Find your sweet spot between blind trust and micromanagement

How do you manage your executives? Imagine a line scale where full empowerment or blind trust is on the extreme left. Senior executives are empowered to do whatever they want. If a problem arises, the CEO may plead ignorance.

On the extreme right of the same scale is micromanagement, where the CEO performs executive responsibilities himself.

For example, he may jump the chain of command and issue an order to an executive’s direct report without informing the executive of what he did.

There are times when leading at these extreme ends of the scale are necessary. Most of the time, though, the midpoint, which I call “trust and verify,” works best. Here’s how to do it:

1. Clearly define roles in two areas:
a. Each individual member’s role in the company and how it will be measured.
b. The executive team’s role. When executives believe and act as if the C-suite (not their functional team) is their primary team, silos are minimized. An executive team is working well when any one executive makes a sacrifice in their own silo in order to achieve the company’s goals, and when the executives hold each other accountable without the involvement of the CEO.

2. Meet monthly for an alignment session.
The purpose of this session is to verify that the executives’ goals, metrics and priorities are in alignment with the CEO’s expectations. Skilled CEOs know how to make this a positive meeting by explaining its purpose and addressing the executives’ concerns before their first meeting with each other.

Each executive understands that it is his responsibility to prepare and review a dashboard, progress report and, if necessary, a revised plan during each session. The CEO asks for supporting proof and dives into enough detail with open questions until he is comfortable that he is receiving an accurate picture.

3. Ask for multiple perspectives when making big decisions.
Never rely on only one opinion. Instead, demand objective proof for the significant assumptions and facts presented by each executive.

4. Trust your gut instinct.
The “gut” is a source of internal wisdom that lies just beyond the conscious mind. Our instincts often kick in when we draw on patterns we’ve seen, but can’t articulate. When the CEO is presented with an argument that just doesn’t feel right, he shouldn’t ignore it. He should keep verifying until the conflict between his mind and gut is resolved.

5. Monitor your culture.
The CEO is directly responsibility for developing and maintaining the culture. This is never delegated. However, the senior executives of a company have an enormous effect on its culture, and the CEO may not realize how particular executives are affecting it. Routine employee surveys and interacting with employees by walking around are a couple of ways to monitor it.

Managing your executives can be challenging. When your expectations are clear and when you verify results, you can scale your company and profitably grow.

Cheryl B. McMillan is Chair, Northeast Ohio, at Vistage International