How to Keep the Eight Worst Behavioral Archetypes on Executive Teams from Sinking Your Company’s Strategy
What if you had a strategic planning meeting and the eight worst behavioral archetypes who appear on executive teams showed up? How would you handle them?
Brad was the CEO of Liberty Consulting (all names have been changed), and he was frustrated with the tension and disconnect between his executives. Would getting them together to build a strategic plan solve the problem? We scheduled a two-day strategic planning meeting and all eight of the behavioral archetypes were there.
The Absentee is present physically but elsewhere mentally, contributing only when asked to comment. Marvin spent most of his time mentally focused on things happening outside the meeting, asking us to repeat questions when asked for an opinion. Marvin was not invited the next time the executive team met to plan strategically, since he was strictly a tactical thinker and strategic thinkers are needed at these meetings.
The CEO is the leader in “Chief Executive Omniscience” mode. Most CEOs can anticipate where a discussion is heading and supply a conclusion to save everyone the time figuring it out for themselves. When Brad acted this way, team members saw decisions as Brad’s rather than their own, and expected him to handle implementation problems. In every discussion, I required Brad to speak last, enabling him to hear and judge how well people understood his viewpoints. Active listening enabled Brad to understand what team members wanted to accomplish and why, and made him more supportive of the resulting strategic plan because he understood which alternatives the team had considered.
The Consultant never commits to a team-developed decision. Every time it looked like a decision was ready to be made, Evan commented, “Let me play devil's advocate and outline how we could fail.” This would put him in a winning position no matter the ultimate outcome. I short-circuited this lack of accountability by making it clear that there never is 100% certainty when making a strategic decision, but it’s necessary to decide and commit to following through. Evan was forced to go on record as supporting the decision. A strategic plan is not a plan until the executive team leaves the meeting with consensus and commitment.
The Frog is so new to the organization that he and the team assume he has nothing to contribute. Frieda had been on board less than 90 days. I called her the “fresh frog,” based on the “theory” that a frog dropped into a pot of boiling water will jump out, but a frog dropped into lukewarm water that is slowly heated up will become a cooked frog. I made sure the team didn’t jump to answer her “dumb” questions but asked instead, “what do you see that we don’t?”
The Philosopher/Provocateur never considers an issue closed or a decision final, living to perpetuate uncertainty and inaction. On Day Two of the planning meeting, Liberty’s executive team began setting the agreed-upon strategy to paper. Jeanette tried to reopen each decision. “The strategy has us growing too fast. The targeted margin is too low.”
I reminded Jeanette that the chemistry of strategy formula is what you want the future to look like, why you want that future, and how you change the status quo to achieve that future. Your company can’t begin moving in a direction until you decide where you want to end up, and you will make adjustments along the way. Jeanette was eventually able to channel her energy into making sure conflicting viewpoints were aired while embracing the team’s ultimate decisions.
The Politician tells everyone a different story behind closed doors, and avoids any meetings where everyone would hear the same story from him. I prodded Jason to respond with substance every time he tried to issue meaningless platitudes. He couldn’t sustain his political behavior when he was forced to go on record in front of everybody.
The Sectarian sees her role as only representing the thoughts of her function, department, and/or people. Caroline, the company’s HR director, saw her role as representing HR, and only HR. Whenever the discussion turned elsewhere, she tuned out, not understanding that her valuable experience and insights were required to shape the company’s optimal strategy. I forced Caroline to comment on each issue discussed, drawing her into overall strategy development. Caroline triggered one of the meeting’s “aha” moments when she offered her perspective on a financing issue.
The Theorist won’t be around long enough to live with the consequences of the team's strategic decisions. Jennifer had been invited to the planning meeting for her expertise even though she had recently announced that she was retiring at year-end. She pushed back whenever we discussed any strategy that could impact her final bonus. Brad excused Jennifer from attending the second day, since she wouldn’t be accountable for implementation or suffer any consequences from a poor strategy. The takeaway: your strategic planning team shouldn’t include “lame ducks.”
The behavior you accept is the behavior you can expect. Learn to recognize these archetypes and manage their behavior. For high-stakes meetings like strategic planning, always utilize a skilled facilitator to help you keep the process on track.