Is your leadership team a problem?

Management is a contact sport and your leadership team may actually be creating more problems than it's fixing. Using a recent example, executive and leadership coach John M McKee explains why.

 "I guess I just don't understand him. Most of us went into the last meeting to resolve an issue that's been holding the company back for months. But not him. He stuck firmly to his old beliefs and started bringing up hassles I'd thought we dealt with long ago. He derailed the entire meeting. I'm not sure we'll ever get moving forward as long as he's in his current role..."

HR leader for a large broadcasting company, the speaker was telling me why I'd been invited to their office.  The individual she spoke about is an executive who creates a lot of friction at their company. Although the guy's results were solid, his management style was making a lot of people, especially his boss, crazy. My task was to help this exec to change his style and become more collegial with peers. The HR lead, and the company president, both believed that he was smart, could provide ideas, and may help fix ongoing issues in other areas beyond his own. But only if he'd make some changes to his approach. If not, they'd probably let him go.

So my new client was a solid performer, who was achieving his goals and objectives, and in danger of being fired because of his style.

I met with him a few days later. He told me the company wasn't doing well and that key performance measurements were being missed in most areas, except his. In his mind, he was saving the company from going down the tubes while his peers were fiddling as Rome burned. He was surprised and angry that his boss felt that he was the one in need of executive coaching. "I'm the problem around here?" he asked, surprised.

Question: How could this organization get to a place where the single key leader who is "delivering the goods" is in danger of getting tanked, while others, who are under-performing, are on the boss's good children list?

I don't think their situation is very unique. Leadership team dysfunction occurs frequently. It's almost everywhere.

The climate of an organization often starts in the leadership team's meetings. If there's a cordial and respectful tone in that environment, it will often carry through the day-to-day interactions. However, many such meetings do not have that tone. Consequently, they are rarely examples of how tight groups should work toward a common purpose.

Here are some common reasons why these meetings fail to achieve that:

1. Lack of common goals — If one's compensation is tied entirely to his or her specific results, it's less likely they'll be very motivated to spend time on other departments' issues. Like my new client, "winners" may come to believe they're bulletproof and behave badly. 2. Favorite child(ren) -- Some people seem to get away with murder in these meetings. Others get busted for misdemeanors. While this may be human nature at play, there's simply no place for favorites in a business setting. The leadership team's focus should be results first and foremost. But the "favorites" can manipulate the direction of meetings while the boss unwittingly goes along with it. This angers and disappoints those who are trying to act more professionally. It erodes team feeling, creating one of "me versus them." 3. Psychological disorders — Pathology exists everywhere. Corporations seem to attract more than their fair share, especially psychopaths and narcissists. These types care little about the common good. They are motivated first and foremost by their own status, rewards, and recognition; often seeing others' failures as being good for their own progress. The boss needs to make it very clear what will and will not be tolerated, regardless of individual performance achievement. By the way, this should be the case outside of meetings as well. 4. No "5 Second Rule" -- Watching leadership teams in action, it's often clear that many players are not even listening to the others. Some may give the appearance of paying attention, but often they're just getting ready to make their own case. In this group dynamic I recommend the leader impose a rule that there must be at least five seconds before anyone can respond to another's comments. Less friction and cooler heads result.

Consider banning the word "but." Hassles are often created when one person starts his/her response with that word. On the other hand, starting a reply with the word "and" makes for building as opposed to tearing down.

5. Each meeting is a new adventure — Most leadership team meetings don't adhere to basic common-sense rules such as have an agenda, allocate time for each topic and adhere to the allocation, don't allow texting or interruptions by outsiders, document the actions to be taken for follow-up, have a note taker who distributes the minutes from the meeting within one day, rotate the chairperson each time. Without this practice, each meeting can take on a life of its own, directed by the dominant players.

Here's to your future.


Leadership Coach


John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

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