When there's no leader at the helm, it will bring out the best or the worst in the top team. Which would it be for you?
This week, Yahoo announced that the third CEO in a year and a half had been removed from his position. Whether the cause is poor results, damaged stakeholder relations or a few dubious details on a resume, the effect of ditching a CEO on the top team is equally profound.
At Yahoo, as with most organizations in this situation, the succession plan provides a short-term fix. In Yahoo’s case, it’s Ross Levinsohn, their global head of media. In many cases it’s a CFO. Seldom does this temporary leader have what it takes for the long haul. That leaves some big decisions for the members of the Executive Team.
I see three big decisions the members of the Executive Team need to make if they find themselves without a permanent CEO.
1. Stall or Move.
Many teams go into a holding pattern and simply continue to execute the strategy that the outgoing CEO had put in place. This is dangerous business. The competition is well aware of your predicament and more than willing to use the opportunity to gain ground. Even partners, suppliers, and distributors can't afford to put their own business in jeopardy with an extended period of uncertainty. The team needs to rally and keep the business moving forward. It might involve risks, but leadership isn't for wimps.
2. Compete or Cooperate.
Some executives see the gap in leadership as a chance to promote their own career and to make a play for the top job. It isn't uncommon for them to use the direct connection with board members to lobby for their own interests, even if it's just to get resources or attention directed to their business. Don't be that jerk. Stay focused on the best interest of the organization.
3. Diverge or Focus.
In the absence of strong leadership, it's easy for executive team effectiveness to suffer. This can mean that historic or unresolved differences of opinion come to the surface with people taking the chance to go their own way. Instead, this is the time to stay relentlessly focused and aligned as a team. Everyone will be watching. If you are able to create the sense of strong leadership even in the absence of a permanent CEO, it will garner tremendous confidence from your employees, your board, and your external stakeholders.
In my experience, the best case scenario is that the team sees the time without a permanent leader as a chance to demonstrate their leadership. Surprisingly, it can actually be a time of heightened team effectiveness. I'd love to be a fly on the wall at Yahoo right now...which choices do you think they are making?