On This Page
Do you ever wonder, when a company makes a major change, who is behind this change? When the business climate changes, who gets to work immediately to adapt a company to the changing environment? This is the work of executive leadership.
Executive Leadership involves guiding the organisation’s decision-making processes and ensuring that both the journey and destination align with success. The leaders, like captains at a ship’s wheel, perform a vital role in managing the direction of an organisation.
In this blog, let’s break down the basics of what is executive leadership, exploring the jobs they do, the teams they form, and the qualities that make them great.
What Is Executive Leadership?
Executive leadership refers to the top-level management in a company, and it often comprises individuals belonging to the C-Suite, such as CEO (Chief Executive Officer), CFO (Chief Financial Officer), and COO (Chief Operating Officer). These leaders undertake responsibility for making high-stakes decisions, setting the company’s overall direction, and ensuring that each team member is working towards common objectives.
In simpler terms, executive leadership is a form of organisational leadership that operates at a higher level in the organisation. Executive leadership is the backbone of any organisation. An ineffective leadership at the top can lead to the downfall of a company. According to Gallup, one in two employees quit their jobs due to ineffective leadership and around 70% are thinking or looking for a new job. On the contrary, effective leadership results in 21% more profitability.
Now, executive leadership does not work at an individual level, but it is a team of experienced professionals. Let’s understand what this team comprises.
What Is Executive Leadership Team?
An executive leadership team (ELT) is a group of senior executives within an organisation who are responsible for making strategic decisions and guiding the overall direction of the company. The composition of an executive leadership team may vary depending on the organisation’s size, industry, and structure, but it typically includes vital leaders such as the CEO, CFO, COO, and other top executives. In one way, it can be said that leaders belonging to the C-Suite and different top executive roles are part of the ELT.
The ELT works together to address challenges, capitalise on opportunities, and ensure that the company operates efficiently and in line with its strategic priorities. They shoulder diverse responsibilities, including financial decision-making, budget management, and establishing and implementing both short and long-term goals.
Let’s dive deeper into these responsibilities of an effective executive leadership team.
Roles And Responsibilities Of The Executive Leadership Team
The Executive Leadership Team is primarily responsible for steering a company in the right direction, using a combination of the famous “people, process, tools” or PPT model. It is commonly known as the Golden Triangle framework, and its strength lies in recognising the interconnectedness of these three components. The main concept is finding the balance of each element to create a strong foundation for organisational transformation.
According to the PPT model, the role of executive leaders is to bring all team members (people) together, create efficient processes for them to follow, and provide them with the necessary tools and technology.
Using this model, the Executive Leadership team performs the following responsibilities:
1. Setting Vision and Strategy
Executive leaders undertake responsibility for defining the long-term vision and strategic goals of an organisation. They should be clear in understanding the industry, market trends, and a company’s strengths and weaknesses to develop a vision that aligns with the overall mission.
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., is a notable example. Jobs had a vision of a future where technology seamlessly integrated into our everyday lives. Under his leadership, Apple introduced innovative products, from the iPod to the iPhone and iPad. These products were not just technological advancements, but they had such a user-friendly design and high productivity that they became part of everyone’s daily life worldwide. Steve Jobs’ iconic iPhone launch is the epitome of the realisation of his vision.
2. Identifying and Growing Talent
Executive leaders are tasked with building and developing a high-performing team. This involves identifying individuals with the right skills and potential, providing opportunities for professional growth, and fostering continuous learning and development.
Let’s understand the role of an executive leader in identifying and growing talents through the example of Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. Sheryl is recognised for her talent management skills. When she joined Facebook as COO, the company was still growing, and the team was not completely developed. Sheryl encouraged the formation of “Lean In Circles” both within and outside of Facebook. These circles are small groups where individuals come together for mentorship, support, and professional development. The goal is to create a community that fosters growth and empowerment. She even founded her non-profit organisation called LeanIn.Org to offer mentorship and support.
3. Building The Company Culture
Executive leaders shape the organisation’s culture, influencing values, norms, and ethical behaviour. A strong company culture fosters employee engagement, teamwork, and a shared sense of purpose, contributing to overall organisational success.
Tony Hsieh, the late CEO of Zappos, was known for his commitment to building a unique and positive company culture. His focus on creating a workplace where employees felt empowered and valued, placing a strong emphasis on customer service and company values, made Zappos synonymous with a vibrant and customer-centric culture under his leadership.
If you take a broad perspective of these functions, you will realise that the working of an entire organisation rests on these three responsibilities. In the next section, let’s get into the details of these traits or qualities of an effective executive leadership.
8 Qualities of Effective Executive Leadership
We will explore eight essential qualities of effective executive leadership here and also provide tips for inculcating these qualities in yourself.
1. Effective Communication
The skill of effective communication is essential for a leader to clearly convey ideas, expectations, and goals. An effective executive leader needs to be able to articulate thoughts, actively listen, and adapt communication styles to suit different audiences. Clear communication fosters understanding, reduces misunderstandings, and promotes a positive and productive work environment.
2. Self Confidence
Self-confidence is the belief in one’s own abilities and decisions. A confident leader inspires trust among team members and stakeholders. Confidence helps leaders make tough decisions, take risks, and navigate challenges with resilience. However, balancing confidence with humility is essential to maintain credibility and approachability.
3. Efficient Delegation
Delegative leadership involves entrusting tasks and determining responsibility for capable team members. A good executive leader recognises the strengths of their team and empowers individuals to contribute through their expertise. Delegating fosters a sense of ownership, develops team members’ skills, and allows the leader to focus on strategic aspects of leadership.
4. Team Accountability
Accountability involves taking responsibility for one’s actions and decisions. A good executive leader holds themselves and their team members accountable for performance and outcomes. This fosters a culture of responsibility, learning from mistakes, and continuous improvement. Leaders who model accountability inspire trust and integrity within the organisation. To develop accountability in your team, clearly define roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations.
5. Risk-Taking Ability
Successful executive leaders understand the importance of calculated risk-taking. They are willing to step outside their comfort zones, make bold decisions, and embrace innovation. However, effective risk management is the key; leaders need to evaluate potential outcomes, consider alternatives, and be prepared to adapt their strategies based on feedback and results.
6. Transparent Operations
Transparency involves openness and honesty in day-to-day operations. An effective executive leader shares information about organisational goals, challenges, and decision-making processes. They build trust and loyalty, as employees feel informed and included. Transparency also facilitates a more cohesive work environment. Encourage an open-door policy, making yourself accessible for questions and concerns. Use a combination of formal and informal communication channels to reach different audiences.
7. Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is the ability to analyse situations, assess information, and make informed decisions. A good executive leader employs critical thinking to evaluate complex problems, consider multiple perspectives, and arrive at well-informed solutions. Critical thinking skills are essential for effective problem-solving and strategic planning.
8. Collaborative Effort
Collaboration is the ability to work effectively with others to achieve common goals. An effective executive leader fosters a collaborative culture by promoting teamwork, encouraging open communication, and recognising the value of diverse perspectives. Collaboration enhances creativity, problem-solving, and overall organisational performance.
A list of qualities alone is not enough to become an excellent executive leader. So, let’s look at some actionable steps and frameworks you can implement in real life.
5 Frameworks To Become A Great Executive Leader
There are several universally recognised frameworks that can help you elevate yourself from just an executive leader to an effective executive leader.
Let’s look at some of the frameworks here.
1. The P-A-M Framework of Effective Communication
The P-A-M framework helps you to inculcate effective communication skills. You can implement this framework in your daily operations and meetings with team members and upskill yourself.
PAM stands for Purpose, Audience and Message. The Purpose is the reason behind the communication. It answers the question, “What do I want to achieve through my message?” The Audience refers to the group or individual for whom the message is intended. It answers the question, “Who am I communicating with?”. Lastly, the Message is the content or information being communicated. It answers the question, “What am I trying to convey?”
2. The Three Pillars Of Self-confidence
To work on your self-confidence, build on these three pillars – Self-awareness, Self-trust, and Self-expression. Self-awareness can be gained by doing a SWOT analysis of yourself. Identify the skills that set you apart from others, areas you need to improve, opportunities around you that you can take advantage of and finally, the external factors that could cause trouble.
Self-trust is gained by achieving goals. Imagine yourself as a Sales Executive, and your target is to sell 200 products in a year. You break it down to 16 sales per month and further to 1 sale in 2 days, which sounds achievable. Even if you achieve your first sale in 3 days instead of 2, it will build your self-trust and confidence.
Self-expression means the ability to express your opinions and thoughts without hesitation. Now, let’s say you have to address a crowd of 300 listeners and introduce your product to them. First, picture yourself doing it successfully and how you would feel once it is done. Then, encourage yourself through positive self-talk.
3. The Four Quadrants Of Delegation
To keep your delegation efficient, follow a 2-step framework – Task Importance/Urgency and Individual Readiness.
Imagine four quadrants (refer to the figure above). (Q1): Less important/urgent tasks and low intent of an individual to work on them. In such cases, delegate the task but monitor the performance. (Q2): Less important/urgent tasks and high intent to work. In such cases, delegate the task and let the individual make decisions without much supervision.
(Q3): Highly important/urgent task and high intent to work. In this situation, delegate the task with proper guidelines and deadlines and monitor the performance. The last quadrant (Q4) is for highly important/urgent tasks and low willingness to work. In these cases, do not delegate the task since, due to low willingness, the work quality might be affected.
4. The 5-Step Framework Of Risk Management
To imbibe the ability to take calculated risks, follow the 5-step risk management framework. Here’s a breakdown of the same.
Risk Identification: Brainstorm ideas, review documentation, conduct interviews, and analyse historical data. This will help to create a comprehensive list of identified risks along with their descriptions, potential impacts, and likelihood of occurrence.
Risk Measurement: Assign qualitative or quantitative values to risks, considering their potential consequences and the probability of occurrence. Based on it, create a matrix indicating high, medium, and low-risk categories.
Risk Mitigation: Formulate a plan outlining specific actions and measures to be taken to mitigate or manage each identified risk. Mitigation may include reduction, transfer of risk or acceptance of risk.
Risk Reporting: Regularly update stakeholders on the status of identified risks, changes in the risk landscape, and the progress of risk mitigation activities.
Risk Governance: Define roles and responsibilities for individuals involved in risk management, establish policies and procedures, and ensure that risk management is integrated into the organisation’s overall governance structure.
5. The Paul-Elder Model Of Critical Thinking
This model has three elements. The Element of Thought or reasoning ability which comes from Intellectual Standards like logic, clarity and accuracy. When intellectual standards are used to form thoughts, these two elements give rise to the third one, i.e., Intellectual Traits such as confidence, empathy and persuasiveness.
Let’s understand this better with an illustration. Consider you have to conduct a learning workshop for your tech team, and you have to inspire them to create a new AI. Firstly, you have to think if the new AI is essential for the company, whether it will add to the efficiency of the team, and whether this is the most effective solution to the problem we are trying to solve. Now, to answer these questions, you have to research and find accurate data and more clarity. Once you have clarity on your thinking points, you can present your ideas with confidence and persuasiveness.
After looking at what executive leadership is, and the responsibilities and qualities of executive leadership in such detail, it is clear that these are the people who take charge of the company. A wrong executive leadership team can even lead the organisation to its bankruptcy. Hence, understanding the significance of this role, it becomes imperative to carefully select individuals with the right skill set, experience, and mindset to steer the organisation to its growth.
Executive leadership is not a one-size-fits-all concept; different situations and organisations may demand distinct leadership qualities. While some leaders excel in fostering innovation and adapting to change such as Elon Musk, others may thrive in stability and process optimisation, like Indra Nooyi. So, the organisation has to select those leaders whose qualities align with the company’s values, vision and goals.
On this note, let’s leave you with a little food for thought from the great influencer and author Robin Sharma, “Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence, and inspiration.”.