams.

But how does the team leader effectively monitor and ensure high levels of engagement? Marcus Buckingham, in his HBR article on “Top Trends in Talent Management,” notes that most companies with employee engagement programs typically have the survey results go to HR first, then to senior management with analysis, and finally, often much later, down to team leaders. Annual surveys take too long to provide insight into what‘s going on inside each team. Buckingham emphasizes the need to redesign the process to enable engagement indicators to be generated far more frequently to leaders and managers. This requires the availability of online surveys for a rapid read of team and individual engagement.

In my experience, this concept does not conflict with the conventional annual engagement survey. Results can still be tabulated at company-wide level, together with the ability to zero in on trends that have developed during the course of the year.

I’ll discuss the third critical element of high-performing teams, emotional intelligence, in my next blog entry in a few weeks’ time.

Equipping New University Presidents to Lead Effectively in the Developing World

Lessons from the WISE Leadership Conference

Wilfred B. Brewer, President, Performance-Solutions-Group, Inc.
Mahboob Mahmood, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Knowledge Platform

WISE conducts an annual leadership conference in Doha for recently appointed heads of universities—presidents, rectors, vice chancellors—the titles vary from country to country. The 2014 program, conducted in early November, was attended by heads of both public and private universities from 16 countries: Cameroon, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Kenya, Liberia, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Mongolia, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Zimbabwe.

The 2014 program in early November covered institutional and leadership challenges, leadership style, innovation, student employment, fundraising, use of technology, and institutional and personal goal-setting. The program was facilitated by faculty members from Asheshi University, InnoOmnia, Institute of International Education, Palestine Technical University, The Parthenon Group, and the authors of this article, Wil Brewer of Performance-Solutions-Group and Mahboob Mahmood of Knowledge Platform. Despite the differences in mission, size, culture, and funding, we found all the heads of universities faced common challenges in leadership, management, organizational and people issues.

Leadership Readiness

Preparation included a behavioral intelligence assessment conducted by Wil Brewer, President of Performance-Solutions-Group, Inc., consisting of the DISC behavioral profile and an emotional intelligence assessment, measured as EQ (Emotional Quotient). Just prior to the commencement of the leadership conference and continuing during the conference, each participant received one-on-one feedback and coaching from Wil. He addresses both professional and personal issues with emphasis on increasing self-awareness, which helps to prepare participants for an extended session on leadership and self-awareness in the three-day program.

What do we learn from the DISC profiles? Over the past five years, 81 percent of all participants are high on the “Compliance” characteristic with the average at 66.5 on a scale of 1 to 100. Compliance represents attention to detail, inclination to closely follow rules and procedures, focus on facts, precise and meticulous concern for detail. What is the danger? It’s the inability to extricate from the details, to be strategic, and to look at the big picture.

This common characteristic is indicative of bright and often brilliant people, with careers as lecturers, then professors, almost all with PhDs, who are thrust into positions requiring high capabilities in leadership and management. Many do not have the training, preparation, or tools required to be effective heads of higher education institutions. There are some obvious exceptions—the few with business backgrounds, management training, etc. So from heading a department or faculty, they now have to “herd cats,” with many direct reports from multiple functional areas—academic affairs, admissions, student affairs, facilities, finance, HR, IT, legal, PR, etc. This is accompanied by accountability to multiple stakeholders.

There is also the additional primary leadership role of developing the institution’s vision together with long-term strategic planning. This requires plotting the roadmap to answer the question: “What do we want the institution to look like in five years’ time and how do we get there?” Many corporations fail to do this effectively, yet a newly appointed university head is meant to step up and take responsibility for leading into the future.

Strategic Challenges and Priorities

Mahboob Mahmood, CEO of Knowledge Platform, conducted a mini-survey during the 2014 program to address these strategic issues. Participants were asked to rank thirteen major strategic challenges typically faced by educational institutions in order of significance. We received seven responses from representatives of public sector institutions and seven from private sector institutions.



  • For both public sector and private sector institutions, funding (including student enrollment fees) was the most significant challenge, with 16 percent of all ranking scores considerably higher than research and quality of teachers, which jointly took second place at 10 percent.
  • The two student-oriented challenges, student job placement and student quality, were among the lowest ranked challenges, with both public sector and private sector institutions exhibiting almost equally low concern.
  • More inward-facing, institution-strengthening challenges—research, teacher quality, utilization of technology, governance and curriculum quality—ranked high.
  • In contrast, the four lowest rankings were accorded to market-facing challenges, starting with lowest:
    • Forging partnerships
    • Developing flexible learning formats
    • Improving student quality
    • Enhancing student job placement
  • The challenges of driving innovation and managing change occupied the intermediate band of concerns. When coupling these two concerns with utilizing technology, which featured higher in the ranking of challenges, one may conclude that both public- and private-sector institutions recognized the importance of innovation and change but did not give the same weight to market-linked challenges and solutions.


The leadership awareness and strategic challenges segments of the program clearly indicated overlapping issues facing leaders of universities across the world. The following steps would contribute to addressing these issues:

  • Newly appointed presidents require support in the form of coaching or mentoring to provide guidance through the initial challenges.
  • Boards of trustees, directors, or governors need to better prepare for their governance and strategic roles to be able to provide better guidance and direction.
  • Leadership teams require training in leadership and management skills to more effectively support the head of their institutions.
  • Major strategic issues are not getting sufficient priority due to lack of preparedness and recognition of priorities on the part of newly appointed presidents.
  • Greater attention needs to be given to developing effective succession plans in university institutions, accompanied by appropriate professional development, to prepare potential presidents for their future roles.
  • There is a general recognition of the importance of bringing about change in university cultures. This includes enhancing teacher quality and utilizing information technology, but there remains a lack of clarity on how to bring about this change.
  • Greater emphasis needs to be given to financial self-reliance.
  • Greater priority needs to be given to addressing student-centric challenges, such as jobs placement and improvement of student ‘on-boarding’ programs and strategies for effective linkages with the private sector.

Far-sighted and effective university leaders can play a positive role in an age of profound change. Many of the leaders of today’s universities are ready to embrace this change. With more support, networking, and conferences such as the WISE leadership program, significant steps will be taken in supporting their transformational journeys.

A Briefing Paper from the Institute of International Education (IIE)
March 2015