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Teamwork and courage in the C-suite

Teamwork and courage in the C-suite

As management expert J.B. Kassarjian sees it, the traditional distinction between 'line and staff' does not hold true anymore. Given the rapid shortening of all cycle times--product life cycles, as well as product or process development cycles--every member of the executive team now has to understand and contribute to the competitive viability of the firm.

"Whether CIO, or CFO, or CTO, each has to be knowledgeable about the competitive dynamics at play, and be able to take a direct role in crafting the company's future," Kassarjian says. "Any C-suite officer who is unable or unwilling to play such a role does not deserve to be at the top management table.

"There is a growing awareness that the three most important skills for CIOs, in particular, will revolve around leadership ability, relationship building, and basic business knowledge. Great opportunities are beginning to open up for IT-savvy and experienced executives, especially those who have played a key role in driving a visible and successful company transformation," he explains.

Kassarjian, professor of management at the prestigious Babson College in the US, and formerly on the faculty of Harvard Business School, is in Singapore on an exclusive lecturing engagement with the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM). He is the program director of SIM's annual 'Job of the Chief Executive' (JOCE) program (29 June--4 July 2008) which is offered by SIM and will include a panel of distinguished faculty members from top business schools around the world.

Kassarjian has also served as consultant to organizations in the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, in such areas as leading change, strategic restructuring, and senior management team building. He has some clear views on executive management.

"For an executive team to operate effectively," the professor says, "they have to bring complementary skills, be committed to a common purpose and goals, for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

Truly shared respect

"They cannot function effectively unless there is truly shared respect. As in any organizational realm, but especially in today's global businesses, respect has to be earned. And to get that, a CFO or a CIO has to show that they fully grasp the competitive challenges and can contribute to shaping the company's response."

Kassarjian says it was essential for the C-suite to work together collectively as a team and a CEO must form an executive team in which:

-- Each member brings their in-depth expertise, but is also able to weave their perspective into the company's strategic thrust;

-- Where they can collectively modify, challenge, or extend given goals;

-- Where openly confronting conflict is required;

-- Where creativity and new approaches are encouraged and incorporated;

-- And where every team member is willing to make, and honor, commitments.

He says the pitfalls in the way CEOs use and abuse their executive team are legion, but there are three common patterns, each with their own dangers:

a. The Strategist: for a CEO who craves to be viewed as a keen strategist, and this has been their abiding source of pride, the biggest challenge may be to learn to listen hard to those at the frontline--or to consult closely with executive team members who can.

b.The Coach: for a CEO who thinks they are particularly good at picking talent, it is time to focus on those on the executive team who challenge them directly--but with well-reasoned evidence.

c. The Change Agent: for a CEO who has had successful experiences as a change agent in the past, in a novel setting the hardest task may be to moderate their initiatives, to challenge skeptical team members to take charge--and then to get out of their way.

"Behind all of these prescriptions," the professor says, "there is a task that is much more personal and requires the courage of the CEO to gain realistic insight into his own pattern of leadership. And that is indeed a tall order."

"Looked at from the other direction, C-suite executives often have their own complaints. In the case of CIOs, the most common is that the CEO does not appreciate the growing importance of a certain technology, or IT architecture. A close second would be not getting enough of a budget. In all of these instances, the root problem is that the executive in question has not established a track record of successful adaptations in their area of expertise."

Concluding, he says: "The CIOs' strategic importance is being recognized more widely, but this poses both a promise and a threat; the winners in this climate will be those who can go well beyond their IT departments, visit customers, carry a discourse with their fellow executives in all departments, heard by the CEO, and can truly focus on the business and the future. If you are a CIO, consider yourself the CEO of an IT product and services company! If you are a CFO, you can devise your own similar designation."

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