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GROW FASTER & STRONGER WITH THE GUIDANCE OF AN EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP COUNCIL
TO DEVELOPING FORMAL LEADERSHIP COUNCILS
How We Deliver This Service
Our approach to delivering this service typically involves two core steps: formation and operation.
Leadership Council Formation
The formation of your leadership council represents an existential tipping point in the life and direction of your business. This moment is an acknowledgment on the part of principals and stakeholders that they are willing to share responsibility. It is also an acknowledgment of the ancient African proverb that states—if you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.
When stakeholders form a leadership council, they are sending a message that they want to go far and they want to do it with others. This is a formal way of expressing confidence in the future of the business, the equivalent of saying “I think we have a long-term opportunity here and I want to realize this opportunity with a team of people I trust, admire and enjoy being around.”
The formation of the council requires a few very careful considerations and decisions from stakeholders:
- Who will be on this council and how do you decide that?
- What do you expect of council members?
- What are the responsibilities of council members?
- Why should someone say yes to being on the council?
Our first step in forming a leadership council is to get clarity with stakeholders about their why—why are they forming this council? What do you want the council to do for your firm? How will your organization be better off, after say a year or so, from having formed this council? What are the tell-tale signs that the council is working?
Our second step is to help stakeholders select team members to be invited onto the council. To do this, we deliver a set of criteria that, in our experience, lends to the most dynamic and effective type of council. The best councils are comprised of people who have already demonstrated that they are:
- A company advocate. They have usually been with the company a while and have experienced up and down cycles in the business. They have proven themselves to be steadfast and an advocate of the success of the business, not just their personal outcomes.
- Vocal. Council members are consistently called upon to deliver their judgment.
- A good teammate. Council members may or may not be department heads. But they must have demonstrated a willingness to play like a team.
- Knowledgeable about the business. Council members must know the business, the players, the competitive landscape and have some command of the wider industry. They need not be an industry expert.
- Persons of influence. The best council members are already leveraging their personal influence in ways that help the business and provide clarity to teammates.
- Willing to make a one-year commitment. Our experience suggests that most councils cannot achieve success in less than one year.
Our third step is to help stakeholders invite the selected team members onto the council. This is a crucial moment in the formation of the council because it sets the tone for all that will follow. Usually we recommend that stakeholders:
- Draft a formal letter outlining the responsibilities, meeting cadence and operational considerations for those who will be invited. This ensures they know what they are signing on for and can make the time commitments that will be necessary.
- Clearly state the mission of the council. This way people know why the council exists and can evaluate that mission compared to their individual career goals.
- Make a personal invitation first. We advise stakeholders to have in-person or video-based conversations with potential council members so they can ask clarifying questions. The formal letter usually follows the personal invitation.
- Limit the decision time. Most people who are invited onto council accept the offer right away. But for stragglers, it is a good idea to require a decision within 2 weeks, at most.
- Announce the formation of the council and its members to the broader organization. Leadership councils are not shadow organizations. They operate out in the open and make transparency a hallmark of their leadership. We recommend that everyone in the company should know, as soon as possible, about the responsibilities of the council and who’s on the council.
Here are some ideas we’ve found to be very helpful in forming leadership councils:
- They work best when they are limited to a handful of people—usually 5-7 people. This gives everyone an opportunity to talk.
- Council members are usually not paid extra for being on the council. It is a privilege to shape the future of the business. Council members are seen internally as the movers and shakers in the business, the people of great influence.
- Council membership is a privilege, far more so than an obligation.
Leadership Council Operations
Once a leadership council is formed, formal operations begin. While there can be some degree of difference between one organization and the next, we’ve found that this type of cadence often works best:
- Quarterly offsite sessions. Most of the actual work of the council happens in these offsite meetings. These short and intensive sessions produce real break throughs for clients. This is where a lose association of individuals begin to think and act like a powerful and effective leadership team.
- Monthly meetings. These are often short meetings, usually one to two hours at most.
- Ad hoc meetings. These take place as necessary to identify and address specific issues that pop up in real time.
While this forms the substance of the meeting cadence, here are the focus points of council operations.
- Priority setting. One of the responsibilities of the leadership council is to determine what is most important right now and how it will be achieved. The council establishes priorities for the business. It also differentiates between strategic objectives and tactical operations. Strategic objectives are usually game-changing strategies that will accelerate a business forward. Tactical operations are about the day-to-day work that is required to keep the wheels on the bus.
- Collective objectives. Once strategic objectives have been defined, the council will identify which of these will be translated into collective objectives—that is objectives that council members will work on together, collectively as a team, to achieve. This represents a superior approach to traditional annual strategic planning.
- Monthly operating metrics. During the monthly meetings, the leadership council completes a scorecard for the business based on up to 7 standard operating metrics. This is where the judgment and sentiment of council members comes to bear. This is why they need a circle of 7. They will be reporting on the sentiment of their circle of 7 to suggest a grade—usually green, yellow or red—for each monthly operating metric.
- Problem identification. Council members recognize and elevate problems within the business to the entire council as quickly as possible. Then the tender their judgment about the best way to address those problems so they are resolved quickly.
- Respect. Council members have a vote and exercise their judgment and recommendations to stakeholders. But they also respect the territory that uniquely belongs to the stakeholder. Council members recognize that it’s still the stakeholder’s butt on the line when it comes to ultimate outcomes for the business. That means they respect whatever final decisions stakeholders make and throw their weight and influence behind those decisions once they are made.