Let’s get something straight: Being an Executive comes with new responsibilities and commitments. Some may be familiar and others will become obvious in the days, weeks, and months to come. In no time, you will realize the challenge of managing your dual role: You are NOW the most senior representative of your Business unit AND also a new member of the Executive Team. As the most Senior Representation of your Business Unit, you are responsible for ensuring the success of your Business Unit (BU) and the well-being of your employees. You represent its interests and needs. You also defend its budgetary resources and visibility when it comes to talent acquisition. You also bring to your Representative role your membership in other groups. For instance, as an individual, you may find great affinities with one political group over another; you may identify with this gender group; this racial group; this cultural group; this religious group; and so forth. Add to this the fact that you bring to your Representative role your unique worldview that influences how you behave, whether you are mindful of it or not. Then, there is the other side to your Executive role: You are also the Ambassador of your corporation. You are now responsible for ensuring that you contribute equitably to senior executive team meetings. It is incumbent upon you to bring to the executive table, views, ideas, and opinions that lead to the growth of the entire organization. Not just your BU. You are expected to be open-minded and unbiased by your preferences when it comes to decision-making as well as to leave your BU’s interests at the door.
Representative And The Ambassador Role Lie In Conflict With One Another
When you lean more on your Representative Role, you are likely to offend your senior executive colleagues and potentially create the impression that you are immature and not “executive like”. When you lean more on your Ambassador Role, you are likely to offend members of your own BU, and likely be seen as too political. Moreover, when the decisions made by the senior executive team work in favor of your BU, it is easy to demonstrate collaboration. After all, you stand to gain. However, when decisions lead to a depletion of your BU’s resources or when changes in organizational structure do not favor your BU, it is much harder to remain collaborative. This reality, anchored in the everyday life of an Executive, makes it difficult to behave in collaborative ways and to exercise a collaborative mindset. Feeling any other way would not make you human. Then, what is an Executive to do?
Leadership As An Executive
Leadership does not require a title because its definition is related to how you “action” yourself toward others. These “actions” require that you pay attention to others. In line with contemporary thinkers on the topic of leadership, your ability to build and motivate people to bring forth their very best in terms of talent is what defines your success as a leader. And, when your leadership takes place in the context of your role as an Executive, it translates into influencing people to set aside, during decision-making, their personal interests and to work toward the advancement of all. The action of “setting aside your personal interests” does not imply that you ignore, excuse, or deny these. It implies that you notice them. As a senior member of the Executive Team, you represent your BU’s interest. You are responsible for representing its achievements, ways of working together (or not), struggles, failures, and decisions. However, as a leader you are equally responsible for representing these in a manner that creates dialogue and synergies with your colleagues on the Executive Team as opposed to going to battle. In fact, what you aim for as an Executive is to create a common space where leadership is shared.
This means you do not:
- Exert the importance of your BU to over-rule group decisions. Usually this occurs when your BU, for one reason or another, holds most of the resources
- Voice your BU’s struggles, lack of resources, and obstacles as though this is the only BU within the entire organization that everyone must pay attention to.
- Minimize the importance of working toward alignment when it comes to decision-making by demanding that your President take position at the expense of another BU. Alignment does not mean agreement. People are free to disagree, and still align for the well-being of the organization.
What you do instead:
- Acknowledge that your views are relevant: Have the courage to speak openly about your BU’s perspective as a starting point to spring forth a conversation that leads to decisions that take into account the bigger picture (what’s important to the organization).
- Realize that “facts” are themselves a product of group membership: The best use of time is to contribute in developing robust facts as opposed to defending facts when it comes to decision-making. Knowing how to develop facts contributes to effective decisions.
- Open the boundaries among BUs: Encourage conversations that aim for high-quality organizational use of resources and talent, and innovative ideas by working with the tension that may exist between BUs. This asks that everyone allows for the free flow of exchanges within and between BUs.
Senior executive members are expected to function as both Representatives of the groups they belong to as well as Ambassadors of the corporation. Yet, this duality is not without its challenges. For one, executives are expected to set aside the BUs they represent when they sit at the senior executive table. This leads some executives to “hide” their true opinions. This restricts effective decision-making as no one is speaking candidly about the views and opinions that truly matter to the corporation as a whole. Second, when this duality is ignored, communication becomes increasingly distorted. Executives may not feel safe sharing information they have about their BUs for fear that it might be used against them in later decision-making about their careers. The impact of this is growing mistrust within the Senior Executive Team. Increasing the effectiveness of the Senior Executive Team requires solidifying relationships among all members by accepting the dual nature of the Executive role. This means that the inherent conflict is not ignored, but rather used to spur forth helpful conversations at the moment of decision-making. Executives are encouraged to speak from the point of view of their BUs, while colleagues listen, ask questions, and make statements using a coaching and/or mentoring approach. Moreover, executives are expected to build facts together as opposed to defending them. This expectation is best met by agreeing on what body of evidence, information, or data is required to reach a decision, and asking questions that elicit curiosity to solve the problem for the greater good. Finally, executives see value in facilitating access to their teams. This allows for the free flow of information, exchange of novel ideas, and further solidifies partnerships among people that extend way beyond the Senior Executive Team. To learn more on how we help newly appointed Executives as well as Senior Executive Teams manage the duality of roles for the purpose of optimizing corporate effectiveness, click on Leadership Programs and ask us about “Optimizing Team Leadership Through Design” .