A CEO’s Guide to Reenergizing the Senior Team

by Derek Dean, Strategy and Leadership in Turbulent Times, The McKinsey Quarterly, Number 1; 2010.

CEOs wear many hats including Chief Inspiration Officer. Effective CEOs teach their top talent how to lead others. This article is written for CEOs coaching their senior team after the global financial crisis, but it is equally valid for leaders of social impact organisations who must help their teams adjust to new rules.

What happens when a top executive team’s performance erodes? First, there is fear. CEOs must help others confront their fear. Dean writes:

“Spiking levels of fear can convert frank, flexible, open, and self-reflective leaders into defensive, close-minded, rigid, and literal ones. These leaders may take things personally, feel persecuted, cease productive self-reflection, and lose the ability to process new information and respond to difficult situations.”

The natural instinct to close-down exacerbates fear. How do you reorient managers to a new environment? Dean argues that CEOs need to push the members of their senior team to reexamine the “truths” upon which they had built successful careers be they: “clear mandates and time horizons, experienced-based judgment, the ability to convert data into useful information for decision making, [or] a clear understanding of cultural norms.”

CEOs must help their senior team confront the paralysis that comes with fear of failure and help overcome denial. This means helping their teams acknowledge their emotions so that they can reengage productively.

Where will senior managers look for an example? The CEO, of course. The CEO must model the type of behaviour she or he expects. Followers will zoom into the boss’s moves for signs of change. The CEO must remain open, energised, respectful and confident. If this all seems like a tall-order, remember that it’s only one of the many hats of the job.

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