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Conscious, Connected, Effective: How to Build Great Leadership Teams
Building a Great Leadership Team: Part I
This is part one of a three-part series. You can read parts two and three here:
As a leadership and performance coach to founders and leadership teams, I think a lot about what makes for a great leadership team.
It’s clear why you want your leadership team to be great: Leadership is leverage. When your leadership team is more capable, all of the work done at your company comes into a magical alignment where its impact is multiplied. Being on or led by a great leadership team feels enjoyable and fulfilling.
I’m sure you’ve experienced your fair share of bad leadership teams. In my experience, bad leadership teams have an equally as magical misalignment: everything done seems to contribute to more frustration, tension, and chaos. All effort converges on minimal impact. Being on or led by a bad leadership team feels miserable and frustrating.
This begs a basic question: what are the biggest opportunity areas which, if worked on, reliably create amazing leadership teams?
Simple. Great leadership teams are:
This is part one of a three part series. In it, I’ll define what I mean when I say conscious, connected, and effective, what it looks like to be (or not to be) any combination of those things, and what you can do to create a great leadership team, per this definition, wherever you are.
In part one (this piece), I’ll set the stage and define what I mean when I say conscious, connected, and effective.
In part two, I’ll explore dysfunctional leadership teams. What are the different permutations of unconscious, disconnected, and ineffective leadership teams? With this, you’ll be able to diagnose the state of leadership teams past, present, and future.
In part three, I’ll provide multiple ideas for how to improve consciousness, connectedness, and effectiveness on any team. You’ll walk away understanding how you can help your team improve on any and all of those dimensions, starting that day.
To begin, let me paint a picture of two teams. One conscious, connected, and effective, and the other… well, not.
A Tale of Two Leadership Teams
You arrive to work on Monday morning and pull up your to-do list. You know what you’re supposed to do, but you’re not clear on why it’s important. What’s the bigger goal here? Does it even exist? You find that absent these things, it’s hard to motivate yourself. And why should you? It’s not like anybody’s ever held accountable.
As you dive into work, a sense of loneliness sets in. You regularly get stuck on things that need input from other functional areas, but you’re not sure who to ask and you’re afraid to admit that. Besides, when you do collaborate cross-functionally it never goes well. No one understands anyone else’s function, job, or even who they are as people! Your boss tries to motivate you with the prospect of a big pay raise, but you don’t really care about that. You just want to do cool things and learn.
The afternoon comes around and it’s booked with meetings. Terrible, terrible meetings. They always trigger you. They always trigger everybody! Everyone is reactive, running around without direction, grasping for control, and looking for who to blame. And the blame can’t even be placed logically because clear responsibility never gets agreed upon in the first place!
Because of this, the culture devolves into politics. If the people in power like you it’ll all work out. If they dislike you, well… good luck. Better start polishing your resume and update your LinkedIn.
You’d never share the truth of these frustrations, of course. To share your honest thoughts or feelings would put you at risk. Better to withhold and gossip with a coworker safely behind closed doors.
This is life on and under an unconscious, disconnected, and ineffective leadership team.
This leadership team is actively falling apart. The company’s collective energy is lost en masse to inefficiency, disconnection, drama, and politics. People don’t know what to do, why, or who to do it with. Absent meaningful work, energy gets dedicated to playing politics rather than creating value.
You arrive to work on Monday morning. You have a quick huddle with your team on what you’re trying to achieve this week, why it matters, and how it contributes to the company’s success and mission.
You head to your desk energized. You know what you need to do and that you’re supported in doing it. You spend your morning in deep work. The company blocks off a few mornings a week for it, as research shows that mornings are generally the best time for focused execution. And boy is it fun to execute with this team.
As you work, you occasionally get stuck on things that require input from other people on the team. You immediately know who to go to and how to approach them. Rikki loves execution, so you ask her for help solving a challenging problem. Corey loves being creative, so you ask him for a quick brainstorm. Yash is gearing up for the big promotion, so you explain to him how important this project is and the impact his contribution will have. Your team members do the same for you, and you leave every interaction more energized than you started.
The afternoon comes around and it’s time for some meetings. Every meeting starts with a short red/yellow/green checkin around your current state, and includes sharing any emotions that are present around the meeting topic. The company knows that your current state and emotions impact how you show up, and proactively acknowledges and allows for those. As people feel reactive thoughts or emotions in the meeting, they are encouraged to reveal them. This helps everyone stay on the same page and mitigates politics.
Things do go wrong at the company and people are held accountable, but when they do everyone views it as a chance to take responsibility rather than blame. Postmortems are not framed as “who did what wrong” but “how can each of us take 100% responsibility for what happened here and learn from it?”
This is life on and under a conscious, connected, and effective leadership team.
Energy is focused. Everyone knows their purpose and how they contribute to the company’s goals. People know each other deeply and proactively collaborate. They’re encouraged to own their state and emotions, including when they get triggered. When they do, the team is there to hold space for them.
Sure, there’s still a chance that this leadership team fails. Luck is a factor in every pursuit. The difference is that this leadership team is optimizing for success across every dimension within their control.
This is the difference between conscious, connected, and effective leadership teams, and unconscious, disconnected, and ineffective leadership teams.
Let’s get into the specifics of what I mean when I say conscious, connected, or effective.
Great leadership teams are conscious.
Per the Conscious Leadership Group, to be conscious is to be here, now, in a non-triggered, non-reactive state.
To clarify, I’ll continue with our tale of two teams, this time isolating an unconscious versus conscious team.
Unconscious Leadership Teams
Unconscious leadership teams operate in triggered, reactive states, and are often unaware of it.
Teams that are unconscious live in Drama. Signs of drama and an unconscious leadership team include:
Conversations characterized by blame, of others or self
A team that is overly concerned with politics or being right
The team and individual members struggle to include and work with their emotions
Members of the team withhold their honest thoughts and feedback from each other
Members of the team gossip, saying things about someone that they wouldn’t say to them directly or if they were in the room. Other team members are complicit by listening
The team lacks clear agreements and accountability in important areas
One sign of an unconscious leadership team is that energy is lost to politics and drama.
Conscious Leadership Teams
Conscious leadership teams are present, non-triggered, and non-reactive. When conscious teams become triggered and reactive, they own and reveal it. This enables the team to account for and work with that reality.
Teams that are conscious live in presence and candor. Signs of a conscious leadership team include:
Conversations characterized by taking 100% responsibility
A team that is more concerned with learning than being right
A team that encourages and includes emotions, knowing that they contain intelligence and their suppression wreaks havoc on performance
Team members are honest and practice candor with each other, freely sharing thoughts and feedback
Members of the team are committed to ending gossip and redirect it via candid revealing whenever it arises
The team creates impeccable agreements and holds themselves and each other accountable
Conscious leadership teams breakthrough politics and drama, creating a well spring of additional energy to execute on their mission.
To identify if your team is conscious or unconscious, simply ask: Do we lose meaningful time, energy, and focus to politics and drama?
Great leadership teams are connected.
To be connected is to be communicative and known.
Let’s continue with our two teams…
Disconnected Leadership Teams
Disconnected leadership teams under-communicate and don’t take the time to get to know each other as people.
The result is that disconnected teams live in Disorder. Signs of disorder and a disconnected leadership team include:
A lack of public communication, or communication that only happens on an as-needed or reactive basis. This manifests as people feeling “in the dark” about what’s going on with each other or at the company.
Things are siloed such that different areas of the company are unaware of what the other is doing, resulting in unnecessary coordination challenges.
People don’t know each other deeply and therefore act on wrongful assumptions about what others like to do, are good at, and what motivates them.
People don’t communicate their honest thoughts and feeling and therefore execute half-heartedly because they’re not fully bought in and aligned with what is happening at the company.
A lack of creativity across departments or team members.
People report feeling lonely.
As teams get more disconnected, they often experience conflict when they finally do connect. Miscommunication and wrong assumptions create such misalignment that conflict is inevitable.
Connected Leadership Teams
The dictionary definition of connect is “to join together so as to provide access and communication.”
When I say great leadership teams are connected, I mean exactly that. Great leadership teams have access to all of one another. This means that they:
Freely, openly, and proactively communicate. When connected leadership teams are unclear if they are communicating enough, they air on the side of over-communication.
Create intentional spaces for cross-functional understanding, creativity, and collaboration.
Know each other’s broader personal context: strengths, weaknesses, personal growth focuses, goals and priorities, values, motivations, fears, and trigger points.
Share how what’s happening in their personal lives at the present moment is effecting their performance at work.
Speak up when a relevant thought or feeling comes up that may not be in line with current strategic or tactical direction.
Are intentional about creating spaces to check in.
Connected leadership teams have the competitive advantage of greater knowing, both of each other as individuals and the company as a whole. This greater knowing allows for everything to happen faster and smoother.
To identify if your team is connected or disconnected, simply ask: do we lose time and energy to disorder? To people not knowing what to communicate, who to communicate with, or misfiring when they finally do communicate?
Great leadership teams are effective.
To be effective is to be successful in producing a desired or intended result.
A leadership team needs at least two things to be effective:
A clear and shared understanding of what the team wants and needs to achieve
To make those things happen
I make this explicit because many teams live in a state of purgatory: they sort of know what they need to do and then sort of achieve it, and this sort of state of operation is definitely ineffective.
Ineffective Leadership Teams
Leadership teams that are ineffective experience Failure. Failure can show up in many different ways:
A failure to set clear goals or objectives
A failure to set goals or objectives that are aligned with what the company needs to do to continue operating
A failure to set goals or objectives that are aligned with company’s long-term mission and purpose
A failure to stay focused on goals or objectives
A failure to execute against goals or objectives
A failure to achieve goals or objectives
A failure to address missed goals or objectives
A failure to do all of those things in a sustainable way, instead choosing to operate in a way that gamifies temporary effectiveness at the expense of long-term, sustainable effectiveness
A leadership team may be obviously ineffective, or ineffective with a facade of effectiveness.
An obviously ineffective leadership team is one that simply fails to do. They fail to set goals, focus on them, execute against them, achieve them, or address them. In these cases it’s obvious that the leadership team isn’t doing what needs to be done.
A leadership team with a facade of effectiveness is a more confusing experience for a company. The team likely sets goals, focuses on them, executes against them, and maybe even achieves them, but does so in a way that is misaligned. It may be misaligned with the company’s needs, the company’s mission, or long-term sustainability for the company. In this case the leadership team appears effective, but is ultimately sowing their own demise.
Teams can succeed despite being unconscious and disconnected (at a high personal cost), but ineffective teams ultimately fail or break up.
Effective Leadership Teams
Effective leadership teams experience success! This means that they:
Create clear goals and objectives that align with the company’s needs and greater purpose
Maintain focus on those goals or objectives
Execute toward those goals and objectives
Address when goals or objectives are missed and identify areas for improvement (this may include internal processes that need to be developed or competencies that need to be improved)
Ultimately reach an end state of consistently achieving their goals
Operate in a sustainable way, and are mindful and aware of those periods when they aren’t
Effective leadership teams aren’t perfect. Achieving goals is never entirely within a team’s control. What an effective team does always do is have clear goals and objectives that they execute toward. They track their performance so they can address misses before and after they happen. They regularly evaluate if those goals are aligned with the company’s needs and mission. And they assess if they’re executing in a sustainable way. If they’re not, they check in on why and for how long they can run things unsustainably.
Here lies the art of effective leadership: not just doing what needs to be done, but doing it in alignment with the company’s needs, greater mission, and sustainable trajectory.
Over the long run, being in this process allows a team to consistently identify gaps and improve. This leads to consistent success.
To identify if your team is effective or ineffective, simply ask: Do we have clarity on shared goals that align with the business’s needs and purpose? Do we achieve them? Do we discuss when we don’t?
Tying it all together
Welcome to the world of conscious, connected, and effective leadership.
Next week, I’ll share the many permutations of unconscious, disconnected, and ineffective teams in part II: Drama, Disorder, and Disintegration: The Many Faces of Dysfunctional Leadership Teams.
Consider taking time this week to audit your team. Where do you lie on the spectrum for each? What do you see about your team now that you couldn’t before?
Make sure to save it if you do. It’ll come in handy for part three, when I’ll share ideas for how to improve.
If you’re interested in creating a more conscious, connected, and effective leadership team, I’m here to help.
I support leadership teams in becoming more conscious, connected, and effective through 1-on-1 coaching and facilitating experiential workshops that transform team consciousness, connection, and effectiveness in days instead of quarters.
If you’re interested, reach out.