The third common barrier to casting vision is what I call “white hot” executive sponsorship. This is when the Executive Sponsors of two organizations are so intent, so excited, so certain of the Relationship, that they are blind to concerns in other areas of the Relationship due to their enthusiasm and position. Again, this happens many times with Executive Sponsors who already know each other, like each other, and want to do something with each other. Let me start with a story of such:
Three business associates who were also close friends decided to form a business Relationship. Harry was the CEO of Elite Financial Services, Inc. This was his second successful venture. He had sold his stake in another general financial services organization and established a new one focused on a specific profile of clientele. Jane was an investment banker. She had worked with many of Harry’s clients in the past taking the recommendations his company’s advisors made to their clients and implementing them into various financial vehicles that benefited the clients. John, another associate and friend, brought a unique value to the Relationship, which was his network of contacts. He was the CEO of CEOs Unlimited, a training organization who provided executive coaching for CEOs of various organizations. The CEOs tended to be affluent and ideal clients for Harry and, subsequently, Jane. Everyone benefited when the there were plenty of clients and when the client’s financial interests were advanced.
All three of these people were also personal friends. John and Harry attended the same church. Jane and John’s children were in the same private school. Harry’s wife and Jane were close personal friends. In support of each other, Harry had his organization put on a financial planning seminar which featured Jane as one of the speakers. John attended the seminar. At lunch afterwards, the three met to discuss the day. The energy was high. The day had been a success. The lunch was a mixture of rapid conversation, laughter, and insight. They all agreed to work closer together in a Relationship and sealed the decision with a toast. The obvious benefit of the organizations working together was only surpassed by the enjoyment the 3 CEOs anticipation in working with each other.
When each returned to their respective offices they announced to their operating teams that they had decided to form a Relationship with the other two organizations. Each gave a very quick overview of the obvious benefits. Each cast effectively the same Vision to their teams that their friends did. Each shared their overflowing excitement to their teams.
The teams responded by quickly trying to engage their peers at the other organizations. Meetings were set up. Discussions were far ranging. However, there was little traction in the Relationship. The Shared Vision statement became a long rambling sentence which attempted to take into consideration the 3 Visions described by each CEO. The teams struggled to come up with Short and Long Term Goals that met their needs and fit into the rambling Vision. Each was working hard and with great sincerity to make the Relationship work. However, with each meeting, frustrations grew as the achievement of goals became more elusive.
The CEOs did not understand why their teams simply could not implement what was obviously a great fit among the 3 organizations. They decided to have a monthly oversight meeting in which they would meet to discuss the Relationship. At these meetings the CEOs would get together over lunch. Each of their meetings was a renewal of the first luncheon. The Relationship synergy was obvious. Everyone got along well. Each assured the other that they would speak to their operating teams and ensure that they worked on the Relationship in earnest.
Eighteen months into the Relationship, there was still no traction in the Relationship. Short term goals had yet to be achieved in any meaningful way. In addition, an animosity was growing among the operating team members. When I was called and asked to help get the Relationship on track, the primary question was “what happened”?
The situation among Harry, Jane, and John was one in which their strong friendships and the nature of their personalities combined to cause what I call a “white hot” Executive Sponsorship. Love is blind. This type of very strong, very enthusiastic Executive Sponsorship is often akin to looking at the sun or trying to view the work of a welder without proper eye protection. It blinds the Executive Sponsors from seeing the Red and Yellow areas of the rest of the Relationship, the areas of the Relationship Wheel that are showing transitions or serious problems. Each of those areas may have been able to be corrected, but due to the blindness they tend to continue on without being recognized or addressed until the abrasion within the organization becomes often irreparable.
Avoiding the problem of Blinded Vision:
The best way to avoid the problem of a blinded vision by white hot executive sponsorship is to involve the operating teams early. When I accepted the opportunity to help Harry, Jane, and John, the first step I took was to ask the CEOs and their operating team leaders to meet with me to have a working session. The goal was to walk through a Relationship Wheel using the InSight Circle tools (See Book “Six Strand Weave”).
The teams literally sit together and I’d prompt them through the Relationship Exam and scribe onto a white board their initial feedback. As we gathered before the meeting, one of the operating team leaders came up and expressed his appreciation for getting the operating teams together with the Executive Sponsors. I asked when the last time was that this had occurred. His response was that it had never occurred!
Never had the operating teams had the opportunity to be together to hear from the CEOs what they each had in mind for the Relationship. Nothing was ever put in writing from the luncheons that the CEOs had. He went on to say that the CEOs would invite one or two of them to a portion of their monthly meeting, but never had the operating team leaders all hear from the CEOs at the same time. Given that all the companies were located in the same city, this clearly was a missed opportunity.
When we did get together, within 30 minutes it was clear that without the operating teams’ involvement, the CEOs were not aware of several fundamental operational conflicts that existed among the organizations. For example, the sharing of contact names was an issue. Part of the contractual commitment to the CEOs who participated in CEOs Unlimited was that under no circumstances would there be solicitation to the CEOs through CEO’s Unlimited, even for financial services.
Another aspect of CEOs Unlimited was that the relationship developed between the John’s executive coaches and the CEOs was very closely held. John’s team members would not hand over access to a CEO to anyone else unless they were personally satisfied that the person to whom they were handing the relationship had only the CEO’s best interest in mind. Knowing that their CEOs would be potential clients to Harry and Jane’s made the executive coaches of CEOs Unlimited wary of the Relationship. They viewed it as a conflict of interests. Harry, Jane, and John may trust each other; however, “in the field” the relationships were among unknowns.
Finally, there had been a struggle to have one organization be the lead in engagement with the CEOs. John’s organization felt they were the natural lead. Harry’s organization wanted to take that lead role.
The Relationship Wheel™ that we created together that day had been color coded “green” for executive sponsorship because the Executive Sponsors were known and had cast a vision. Actually it was white hot and glowing nuclear green. However, in the 4 quadrants, there were 2 red areas and 2 yellow areas. The white hot executive sponsors had been blind to the series of conflicts that indicated the probability of success of the Relationship was well below 10%. To their dismay I indicated that they really did not need my services. The Relationship was doomed to fail. They should disband amicably and look for other Relationships, possibly among the organizations present, but not necessarily with all parties involved. There was silence. After some uncomfortable “Thank You’s” we ended the meeting. I drove away wondering if there is ever a good way to give such terminal information. My only solace was that I knew it to be true and I knew that the health of 4 organizations depended on them not continuing in the Relationship as it had been structured.
Rest of the Story:
Ultimately what came of this Relationship was that the nature of the Relationship and the joint venture structure in which it was cast was dissolved. A new Relationship with a clear Shared Vision was formed in the structure of an Alliance. The Shared Vision was created with high involvement from the operating teams. Executive Sponsorship still existed, but there was now the ability to see the other areas of the Relationship. The conflicts of leadership which were so abrasive in the joint venture structure were now able to be respected and synergistic in the alliance structure. The comfort of the field organizations with each other was able to grow at its own pace and without conflicts of interest. From that point forward, some 24 months after the initial ill-fated Relationship was formed, the Relationship which had ended was reborn and began to grow steadily.