How to Build Great Leadership Teams with Jack McGuinness

Reading Time: 10 Minutes

On this episode, Jack McGuinness discusses how build a great leadership team that unlocks the potential of your organization.

About Jack McGuinness

Jack McGuinness is an executive team coach and co-founder of Relationship Impact (RI), a consulting firm focused on helping organizations build great leadership teams. Prior to RI, Jack served with the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division, was COO of a boutique management consulting firm, and CEO of a contract packaging company. He also served as an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I am your host and executive coach Allison Dunn am pleased to introduce our guest Jack McGuinness. He is an executive team coach and counsel, co founder of relationship impact, which is a consulting firm focused on helping organizations build great teams, Jack has served as within the United States Army 10th Mountain Division. He was CEO of a boutique management consulting firm, and CEO of a contract packaging company. In today’s episode, we’re going to be discussing how to build great leadership teams. Jack, thank you so much for joining us today.

Jack: Oh, thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Allison: Absolutely. I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. Okay, what would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners today?

Jack: Let’s see. So I think, you know, the, one of the challenges we see in the executive teams we work with, or many executive teams is, are their ability to have tough conversations with each other. So and there’s a lot to that, but recognizing that that’s tough, and leaning into whatever is getting in your way of having those kinds of tough conversations.

Allison: Jack, I would say 100% of my coaching sessions are focused on how to have those tough questions. Is there any equation and or formula or method that you lean on for that, that you’d be willing to share? Yeah, sure.

Jack: So were we then again, the work that I do, and my partner do is all focused on working with the leadership teams and growing companies. So without the formal team leader, the president, the CEO, whatever that looks like, modeling the behaviors necessary to have the tough conversations really, really difficult to set that up. And that’s just basic stuff, like the ability to receive feedback Well, without defensiveness or without overreacting, that type of thing. Not being judgmental, when someone else has something to put on the table, even if it’s not the smartest idea you’ve ever heard.

Just creating an environment where people feel comfortable challenging each other, confronting each other, discussing important ideas. That that’s, you know, that I would say model modeling from a leadership from a CEO is really, really important.

Allison: Okay, so that’s not a magic bullet, because there’s a lot to that as well. But it is a major part of where it starts.

Jack: Sure. Yeah.

Allison: Thank you. So we’re going to talk today about how to build great leadership teams. I’m just some I guess, my first question is what gets in the way of leadership teams being just effective in general?

Jack: Yeah, I mean, it gets it does get back to the ability for teams to, you know, have what we call productive dialogue, or their ability to be challenged, confront each other on the most important issues they’re facing without defensiveness, the passive grid behavior, aggressive behavior that goes on without lobbying the CEO, all those things, so that to be able to have the tough conversations in a productive manner. is both a, you know, a productivity accelerator and a relational accelerator as well.

Allison: And what is the approach that you use to helping build great leadership teams?

Jack: So we have we have a point of view that that’s one of the reasons we started the company 13 years ago, is we believe that leadership teams are different. And they’re not just any, any team and that it’s really important that teams recognize that they have impact down the chain in their organization. So if there’s dysfunction at the leadership team level, it typically in our experience, build bleeds down into the rest of the organization.

So really important that leadership teams recognize that that impact that they have in an organization as an accelerating body or as a you know, hindrance sometimes. And so that’s, that’s the first thing is recognize Getting teams to recognize that and getting teams to recognize and executives on teams to recognize that being on a being on a leadership team requires some different capabilities and skills beyond their technical capabilities. It they have to manage complexity, well, they have to have a sense of foresight, rather than just thinking about today.

And most importantly, they have to, they have to think about what’s best for the organization almost take the CEOs perspective, what’s, you know, we call it a greater good perspective, like what, and try to put that hat on as, as best they can, recognizing that that’s a tough challenge as well.

So creating the mindset is the first thing around what why is the leadership team different? Why is it so important? And why? Why can it be so impactful? is the first step. And then and then the other part? The other part of our point of view is that we believe that great leadership teams have, and I think this goes for most teams is great leadership teams have to, you know, discrete components that are very intuitively, you know, interrelated with each other the first set of structural factors for building a great team, and then a set of relational dynamics that, that help, you know, build strong leadership team dynamics.

So for structural things are things like, you know, do you do you have folks that have that mindset that we just talked about? Do they? Do they have a sense of what problems they’re supposed to be setting like, again? So I think the structural things are really like, do you have the right, folks with the right mindset on a team that the things we just talked about? Also do? Does the leadership team have a sense of what problem it’s supposed to be tackling together versus, you know, as individual function or business unit leaders?

And then, you know, does it have a sense, does it have a good cadence, a good operating rhythm behind it? So those are some of their structural things. And then the relational dynamics are potentially most important part of part of it, and it is, without strong relational dynamics, the structural stuff doesn’t really work well. So relational dynamics, or do you do people in a team trust each other to that? Not? Not so much do they like each other, but they trust each other’s capability, their character, so that they can have the tough conversations necessary to move the organization forward?

And finally, can they hold each other accountable without just the CEO in the room, that’s kind of a Nirvana state, it’s hard to get to. But those two things have a strong relationship with each other, you know, the bad structure can lead to finger pointing bad dynamics, and then you try to put good structure in place. And is that not a lot of trust in it? So, so those, that that’s kind of the framework we use to help folks think about what is a great team look like?

Allison: I’m sure that you can think of some examples, but I, you know, I know that often if the structure has or the wrong people, or the wrong leadership has been shown. It’s incongruent, right? Like what to expect not they’re being treated? How do you how do you actually get to a core of the underlying problems with a team, they can become great?

Jack: So one of the things we do upfront, you know, like any great consultant, you do the diagnostic work, like you, you know, we interview we spent a lot of time getting to know our sales cycles very long, because it takes we take a long time getting to know a CEO, and also many members of the leadership team, if not all of them, before we even are engaged. So it you know, so they had a sense that we’re they’re working on their behalf, not just the CEOs behalf.

So we spend a lot of a lot of time on every now and then we try to find out what are they think’s getting in the way what how do they think they’re contributing and getting in the way. And then one of the tools we use is a third party instrument from an organization called Team Coaching International, it’s, it’s a diagnostic that measures productivity, sorry, it measures, structural factors and relational factors and the interplay between the two of them when we use that as a baseline vehicle for having some good discussions about what you know, this is how they evaluated themselves. This is how their direct reports evaluated them.

Sometimes this is how the board assess them. And this is what you know, this is what it looks like. What these are the things that potentially get in way, like their inability to have tough, constructive dialogue with each other, for example. And, and we use that as a baseline for helping them to uncover what’s getting in their way, and then making some commitments as a collective entity to do something different. So it’s not us telling them what to do. It’s them kind of coming to their, their own conclusions about what does that look like? And what do we want to do about it? So that’s, that’s the that’s the first part.

Allison: What would in that scenario, what would the leaders role be in helping to build that great team?

Jack: So the leaders role is, again, as I said, modeling for sure, number one, and then really kind of getting out of the way. And you know, a lot of things what we find are the lobbying the CEO behind his will have a great team meeting and then someone else, go to the CEO and say, Yeah, I don’t think that idea was very good, why don’t we and put helping the CEO just say, hey, look, you know, once you go talk to, you know, your colleagues about what that looks like, and come back with some ideas.

But but so that’s what modeling is, number one, and then participating as a team member, as best they can, to help with the diagnostic work, rather than dominating the work. 

Allison: I appreciate the approach that you’ve kind of outlined, how, how do you measure the effectiveness of the work that you do with companies?

Jack: Yeah, so it’s really up to them to measure it, it’s, it’s, and that is, we use the diagnostic instrument as a baseline, you know, that they make collective commitments to do stuff differently. Like that could be as simple as you know, we don’t really focus on what problems we’re solving together. And so we have, we’re kind of spastic around how we’re doing that, right? What are the big issues we’re solving together? So we’re going to spend some time and over the next 12 months, what are the one or two things that we should be tackling and getting in a rhythm on? So they’ll make some decisions about that.

But the other decision might be to establish some ground rules or operating principles or norms around? How is it that we’re going to behave together? You know, and on the on the extremes, it’s, you know, as stupid as coming to a meeting and throwing your phone in a box, because people have not been very disciplined about how they deal with that, to see more serious of, we’re not going to talk about each other outside the confines of this, you know, not say bad stuff about each other outside the confines of this, of our team. Those are types of ground rolls in. And so the those commitments they make to each other, and, and their feeling of are we making progress on those things?

And now are the folks under them feeling like they’re making progress is is how we measure it. And you know, when we use this diagnostic tool to evaluate in the beginning, and middle and towards the end of engagement, and that, that it’s a way it’s really a kind of a an objective way of measuring a fairly subjective, you know, science.

Allison: Is there? Is there a right size for what a great, you know, how many people should be at the table to make a great team?

Jack: I don’t really have a strong opinion on that, you know, I’d say 20 is too many and two’s probably not enough. And so, but it really depends on this. And you know, I work with some startup companies where it’s just the CFO and the CEO, maybe or they don’t even define themselves as that to some larger companies, where there’s an executive team and then a set of leaders under them. And, you know, they call it a senior leadership team, for example. And, and so, you know, that might have 1313 or 14 people on it, you know, definitely dynamics are harder to manage when you get when you get larger but, but can be done.

Allison: Okay. And I guess I know that I get the question often. I’m just curious what your insight into this would be is assuming that a team has specific things that they are focusing on to move this nation forward, how consistently should they be meeting?

Jack: Again, it really is dependent upon on their capabilities to communicate well, we see some fun have staff have to meet a couple times a week on specific new initiatives that they’re tackling together versus other groups that are, you know, are really kind of good at dividing and conquering and then coming back together and, and so it really does depend on the on the team composition. And then dynamics are the people that are at the table from, from my perspective, at least.

Allison: But I appreciate that. And, Jack, thank you so much for your insights on this particular topic. What is what is the best way for people to follow and connect with you?

Jack: Sure. So the best way to get me is at my website at And you’ll get bombarded right away when you go to the site about by potentially buying my book. So my new book is, was launched Amazon in in the middle of June and it’s called Building Great Leadership Teams. So that’s a good way to that’s a good way to learn more about what we do as well.

Allison: Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time today.

Jack: My pleasure. Thank you for you for having me.

Transcribed by

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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