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By Monica E. Oss

My briefing last week on using feedback to improve your leadership skills, Using Feedback To Build Your Leadership IQ, brought some great comments from our readers—and my own team. I think I hit a nerve asking about whether the leadership of health and human service organizations are ready for the market transitions that lie ahead.

My colleague Richard Maye posed the four key questions that he thinks every board of directors needs to ask about their chief executive officer (CEO):

  1. Is the leader “brave” (confident) enough to ask those tough questions?
  2. Do members of the organization feel safe (comfortable) to give their honest opinions?
  3. Does the leader think that they already know the answers—and therefore there is no need to ask?
  4. Will the leader actually make the needed changes? Or blow off the feedback?
Stacy DiStefano

The reality of the CEO role is that, to use an old adage, “it is lonely at the top.” The isolation often makes it difficult for the CEO get the feedback (or push back) needed to explore their own capabilities and adjust as the market changes. But what to do when the “fit” is not optimal is a question for both boards of directors and CEOs. Many boards I’ve worked with don’t know if their CEO has the “go forward” skills they need. Or they avoid the issue because the thought of replacing the CEO is too overwhelming.

This challenge also goes beyond the CEO. It is often difficult for CEOs to assess the competencies, collectively, of their executive team. Or as OPEN MINDS Chief Operating Officer Stacy DiStefano put it, “The people you need may not necessarily be the people you have.” She spoke to the issue of CEOs reviewing the skills of their team—changing reimbursement, competition, and technology have changed the needed competencies for executive team members (see What Does The “Right” Executive Look Like? and What To Look For In A C-Suite Executive – Teamwork).

Paul Neitman

My colleague Paul Neitman, OPEN MINDS Senior Associate, agreed with that idea. He wrote:

I see the current generation, particularly non-profit health and human service organizations leadership, as often closed to outside feedback. The management structures that are in place inhibit feedback and communication. The number one complaint I hear and see from line and professional staff is the disconnect they feel between executive/senior leadership—and from their work and the needs of consumers. They seem ill prepared for the change that is already upon them. It is a benign neglect by executive leadership. There is a fear of what feedback will uncover, and the need to change their organization by making difficult decisions. The result is that the organization becomes frozen in time.

My experience tells me that if you are open and honest with staff on an ongoing basis, they are more than willing to move with required change. I am a strong believer in teams and the executive leadership responsibility to continue to develop individual members, and the team as a whole. This includes creating an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and respect. There is a management adage I subscribe to—”weak leaders create weak teams.

For the CEO, the best case is hiring the right people from the start for every executive team position. But that is rarely the reality. CEOs often inherit their executive teams—or experience the organization and the market “outgrowing” some executive team members. And, as one CEO told me recently, “We can’t afford to recruit outside for managers—we don’t pay enough. We have to grow our own.”

Whatever the situation, CEOs need to “grow” their executive team to be and remain effective. This means assembling a team that is the right mix of people and personalities, and is willing to communicate—and then makes sure they have the right market intelligence IQ, understand strategy, and can thrive in a metrics-based environment (see Fitting Management Team Development Into Your “Real Work” and Competencies Without Culture A Fast Track To Failure).

Annie Medina

Put simply, an effective CEO has to have an effective team—but “effective” is not a static condition. Unless you have a way to develop team members and keep them up to speed, those team members run the same risk as your service lines—they become outdated. Or, as OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Annie Medina noted, executive teams need feedback and coaching to evolve, and improve, their performance as leaders. She explained that it is especially important to be open to feedback and to find ways to effectively acknowledge and address that feedback; she explains:

Everyone has something they need to work on. As a leader, you have to be prepared to offer coaching to your staff after they’ve received feedback. The changing workforce is looking for regular feedback and growth—especially the staff that fits into the Millennial generation (see 4 Ways To Retain & Grow Millennial Employees and The Keys To Growing Millennial Leaders). If you’ve developed a system to collect and give feedback, that’s great. Just don’t assume that your team is going to know what to do with the feedback. Instead, plan for feedback to be a jumping off point to cultivate a strong team and new leadership. If coaching isn’t your strength, then be sure that you have someone on your team who does have that strength, and use them.

George Braunstein

The best practice for executive teams is to constantly assess, develop, and restructure the roles of team members. The key is to build a team that not only accepts the process of feedback and coaching, but also learns to rely on it for continued career development. As my colleague OPEN MINDS Senior Associate George Braunstein noted, “When I was a CEO, I found that this was a lot like building a plane while flying it.”

For more on coaching, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:

  1. The Two-Way Street of Coaching
  2. Are You ‘Coachable’?
  3. Communicate Like A Leader
  4. Is Your Team the Right Team?
  5. For A Team Effort, First You Need The Team

And for even more, join me on September 19 at The 2018 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat for the session, “Changing Executive Team Roles: New Executive Competencies For A New Market”, featuring John F. Talbot, Ph.D., Chief Strategy Officer, Jefferson Center for Mental Health, and OPEN MINDS Advisory Board Member; and Linda Timmons, President & Chief Executive Officer, Mosaic.

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