Building the Best Leadership Team

Authored by Frank Libero


I have two kids that are totally awesome!

For some reason, from the time they were in the early teens, they were interested in what I did for a living.  During my career, I was lucky enough to change roles every 2-3 years and many times it was the result of a promotion.  Until today, my kids will tell you that whenever dad changed roles, he was going to work harder and be gone more for about 6-12 months.  That was the normal amount of time it generally took me to get the right leadership team in place so that I could go back to having a balanced lifestyle.  Honestly, they now even understand that as they change roles, they know that there is that time that is required to get everything in place.


If you are in a leadership role today and you find that you are working too hard or too long of hours, I have to be honest and say you are doing something wrong.  The something wrong could be a number of things, e.g., you are not delegating correctly, you are over committing to what you can accomplish, you do not have the necessary skills for the role you are in, or you don’t have the right team under.  I will leave it to you to decide which issue or issues you are facing but I will focus on getting the right team in place


In most cases, when you take on a new role, you will be given a leadership team.  In some cases, you will have been part of that team and now have been promoted to be the new leader.  Just a quick sidebar on that, if you get promoted and now suddenly have what used to be your peers reporting to you, then just get over it. They are going to treat you differently and you have to alter the relationship you have with them.  If you don’t think you can deal with that then don’t take the role.


Now, you have a new team in which you are expected to lead and manage going forward and likely this new role you are in will last for at least 2-3 years and maybe longer.  It is in your best interest to have the best team.  The result of not having a strong team are all bad. First you will have to work much harder to fill the gap in talent from your team. The work has to get done, so if you team is not capable, the burden will fall to you. Second the people reporting to your leadership team will likely leave and you have a retention issue. If you have a bad leader on your team, you can try to hide from it, but if they have a team under them, it will be difficult to retain that team. Lastly, if you have a bad team, there is a good chance you will just fail.  The reality is that you could be highly competent but without the right team you will still not be successful. 


With all that said, you should be highly motivated to get the right team in place.  In most cases, this means you have to make some pretty tough decisions.  I have always been one to decide things very quickly.  I usually know within about a month or so which leaders I want to keep and which ones need to go.  But remember, even though I would decide that quickly, it would still take me 6-12 months to get everything stabilized in the new role.  The first step is making the decision on who you want to keep and where you need to make changes.  But the second step is to execute on those decisions, which requires much more time.  I do want to add that I have worked with many leaders that would take up to 6 months to decide on their leadership teams and come out just fine.  The message is that the speed of deciding is not critical it is just that fact that you are willing to make the tough decisions. 


Once you have decided on the caliber of your team and how you want to run the group, you will have to execute on that decision.  The most difficult situation is when you have team members that you have to remove from the organization.  In these cases, you will need to work with HR and go through the arduous process to remove them.  This process usually takes at least six months if not longer.  Sometimes you will get lucky and there are other leaders who are willing to take the person that you do not believe is a fit for your team.  In these cases, you simply have to encourage the person to go to the other role and then backfill with the talent you need.  But in the end, you have get rid of the under-performers or it will impact your success.


For the team members that you do want to keep, you should also look at roles and responsibilities to ensure the team is organized correctly leveraging all of their skillsets.  Everyone is different and we all have strengths and weaknesses.  You will need to assess the strengths of the folks you want to keep and put them in roles where they can leverage those strengths.  Now you might say that is taking the easy way, because it is also our job as leaders to help mentor and guide the team to become better at where they struggle.  I would completely agree with this approach, but I would argue you can help them by giving them side projects or tasks that are somewhat off the radar to build those new strengths.  This will enable them to learn but let them excel at what they are really good at.  The bottom line if that is you are helping the folks on your leadership learn and grow and focusing on their careers as much as your own, they will notice and work hard under your leadership.


In summary, to have the best leadership team you do have to make the tough decisions on who to keep and who to let go.  Once you decide, take the time to execute on those decisions in the right way leveraging the HR folks as much as you can.  Then once you have the team you want in place, put them in roles where they can “knock it out of the park” but give them protected opportunities to build strength where they may have some weakness.