Senior Leadership Teams Book Review: Strategies for Leading Senior Teams

This blog is the second in a two-part series summarizing the book: Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes to Make Them Great. It focuses on the specific characteristics of leaders in supporting senior leadership teams.

My observation is that the team leader exerts an enormous impact on how a team functions. While a variety of personalities or styles can work well with with teams, leaders should know that what they do and how they do it affects their team greatly.

Four Attributes Leaders Need to Create Great Teams

In addition to the “essential” and “enabling” conditions outlined in the previous blog about conditions for thriving teams, the book describes four competencies leaders need to orchestrate effective leadership teams. These are:

  1. Organizational acuity: The ability to quickly grasp how the organization and its leadership operate and prioritize the most urgent issues to resolve;
  2. Conceptual skill: The ability to synthesize complex information into an easily understood framework, including a solid understanding of what the leadership team is about;
  3. Ability to decide and take a decision at the “right” time in spite of uncertainty (by neither moving too quickly nor waiting too long to decide); and
  4. Political skill: Building an alliance of support as well as proactively aligning interests of powerful stakeholders and others whose cooperation is needed.

Four Attributes Leaders Need for Hands-on Team Leadership

To help leadership teams thrive, leaders also should have these competencies:

  1. The ability to monitor team dynamics, such as observing and interpreting what is really happening on the ground (ideally supported by a trusted observer who’s in a position to observe, internal/external consultants or through the use of structured tools).
  2. A high degree of empathy to navigate problems that may threaten the leadership team’s main purpose, including addressing collective failure or sustained underperformance by a team member.
  3. The ability to inspire – based on your own skills and approach – is also key in helping spark a shared passion for the organization’s mission.
  4. Competent coaching skills are also imperative for ensuring constructive norms, meaningful discussions, and fostering a learning culture on the team. The authors advise developing coaching skills through working on asking good, reflective questions (e.g. “What does the team see as its strengths and weaknesses?” and “What should we do differently next time?”).

General Strategies for Improving Competencies

Given that we do not master skills through reading or listening to lectures but through applied practice, feedback, and reiteration, the authors offer three general approaches for strengthening the attributes outlined above:

  1. Find personal coaching to help develop your specific competencies (with a particular focus clarifying strengths and learning opportunities).
  2. Rely on other team members to help provide specific competencies (especially those that are personal points of weakness).
  3. Learn from experimentation and experience (learning from failure provides the best opportunities to learn) with a good dose of emotional maturity to weather the anxieties that addressing failures may produce in order to establish a solid foundation for learning and growth.


For more on being an effective executive, see this article by Peter Drucker: What Makes an Effective Executive.