In building successful businesses, much is talked about in terms of effective teamwork, especially in terms of communication, collaboration, co-operation and compromise. But of course for top performing leadership teams there is more to it than this, and in this article I’ll share some thoughts from our work at Whitecap Consulting.

Being a top-performing leadership team in the mortgage market, which has been subject to infrequent, yet seismic shifts in the past decade, isn’t easy – and many have tried! Life seems to be either very good or extremely challenging, so strong strategic leadership with the agility to roll with (often external) shocks is paramount.

There are a number of implications for an organisation based on the evident leadership styles being demonstrated in practice, in particular for strategy formulation and implementation.

In companies where the leadership team displays ‘operational’ characteristics, the team members may concentrate on the short term, immediate issues and challenges. For a small brokerage this could be lead generation to hit month-end targets. As a result, the business strategy is developed and implemented with a focus on tasks, actions, deadlines and a management orientation.

In comparison, in companies where the leadership team is demonstrating an ‘executive’ style, the business is likely to have a visionary leader, strong individual accountability in pursuit of longer term, highly aligned strategic aims. This could be looking towards a future sale of the business, so building value in reputation through media relations or strategic partnerships could be more important.

In these businesses, often an ‘influencing and enabling’ style may be core to the culture rather than a command and control approach. In these situations, the leadership group purpose is the same as the organisational purpose. Strategy is therefore developed and implemented in a more open style, with the company pursuing a clearly articulated long term vision, which is translated and executed throughout the organisation.

Where a lender has a team of field-based BDMs for example, this requires more thought on communication, aligning incentives and delivery than for example, an office-based team of advisers who are physically closer to the message and may benefit from a more consistent approach.

Leadership teams functioning in this ‘executive’ style are more likely to discuss the big issues, decide on key priorities and delegate actions through the business, supported with open communications and effective use of performance management. As result, these organisations and the people within them are often more aligned to the strategic goals.

For strategy development, ‘operational’ leadership teams typically start with the current challenges and develop tasks incremental, usually quarter by quarter, leading to a series of activities and projects and therefore a tactically orientated approach.

‘Executive’ leadership teams, in contrast, start the strategy process by looking at the longer term aims and ambitions, and build a high level framework of strategic pillars and supportive key drivers with desired outputs, and then build depth milestones over a 2-3 year period, underpinned with projects and key initiatives for the first year of the plan.

Of course in practice, it is not a binary choice between these two leadership team styles as there has to be a mix between the numerous day-to-day activities that require strong operational focus and constant leadership; however the key is for the leadership team to know which topics require an ‘operational’ discussion, and which require an ‘executive’ discussion.

Sounds easy, but switching between them requires some planning and the appropriate time and space for issues to addressed.

Whitecap logo