How to Develop a Shared Leadership Team Strategy and Purpose

by | Apr 26, 2024 | Leadership Team Coaching

Every CEO needs a strong leadership team, but getting talented people into the same room is only the first step. Your top executives must act as a team, rather than as a group of autonomous functional leaders. To do this, they need the right strategy and purpose — and they need to know how to execute both.

Why do companies struggle with this, even at the highest levels? One reason is that these words can be fuzzy without context. Another reason is that too many companies view strategy sessions and purpose statements as an exercise or a document to be created and filed away. But purpose and strategy are living concepts. Only after top executives connect purpose and strategy can your workforce do the same.

Your purpose must be clear and lived. Your strategy must be coherent and executed. And your executives must work as a team to activate both.

Let’s dig deeper into what shared strategy and purpose looks like — and how coaching can turn your leadership team’s purpose into business outcomes.

Why Purpose Matters More Than Vision

We’re using the word “purpose” here rather than “vision.” Your company’s vision is a future-oriented, aspirational statement. While valuable, it’s not binding. You might not even care about hitting the vision, just as long as you’re headed in the right direction.

Because vision statements are aspirational, they’re harder to track in everyone’s day-to-day work. Purpose, by contrast, represents the reason your team exists and the real-world impact you’re trying to create. Purpose is action-oriented and guides decision-making. 

CEOs, with the help of a leadership team coach, can spot-check for purpose. Start by asking top executives to articulate the team’s purpose. Many executives will state their enterprise goals or the company’s purpose. But go deeper. Try asking questions like, “What is it the executive team does as a team that no other team in our organization can do?” What many CEOs find is that their executive team isn’t clear on what their unique purpose is in the organization. 

If your executives have differing views of the team’s purpose, then they’re likely acting differently — and at odds with each other. Without agreement on purpose, your leadership team will suffer from conflict, competing goals and confusion over strategy.

How to Use Purpose to Drive Strategy Development

Purpose-driven decision-making is a powerful force that guides teams toward meaningful and impactful actions. While purpose can be philosophical, it cannot be for leadership teams. It must manifest in actions. Your leadership team’s purpose, for example, should encompass three things:

  1. The concrete, specific reasons why your team exists.
  2. What the leadership team must deliver for its stakeholders.
  3. What outcomes those deliverables will generate. 

When your executive team aligns to a shared purpose, they gain clarity, unity and shared direction. By anchoring decision-making in team purpose, leaders can navigate complex challenges, prioritize initiatives that align with core deliverables and make decisions with long-term implications. 

Here are four ways leadership teams can use purpose to drive strategy development.

Craft a Unique and Aligned Purpose

Avoid falling into the trap of generic purpose statements that lack clarity and fail to inspire action. Instead, craft a purpose that’s unique to your leadership team and then align strategy to that purpose. This statement should compel individuals to act and perform in positive ways that contribute to the team’s goals.

Consider this starting point for a leadership team purpose statement: “We set and execute strategy and lead the workforce to achieve organizational goals.” This kind of statement isn’t incorrect, per se, but it could describe any organization. Be concrete, but also say something that couldn’t be confused for any other group of executives.

Likewise, your purpose statement should be focused on the next six months and revisited every six months for refinement and new trajectory setting. For example, you may know your annual revenue target for your organization, but what is the executive team doing over the next six months to support its actualization? After the initial six months, evaluate how the purpose statement will help the organization maneuver to close the gap or exceed the goal you initially set.  That’s a financial goal with a defined endpoint rather than a reason for existing. The purpose statement should be a North Star for your leadership team, not a quarterly KPI.

Provide Clarity

Your team’s purpose should be in plain language, but don’t stop there. Actively check for understanding. Don’t be afraid to go deep with your leadership team.

For example, don’t just ask whether team members understand the purpose. Ask them to illustrate that understanding — for example, “If you had to go and deliver on that purpose today, how are you going to do it?” This type of question can reveal whether each executive understands how to convert purpose into strategy and action. You’ll also learn whether your leadership team is acting in concert or is scattered.

Within a Bright Arrow coaching engagement, a coach helps the leadership team achieve clarity on their purpose first, and their strategy for achieving that purpose second. Then, over a six-month time frame, the coach guides the team toward measurable results, relentlessly keeping them clear and aligned on goals. Only when you achieve clarity can your leadership team move quickly and effectively.

Manage Stakeholder Expectations

Leadership teams often face competing demands from internal and external stakeholders. Clarity of purpose can help them manage these expectations and align them not only with the strategy but also how they interpret that strategy. 

By being specific about the leadership team’s purpose, these examples highlight the unique role and responsibilities of the team within the organization, rather than simply stating the overall organizational purpose. 

Consider this leadership team purpose statement: “Our executive team exists to drive innovation, foster collaboration, and deliver exceptional results that positively impact our customers, employees, and shareholders.”

Those are worthy goals, but they also sound more like organizational goals. They also aren’t specific about what the leadership team will do — and what only they can do — to fulfill these goals. 

Here’s a revised version that highlights how the leadership team will live out that purpose while acknowledging stakeholders:

“Our leadership team exists to drive innovation, foster collaboration, and deliver exceptional results that positively impact our customers, employees, and shareholders. We will achieve this by investing in R&D to improve patent filings by 20%, cultivating strategic partnerships to gain market share, and implementing agile decision-making processes that improve employee productivity — reducing time to market by 30% over three years.”

This revised statement creates a shared purpose for everyone on the leadership team while acknowledging the stakeholders affected by their actions.

Hold Everyone Accountable

To ensure that purpose has material meaning, there must be consequences for behaviors that contradict or don’t align with the purpose. Leaders should be brave enough to address any toxic behaviors that may be undermining the team’s actions or at odds with the team’s values and purpose. This may involve coaching individuals to redirect their behavior or learn highly constructive ways to challenge each other for the good of the organization.

This is where a coach can be invaluable. As a trusted third party in the room, they can identify behavioral dynamics that occur within teams and respond to them in real time. 

How Leadership Team Coaching Fuels Strategy and Purpose

Leadership team coaching can be a catalyst for strategy development by helping teams clarify their purpose and how that translates into business-specific actions. Coaches can facilitate these discussions individually and, crucially, within the team’s flow of work. They can spot behaviors and interpersonal dynamics and immediately call them out, enforcing accountability and real-time learning.

Here are a few ways a leadership team coach can help your top leaders come together on strategy and purpose.

Be a Trusted Partner

Organizations undergoing major changes or suffering from trust issues might struggle to communicate at all, much less clarify their purpose or strategy. This is when it’s especially helpful to bring in a trusted outsider who doesn’t have any of the baggage that the team carries.

Clarify Purpose — or Redefine It

Not every leadership team has a well-defined purpose, especially if the organization has undergone significant change, such as M&A, a reorganization or a CEO transition. Coaches can guide executives in articulating a purpose that’s distinct to the leadership team and help them align its strategy to its purpose. 

Through a series of exercises and discussions, coaches help leaders define the team’s reason for existing — and what that means in terms of concrete actions and behaviors.

Catalyze Strategy Development

A certified leadership coach can create a safe, supportive environment for leaders to explore and clarify their purpose. Coaches can facilitate discussions that encourage reflection, push past assumptions and build trust. By building relationships among leaders, you can help everyone focus on the shared goals created by strategy development.

Improve Decision-Making and Execution

Leadership team coaching helps executives develop clarity, adaptability and agility. Coaches can support leaders in making tough trade-offs, picking priorities and directing the right resources and focus to those areas. As the leadership team begins to work better together, those decisions also become more collaborative and better informed.

Help Leaders Be Autonomous and Good Teammates

Great leadership teams have functional leaders who first think about the enterprise in everything they do. That requires a tricky balance: They must have the confidence and courage to make decisions under their purview, but they shouldn’t rush ahead of the company’s strategy or overstep their bounds. These executives must consider broader goals when interacting with the rest of the leadership team, but they should do so without micromanaging their peers or making decisions for them. 

Coaches can help these leaders be decisive but also thoughtful — always thinking about how purpose and strategy play into their choices.

Coach Leadership Teams to Coach Themselves

The goal of a coaching engagement is to help top leaders recognize how they work best together and develop techniques and tools to navigate conflict. Important, these engagements also teach leadership teams how to coach themselves through situations. 

High-functioning leadership teams decide which norms or behaviors they require of each other — and how they’ll hold each other accountable when they don’t demonstrate those behaviors or norms.

Get a Trusted Partner to Connect Purpose and Strategy

Even the best team of leaders will struggle if they don’t know why they’re in the same room or what they’re trying to accomplish. By combining talent, strategy and purpose, companies can confidently say what they’ll do, create a plan and execute. 

Want to learn how coaching can help your executives function as a collaborative team? Learn more about our leadership team coaching offerings

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