Is Your Executive Team Toxic?

As a coach, you would think that my primary job is to work with executives to be successful in their current role.  Of course, that is a big part of it, but what is interesting is that nine times out of ten, once I have developed trust with a client, they tell me that they want to quit their job.  They plan on leaving in the near future, or after extracting every bit of learning they can from their current organization.  It’s not because they don’t like the work, or the people they work with, it is usually because they don’t like the intensity of their job, their schedule, and the culture on the executive team. The culture on the executive team and the intensity that comes with it, also factors into people’s decisions about whether to take a promotion, or not.  “Gloria” is the Director, HR for a fast growing start up.  She just got a job offer to be the VP.  She wants to do the work, but her big hesitation is the shift in expectations. Will she have to sell her soul to do this job?  Does taking this job mean that she won’t have time for her workouts?  Her hobbies?  Will it be harder to maintain her personal boundaries and her flexible schedule?  There is something about reporting directly into the CEO that is awesome and irksome.  If she takes the job, will she get meshed into his power circle to the point that she loses herself?

Gloria’s fears are not unfounded.  This happens a lot.  The norms at the executive table are “be on the team 115%,” or not at all.  Consider “John,” a high potential leader at Microsoft.  His boss told him last week that he is one of the highest potential leaders in the workgroup.  The only hitch?  He skis too much and cares too much about worklife balance. Huh?  John got the picture.  If he wants to get promoted, he needs to put his values aside and play the corporate game.  He was not impressed and he is already talking to headhunters.  Is this the reaction we want from our high potential leaders?

What perplexes me is that this stuff goes on all the time!  I scratch my head and ask myself: “Why do organizations think that it is okay to ask their leaders to put their life aside and give everything they got to their job?”  Well, I know that this attitude started from the industrial revolution – that period in life where work was positioned as salvation for a “better life” and a management job was seen as the ticket to status, a big screen tv, and a white picket fence.  But, why are companies still putting this kind of pressure on their leaders, especially since 99.9% of them know that we are facing one of the biggest leadership crises in history, and we are going to have a massive shortage of leaders in the coming decades?

If companies want a competitive advantage in the future, they must crack this nut.  They must find ways to attract high potential leaders, get their creative energy and commitment, and give them the space and flexibility to have a life.  It will be very tempting to keep giving them more, more, more due to the shortage of talent and the continued drive for growth, but it will not work.  They must come up with more flexible and realistic models.

My next post will talk about how to create a healthy executive team culture.