Steve Salee is the Founder and CEO of Wildfire Strategies. He loves helping high-stakes teams and leaders work better together.
Being a senior organizational leader is a little like being on the defensive line of a pro football team. Your primary focus is on your own domain (defense, in this case). But you can’t be truly successful if you’re not also aware of and responsive to the needs of the whole team, like being able to pivot from defense to offense if you suddenly need to recover the ball and run it in for a touchdown.
I’ve seen countless examples of leaders who are crystal clear on what success looks like for their own domains, but their priorities get much more complicated when they’re expected to think at an organizational level. My last article showed how to build strong leadership teams at a departmental level, but what happens when the leaders of those teams have to sit at the C-suite table with their peers as part of the organizational leadership team?
Often, organizational leadership teams function as a loose association of silos. At the leadership team table, they’re ostensibly focused on the organization as a whole, but their priorities are driven by their own vertical. Sound familiar? That’s dangerous for both organizational and departmental performance.
There are several benefits to shedding your silo and becoming a focused, collaborative member of your organizational leadership team:
• Shedding silos provides the global perspective necessary for you and your peers to make better decisions for your organization.
• Organizational cultures that originate with a cohesive leadership team, and use shared OKRs and compensation as incentives for collaborative decision-making, are better able to engage one another at the shared table of organization-level awareness and action.
• Since collaborating laterally with peers is something your own team must navigate every day, the insight you gain into that experience will make you a better leader within your own area of responsibility.
• Difficulty objectively hearing ideas that contradict your departmental goals
• Defensiveness about your staff or departmental performance
• Thinking of yourself as the final authority rather than a valued contributor
• Strategic myopia: planning primarily from the vantage point of your own vertical
• Impatience with other people’s priorities
If any of these sound familiar, you’re still wearing your silo. Now, let’s get you out of the echo chamber and changed into your enterprise leadership team jersey.
• Name your shared purpose, together: Why does this organization’s success matter to you? Why does being on this leadership team matter to you?
• Define your organizational goals together: How do they benefit each level of the overall system (individuals, departments and the organization as a whole)?
• To help one another reach these goals, think holistically: Frame each leader’s needs at an organizational level.
• Next, communicate fully: Name actions to be taken, and agree on who will take them.
• Finally, act specifically: Be accountable for your share of the work to achieve the leadership team’s goals, and hold one another accountable for collective results.
As a leadership team, you can then identify the OKRs you’ll use to measure your success as you move forward together.
Not all silos are counterproductive. Your silo does play a valuable role in serving the needs of the organization, or it would not exist. Silo leaders are focused, accountable for their vertical’s performance and motivated to achieve success—which is good for everyone.
But as a vertical leader, remember that your success is always interconnected with other disciplines. Stepping out of the siloed mindset can lead to greater global awareness and better overall performance for the organization.
Strong leaders sometimes resist the shift to shared leadership. Everyone wants to know that their effort and results are noticed and valued; however, there’s power in dropping your silo and extending a hand to the other members of the leadership team. Modeling a collaborative group dynamic can help other leaders—and everyone in the organization—achieve a deeper sense of validation and belonging.
Leaders joining an existing leadership team for the first time are not only moving from star player to teammate; they are also entering an established group as a new member. If this is a difficult transition, consider that you are not the only one feeling disoriented by being the new person; the group is also reacting to your presence.
Pay attention to personal cues; shyness and defensiveness can present themselves in similar ways, but warrant very different responses. “Going first” and reaching across the boundary of your silo to help a fellow team member can be a powerful and empowering gesture.
When “stars” function well as teammates, it sets a powerful example for the rest of the organization. Fostering an environment where all voices at the table are essential not only leads to better information transfer among leaders, but also encourages fresh perspectives from people who might not otherwise offer their ideas. This is especially true of underrepresented groups, whose voices at the table bring a diversity of thought that can boost competitive advantages.
In addition, leaders who step out from inside their silos and function as peers can gain valuable insight into the lived experiences of those whom they lead. By collaborating horizontally, leadership team members learn to navigate peer relationships, adopt a more global view of the organization and make better strategic decisions. The expanded awareness of enterprise-level interdependencies is vital to the success of any C-Suite career.