Infighting at the executive level is one of the most common problems at struggling companies. It can also be one of the most challenging to cure.
Top C-suite talent usually has a lot of the same characteristics of the CEO: lots of drive, lots of ideas, lots opinions, and, sure, lots of ego. Too many executives also think that the best way to act “executive” is to prove over and over again how right they are about everything, or sweep issues under the rug to project a false sense of confidence even when the rest of the company knows better.
None of that works.
What works is admitting there’s a problem, addressing it, and fixing it.
Whether you’re part of the problem, or trying to facilitate a conversation between others, use this Issues Clearing Exercise to get to the root problems of executive infighting. I learned this best practices activity from YPO, and it’s a great way to get your top people to settle their differences and refocus on achieving your company’s top goals.
1. Call the meeting.
This is not as obvious as it sounds! You’d be shocked how many companies drag their feet when a big problem is staring them right in the face. I’ve sat in on planning sessions with clients where the infighting and disconnect between executives is glaringly obvious. But in my follow-up conversations, when I ask these same executives to rate their relationships with each other, it’s always, “Oh, nine, nine and a half. We get along great.”
No you don’t! And it’s killing your company.
Admit there’s a problem, call a meeting, and beforehand, take a few minutes to collect and organize your thoughts. Follow this process during the meeting:
2. Ask yourself, “What’s my story?”
Get the facts down: who, what, where, how, why, when. Summarize the situation, the data, and the events that led to the infighting. Keep it short, simple, and emotionless.
Then comes the crucial step: have the other party repeat the story back to you. This ensures that both people are on the same page, and that no facts are getting lost in heated emotions.
3. Ask yourself, “What are my judgments?”
What are your thoughts, opinions, perceptions, and conclusions? Here, we’re moving away from cold hard facts to what you think. Try to avoid any statements that start with, “I feel …” This isn’t about feelings, it’s about judgments. Again, have the other party repeat your judgments back.
4. Ask yourself, “What are my feelings?”
Now, describe your emotions, but in the correct way. “I feel that you don’t understand …” is not an emotion, it’s a negative judgement that’s going to put the other person on the defensive and lead to more infighting. “I feel frustrated and angry because my subordinates ignore me and go right to the CEO” — that’s a feeling. Then have the other party repeat your feelings back to you.
5. Ask yourself, “What was my part in this?
There are always two people — at least — in a disagreement. Own up to your part. What have you done, or not done, to escalate this miscommunication to the point of infighting? This might be the most important part of the exercise for you to hear back. But if you don’t accept that you’re part of the problem too, you and the other party are never going to move past it. Even the best CEOs have blind spots that they have to confront from time to time.
6. Ask yourself, “What do you want?”
What do you really want from this person? Sometimes the answer to this question is very simple: maybe you just want to clear up this problem and stop the infighting. But usually there’s a bigger underlying issue. This is the time to get to the root of the infighting, and come to a solution that settles the issue once and for all.
7. Move to close.
After the other party repeats what you want back to you, make sure you’ve cleared all the way through your issues. Then, take the temperature of the room. If everyone understands each other, an apology and a handshake might end the infighting. If the listener still has an axe to grind, then switch roles and repeat the whole exercise.
Sometimes, the listener will just shut down. Don’t push. Resolution isn’t always necessary at this point. As long as the issues have been raised and cleared, your C-suite will get back to doing what it’s supposed to do: position your company to fulfill your vision, and make BIG happen.
Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make Big Happen. His firm coaches over 145 of the world’s top high-growth entrepreneurs and CEO’s on how to dramatically grow their revenues and profits, implement the most effective strategies, becoming better leaders, grow their people, build accountability systems, and elevate their own performance. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.