The owner of a small business often feels like they're on an island, even if they have a number of employees. The stress of having to make decision after decision with little or no input wears on them, making the idea of growing their company all the more difficult to surmount. So, they get the idea it would be good to create a "Leadership Team."

The problem is they don't have a clear idea of what that means. Consequently, Leadership Team meetings occur but the murkiness that needed to be clarified is still there.

Does it ever make sense to have a Leadership Team? If it were highly functioning, what would a meeting of that group look like?

Here are some suggestions.

What's the Point?
Define what the Leadership Team is supposed to be responsible for, how it's going to function, and what it's supposed to accomplish. The owner should have some idea before creating the group, but the purpose needs to be agreed on as a group.

The needed dialogue to make this clear will also uncover sooner rather than later how effectively the group functions, something good to know sooner rather than later.

This work will take some time. But it shouldn't take forever. On less than one page, codify why the group was created, what its role is, and how one gets to be on the team. Often, reading a book, such as "Traction" by Gino Wickman, can help with this work.

Be clear that the owner is still the decider. That the group provides advice, the owner listens and considers, and then makes the decision. Because the team had the opportunity to provide their perspectives, they will commit to supporting the owner's decision.

Who Should Be on the Team?
This is a tough question to answer. Often there is a long-term employee who has made the journey with the owner to the current version of the company. A good employee, by all means, but one who is not very concerned about the company as a whole. Rather, they tend to stay focused on only what they do and are responsible for. And they do that well.

While an asset to the company, this person would not be an asset to the team. One of the things the team should be helping the owner to do is look forward. Not all long-term employees can do this.

That said, who should be on the team? Any key manager should be considered. But I don't think that because they hold that position that they should automatically be on the team.

Why? Because the owner wants to get the input of individuals in the company that will meaningfully inform the owner's current perspective. People who think ahead, who are always looking to make the company even better, are who should be on the team. Not all managers do this, even if they are getting their department to function well.

Sometimes there is a newer employee who brings a fresh perspective to the way things have always been. That energy and a sense of possibility is what's needed to make the team less constrained by the past and more open to the future.

You see that I am not being specific about who should be on the team because I believe one can't be. And that is one of the challenges about having a Leadership Team!

What If It Doesn't Work?
In their initial conversations, the owner wants to be clear that this is an experiment. The team will exist for six months, maximum, at which time the owner and the team will decide if the team should continue to exist.

The owner must be very clear. What I've sometimes seen is a Leadership Team that has disengaged members. The meetings are pointless, consuming the time of those attending them for no apparent gain. The owner gets none of the forward-thinking input they were looking for. And everyone who is part of the Leadership Team sees that happening.

Better to be able to say that the idea of a Leadership Team was a good one, but it didn't work out during the trial period. At least all the people in the company will respect that this possible outcome was anticipated.

The Truth
The company needs an engaged and motivated owner. There is no work-around for a company with a burnt-out owner.

It could be better for an owner in such a state to get the appropriate counselor or business consultant to work with them one-on-one for a while. Get that stable foundation established first, by helping the owner find their mojo.

Then the owner might establish an Advisory Board/Team, a semi-formal group that meets when needed for the owner to get alternative perspectives from. For example, "This project has some things that are very attractive. It also brings some challenges. What do you think we should do? Pursue the project or tell the potential clients we are not interested."

So, what are the takeaways?

  • The owner must do what they need to stay vital and to stay engaged, which might mean working on themselves.
  • A Leadership Team is no cure for a disengaged owner.
  • Be careful about how the Leadership Team is supposed to function.
  • Be ready to disband the Leadership Team if it doesn't accomplish what it was supposed to.

An asset or a crutch? With all aspects of your business, always be asking that question. By simply consistently doing that, you will improve the company's environment and productivity, even if you don't have a Leadership Team.