Senior Leadership

On This Page

Have you ever seen senior leaders walking to their boardrooms and wondered what happens in these meetings? Have you ever aspired to be in one of those meetings yourself?

Senior leadership appears at the top of the hierarchy of leadership. It is a group of experienced individuals that holds the reins in shaping the future direction of the business. As Warren Bennis puts it, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”.

draft 1 senior leadership google docs

In this article, we will explore the details of senior leadership, their roles and responsibilities in an organisation and the essential skills to become an effective senior leader. We will look further at how senior leadership differs from executive leadership and senior management.

What Is Senior Leadership?

Senior leadership refers to a group of experienced and influential individuals at the top levels of the business organisation who make important decisions and guide the company toward its goals. Being a senior leader is like becoming a manager of managers – one of the most trusted employees of the company.

As rewarding as it sounds, senior leadership also comes with lots of responsibilities. It is more than just making choices. It’s about inspiring and motivating the team, encouraging new ideas, adapting to changes, and being strong in the face of challenges.

It includes senior executives belonging to the C-Suite, such as the CEO (Chief Executive Officer), CFO (Chief Financial Officer), and COO (Chief Operating Officer) and non-executive members like Directors, General Managers, etc. They are part of the senior management and have several middle managers reporting to them.

According to DDI’s survey report of 2023 on leadership quality, it was observed that most successful organisations have an average of 42% more high-quality leaders than their competitors. In fact, such organisations are 3.4 times more likely to be rated the best workplace.

Now that we have understood senior leadership well, one of the questions arises: ‘If people like CEO and COO are part of senior leadership as well as executive leadership, is there a difference between the two?’

What Is The Difference Between Senior Leadership And Executive Leadership?

The terms “senior leadership” and “executive leadership” are often used interchangeably, but they carry key differences that reflect the hierarchy within an organisation. Understanding these distinctions can provide valuable insights into how leadership functions at various levels.

draft 1 senior leadership google docs 1

Here, we’ll dive deeper into the key differences between senior leadership and executive leadership:

1. Scope Of Responsibility

Senior leadership refers specifically to those senior executives at the topmost levels of the business. These leaders are responsible for shaping the overall vision, mission, and strategic direction of the company.

On the other hand, executive leadership, though involved in making crucial decisions, not all organisational leaders necessarily hold senior leadership roles. Executive leadership is more concerned with the day-to-day task management of their specific departments.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, is a senior leader. He is responsible for setting the strategic direction of Apple, and making decisions that impact the business entirely. However, within Apple’s executive leadership team, you have individuals like Angela Ahrendts, who served as Senior Vice President of online retail.

Her focus was related to retail operations rather than the company’s overall strategic direction.

2. Decision-Making Authority

Senior Executives have decision-making authority over the entire organisation, including any subsidiary company or other ventures associated with the parent organisation. Executive leaders have decision-making authority within their specific domains or functional areas. Executive leaders collaborate to ensure alignment with the overall organisational strategy.

As the CEO of Alphabet Inc. (Google’s parent company), Sundar Pichai exemplifies senior leadership with substantial decision-making authority. Pichai’s decisions not only influence Google’s core business but also extend to the diverse range of ventures under Alphabet, including subsidiary companies like Waymo and DeepMind.

On the other hand, Hiroshi Lockheimer is a prominent executive leader at Google, holding the position of Senior Vice President of Platforms & Ecosystems. Lockheimer’s decision-making authority extends to mobile devices and software like Android.

3. Focus on Strategy

Senior leaders are primarily occupied with a strategic view of the organisation rather than getting involved in the execution. They focus on creating and optimising processes to achieve the highest possible efficiency. On the contrary, executive leaders are responsible for translating the overarching strategy into actionable plans.

This involves aligning departmental goals with the broader organisational strategy and ensuring effective execution.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, is a senior executive who focuses on shaping Microsoft’s overall strategy, emphasising cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and other long-term goals. Scott Guthrie, Executive Vice President of the Cloud and AI Group at Microsoft, is an executive leader responsible for implementing Microsoft’s cloud and AI strategy within his specific unit in the business.

In a nutshell, Senior Leadership is associated with the planning and strategising part of the work, while Executive Leadership is related to the execution and implementation of the same.

What Is The Difference Between Senior Leadership And Senior Management?

Senior leadership and senior management are distinct roles within an organisation, each with its own responsibilities.

Here are three points of difference between senior leadership and senior management:

draft 1 senior leadership google docs 2

1. Scope Of Responsibility

Senior leadership is primarily responsible for making high-level decisions that impact the long-term goals and success of the business. Senior executives often engage in activities such as defining the organisation’s mission, establishing core values, and identifying opportunities for growth and innovation.

Senior management, on the other hand, is more involved in the day-to-day operations of the organisation. They play a crucial role in executing the strategies set by their own senior leaders. Senior management is responsible for implementing policies, managing resources, and ensuring the organisation’s operations run efficiently.

2. Style Of Leadership

Senior leaders follow an inspirational style of leadership and motivate teams to align with the organisation’s vision. They lead by example and create a compelling narrative that resonates with their own team members.

Senior management is more involved in directing and controlling the team to achieve specific outcomes. Their style is more conventional in nature, i.e., they make their teams responsible for completing the tasks on time.

3. Impact On Organisation

Senior leaders are change agents who drive organisational transformation. They are responsible for anticipating and adapting to external changes, shaping the company’s response to industry trends, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. Senior leadership focuses on the long-term sustainability and success of the organisation.

Senior management is more concerned with maintaining stability in the short term. Although they implement changes as directed by the senior leaders, their primary focus is on achieving operational stability and efficiency.

When we talk about Senior leadership, we do not mean one individual but an entire team of senior executives working as the senior leadership team. To learn more about the senior leadership team and who comprises this team, move to the next section.

What Is A Senior Leadership Team?

The senior leadership team represents the top-tier individuals in a company, holding crucial roles like Senior Executives, C-Suite Members, Presidents, Vice Presidents, or department heads. The senior leadership team provides structure and a clear chain of command within the company’s hierarchy.

They regularly meet to plan and oversee business operations, drive critical projects, and establish company-wide policies. This team typically includes leaders from various departments like business, finance, and human resources.

These senior executives are often seen as the public face of the organisation. Their responsibilities vary based on their expertise, but common tasks include managing teams, overseeing performance, handling risks, and making important hiring decisions.

Responsible for fostering cohesive teamwork, senior leaders also ensure that individual and departmental efforts are aligned with organisational goals.

Let’s understand how the various responsibilities of the Senior Leadership Team contribute to the success of an organisation.

What Are The Roles And Responsibilities Of The Senior Leadership Team?

The roles and responsibilities of a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) can vary depending on the organisation’s size, industry, and structure. Glassdoor explains that they’re responsible to “steer core initiatives and establish organisation-wide policies and standards. They lead strategic planning and critical decision-making.

draft 1 senior leadership google docs 4

They select and oversee directors and managers. They manage budgets, approve major expenditures, and maintain important strategic partnerships. They may also serve as a public ‘face’ representing the company and making official statements.”

Let’s understand these roles in detail.

1. Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is the compass that guides the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) in charting the course for the organisation’s future. This involves crafting a clear and concise mission statement that provides a sense of direction, outlining the core values and the overarching reason for the organisation’s existence.

Similarly, a well-crafted vision statement serves as an inspiring beacon, motivating the team and stakeholders by articulating a compelling and achievable long-term goal.

The SLT engages in regular reviews of the strategic plan. They assess the effectiveness of ongoing strategies, identify areas for improvement, and adjust the course as needed to respond to changing internal and external factors.

A brilliant example of strategic planning can be seen through the example of Netflix. Netflix’s senior leadership team decided to shift focus from DVDs to streaming services. This decision required evaluating market trends and risks and aligning with the long-term goal of becoming a leading streaming platform.

2. Team Building

Ever wonder what makes you a great leader? The Senior Leadership team knows this and how to identify those with such talents. Ralph Nader observed in his famous quote, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”

The emphasis on team development in the Senior Leadership team goes beyond mere collaboration; it’s about cultivating a culture of excellence, inclusivity, and continuous growth. They promote an environment where open communication becomes a cornerstone of how the team operates.

The SLT invests in training and development programs to enhance the leadership capabilities of its members. Senior executives within the team may engage in mentorship and coaching relationships, providing guidance and support to nurture the leadership potential of emerging leaders.

Spotify is often considered an exemplar of team building. Spotify is known for its “squad” structure, a form of Agile methodology. Teams are organised into small, cross-functional squads to work on specific independent features or projects. This structure encourages autonomy, creativity, and a sense of ownership among team members.

3. Public Representation

Just as a spokesperson represents the values and interests of a nation on the global stage, senior leaders act as the face of their organisation in various public forums. They play a pivotal role in ensuring that the key stakeholders, investors and the media are well-informed about the organisation’s strategies, financial health, and overall performance.

This involves participating in conferences and industry events, undertaking interviews, and engaging actively over social media, where the organisation’s presence is crucial.

As part of Tesla’s SLT, Elon Musk effectively communicates the company’s vision through social media and public appearances. His communication style is known for aligning with Tesla’s mission of accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy. In fact, Musk is believed to have removed Tesla’s PR team and taken the matter into his own hands. In 2020 itself, he posted 3,684 tweets depicting his opinions and interacting with his stakeholders.

4. Resource Allocation

In senior management, resource allocation stands out as a critical function that can significantly impact an organisation’s success. The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) takes on the responsibility of meticulously managing resources to ensure they are utilised optimally and in alignment with the organisation’s strategic priorities.

The budgeting process also involves assessing potential financial risks and implementing measures to mitigate them. This could include setting aside contingency funds for unexpected challenges or identifying areas where cost-saving measures can be implemented without compromising core functions.

Samsung allocates significant resources to Research & Development, fostering innovation in various fields such as consumer electronics, semiconductors, telecommunications, and display technologies.

It strategically spends resources on its market presence globally, allowing it to tap into diverse markets and adapt to regional trends and demands. It further allocates resources to environmental sustainability initiatives, using renewable energy, and implementing eco-friendly practices in product design and manufacturing.

5. Change Management

Change is inevitable, and organisations must adapt to thrive in this changing world. The Senior Leadership Team is pivotal in guiding the organisation through change. This involves spearheading change initiatives and fostering a resilient culture that embraces and adapts to change.

Change initiatives can take various forms, from restructuring and process improvements to adopting new technologies or entering new markets. The senior leaders are responsible for the rationale for change to be communicated transparently to all levels of the organisation. This involves not only the ‘what’ and ‘how’ but also addressing the ‘why’ to build understanding and cooperation.

When it comes to change management, you need to know the story of Mindtree, an IT Service company. In 1999, when India saw its first dot com boom (growth in online IT industries), Mindtree was established to provide IT services related to web designing and software development. In around five months, the IT sector crashed because of the market being over-congested, and Mindtree quickly expanded its product to the engineering business to create an alternate source of revenue.

It further faced challenges during 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, with senior leaders taking salary cuts of 20-25%. Today, Mindtree is a top IT service provider with clients like Microsoft and Southwest Airlines.

6. Establishing Ethics

Ethical leadership serves as the moral compass that guides decision-making and actions within an organisation. The Senior Leadership Team is responsible for establishing ethical principles within the organisation using a model Code of Conduct. The leaders collaborate to define a set of ethical standards that align with the organisation’s values, industry norms, and legal requirements. This code becomes a reference point for employees at all levels, providing clear expectations for their conduct.

The senior leadership team establishes mechanisms for employees to report ethical concerns without fear of retaliation. Encouraging a culture where ethical lapses can be reported and addressed helps maintain organisational integrity.

Johnson & Johnson’s SLT demonstrated ethical leadership during the Tylenol crisis by prioritising public safety over profits. Reports emerged about deaths in Chicago by consuming tampered Tylenol capsules produced by Johnson. They decided to recall all capsules from the market, even though the tampering was limited to a specific batch, setting an ethical standard for crisis management.

7. Regulatory Compliance

Legal and regulatory compliance is the discipline that ensures an organisation operates within the boundaries set by laws and regulations. The legal landscape is dynamic, with regulations evolving over time. The SLT stays informed about relevant laws and regulations applicable to the industry and geographic locations in which the organisation operates.

To mitigate any legal risk, the SLT may develop robust internal reporting mechanisms, thorough documentation, and a strong emphasis on accountability. Sometimes, organisations may engage external legal counsel or compliance experts to stay abreast of regulatory changes and receive specialised guidance.

Let’s see an excellent example of the consequence of non-compliance with proper legal and regulatory frameworks. In 2015, Volkswagen (VW) faced the most important crisis when it was revealed that the company had installed software in its diesel vehicles to manipulate emissions tests.

The senior leadership team, led by then-CEO Martin Winterkorn, issued a public apology acknowledging the wrongdoing. The SLT engaged in negotiations with regulatory bodies and agreed to pay billions of dollars in fines and settlements to address the legal claims.

What Are The Essential Skills Of Senior Leadership?

Senior Leadership is completely useless if you rely only on the title and do not focus on the vital skills needed to make you a senior leader.

draft 1 senior leadership google docs 5

This section will look at the skills that make you an effective senior leader.

1. Effective Communication

Senior leaders need to communicate their vision, goals, and expectations clearly to various stakeholders, including employees, investors, and customers. Effective communication involves not only delivering messages clearly but also actively listening, seeking feedback, and adjusting communication styles to different audiences.

With respect to effective communication, Melanie Whelan, former CEO of SoulCycle, mentioned to the New York Times that “Great leaders are great listeners. You have to ask a lot of questions, and you have to really listen to the answers because in every answer there are at least 3 more questions you want to be asking”.

draft 1 senior leadership google docs 6

Communication can be effective by practising active listening in meetings and one-on-one conversations. Moreover, seeking feedback on your communication style and incorporating that feedback can help regularly improve the skill. Develop and refine your public speaking skills through training or workshops. Remember to use clear and concise language while addressing your team members or other stakeholders, avoiding unnecessary jargon.

Bonus Tip: You can follow the P-A-M framework to inculcate effective communication skills. PAM stands for Purpose, Audience and Message. The purpose is the reason behind the communication; the audience refers to the group or individual for whom the message is intended, and lastly, the message is the content or information being communicated.

2. Positive Collaboration

Collaboration is the ability to work effectively with others toward common goals. Senior leaders must foster a collaborative culture within their teams and across the organisation. This involves encouraging open communication, promoting teamwork, and creating an environment where diverse perspectives are valued. Collaboration also extends to partnerships with external stakeholders and other companies.

To inculcate positive collaboration skills in yourself and your team members, try to encourage cross-functional teams to work together on a project. Further, establish collaboration tools and platforms for seamless communication. Foster a culture of sharing ideas and accepting constructive feedback, even in the senior leadership team.

3. Creative Innovation

Senior leaders need to know how to foster a culture of creativity and innovation to stay competitive in a rapidly changing business landscape. This involves encouraging employees to generate and explore new ideas, providing the resources and support for experimentation, and being open to novel approaches. Creativity and innovation are essential for problem-solving, product development, and overall organisational growth.

To develop innovative thinking and allow yourself to think out of the box, implement brainstorming sessions within the senior leadership team and with other team members. Create a designated time for discussions on new ideas or the development of any new product. Pursue professional development opportunities that foster creativity.

4. Diplomatic Approach

Diplomacy is the art of managing relationships and negotiations tactfully. Senior leaders often deal with diverse stakeholders, both internal and external. Being diplomatic involves handling conflicts gracefully, resolving disputes, and building positive relationships. It also includes the ability to represent the organisation effectively in various settings.

Diplomacy often has a negative connotation wherein you appear manipulative. However, diplomacy is the skill of finding a mutual ground that works for everyone instead of favouring a side. To incorporate diplomacy, approach disagreements as opportunities for constructive dialogue. Seek to understand diverse perspectives to be able to make decisions with empathy and tact.

5. Understand Responsibility

Responsibility and reliability are foundational qualities for senior leaders. They need to take ownership of their decisions and the outcomes of those decisions. Reliability involves consistently delivering on commitments and meeting deadlines. This builds trust among team members and stakeholders and contributes to the leader’s credibility.

You can inculcate responsibility by setting clear expectations for yourself and your team. Further, prioritise tasks in order of their urgency and importance and manage time effectively to meet deadlines. Communicate proactively if there are challenges in meeting commitments, strategise ways to deal with such challenges and take ownership of your mistakes.

6. Effective Delegation

Effective delegation is the ability to assign tasks and responsibilities to the right individuals within the team. Senior leaders need to trust their team members, provide clear instructions, and empower them to take ownership of their roles. Delegating effectively helps in task distribution and fosters professional development within the team.

The most effective delegation is based on the understanding of two things, viz., the importance and nature of the task and the strengths and weaknesses of the delegatee. If you have to delegate a task that is less important and less urgent, you can delegate it to a team member who is not very efficient in that task because it will provide a learning opportunity to that individual. However, tasks which are urgent and most important need to be delegated to someone who has experience in that field of work and is willing to take the responsibility.

7. Strong Self-awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to understand one’s own strengths, weaknesses, values, and emotions. Senior leaders with high self-awareness can make better decisions, manage their emotions effectively, and build stronger relationships. It involves continuous introspection and a willingness to seek feedback for personal and professional growth.

Self-awareness can be gained by doing a SWOT analysis of yourself. Analyse your strengths based on the skills that make you different from others. Realise your weaknesses based on the difficulties you face while working on different tasks and projects. Look for opportunities around you within or beyond the organisation that you can take advantage of to grow yourself. Lastly, conduct a personal risk assessment to understand what external or internal factors may threaten your growth.

8. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise, understand, and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. Senior leaders with high emotional intelligence can navigate interpersonal relationships more effectively, resolve conflicts, and create a positive work environment. This skill is crucial for building trust and fostering a collaborative and inclusive culture.

Develop the skill of empathetic listening by making a conscious effort to understand others’ perspectives. This involves putting aside your own judgments, focusing on the speaker, and acknowledging their emotions. Ask clarifying questions to ensure a thorough understanding of their feelings and concerns. Pay attention to non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. These cues can provide valuable insights into others’ emotions.

By consistently incorporating these elaborated steps into your leadership approach, you can enhance your senior leadership skills and quickly become an effective leader.

Conclusion

Understanding the intricacies of senior leadership is most important for anyone navigating the corporate landscape. By now, you must have understood the importance of senior leadership in any organisation. There is no ounce of doubt that senior leadership is an extremely fancy and inspired position. However, in spite of the attractive nature of the position, it is one of the most overwhelming positions and can frequently result in burnout.

In a survey conducted by DDI World in 2021, nearly 60% of leaders expressed experiencing burnout by the end of each day. In addition to this, the survey also revealed that 44% of leaders who feel overworked plan to transition to a new company as part of their career advancement strategy. To avoid such burnout, try to share the responsibilities – let your team know that sharing is encouraged and does not threaten their jobs. Find ways to learn more about self-care, such as Gallup’s playbook on psychological safety.

Now that you know about the skills senior leaders need and what they do day in and day out, it’s time to enhance your competency and take on new projects. That boardroom is waiting for you!

Avatar photo

By Ashish Agarwal

Ashish is a content writer at Kapable. A dynamic lawyer, experienced educator and content writer, he blends his legal expertise with a flair for storytelling. He has a passion for writing compelling articles and strives to simplify complex concepts, making them accessible to diverse audiences. He is dedicated to writing on contemporary topics and topics related to soft skills development. His articles showcase a deep understanding of the topic and reflect his commitment to fostering intellectual curiosity.

Read Next

Unveiling Product Leadership: The Foundation of Quality Excellence

Did you know that companies with strong product leadership experience 34.2% higher revenue growth? In today's fast-paced business environment, the role of a pro...

Guidance in Leadership: Christian Leadership, Books, and Reflections on the Leadership Challenge

Think about a Pastor at a Church - he has no financial or professional motivation to be a leader. Then, is he a leader? Jesus’ gospel, Matthew, also did not h...

Corporate Leadership Development: Navigating Strategies for Success

Ever wondered why some companies thrive while others struggle? What sets apart the businesses that soar from those that stumble?The answer often lies in one of ...