The real bottleneck that prevents leaders from changing their organizations

Are CEOs effective change agents? This is what employees, boards, and investors expect but it’s much harder than you think. Most of the CEOs and other C-suite leaders struggle to make an impact on their organizations. Sometimes they are weak and not ready for the challenge. They lack influence skills so they can’t mobilize employees towards the company vision, or they don’t like risks so they favor the status quo versus change and innovation. But most of the time, there is another reason. They work against internal forces that are difficult to either isolate or shut down. In my experience, the real resistance to change doesn’t come from the bottom. It comes from their executives and senior managers. Executives and senior managers play a fundamental role in the organization. They have to turn the leaders’ vision and goals into effective strategies so they can get results. It becomes possible if they embrace and instill change in the entire organization as well as develop leadership across the entire workforce. This is how companies grow. Unfortunately, I see many frustrated C-suite leaders who face an enormous challenge to become change agents. This is particularly evident for newly appointed CXOs. They have a new vision, goals, energy, and enthusiasm but the honeymoon doesn’t last long. They get bogged down with highly resistant executives that take all possible chances to prevent change from happening. These are executives who become complacent for their roles. They procrastinate strategic initiatives, favor day-to-day activities, and, worse, demotivate their teams by not helping them to grow and shine. In other words, they become a real bottleneck in the organization. This is dangerous, as it leads to:
  • Stagnancy
  • Average results
  • Loss of market share
  • Ineffective succession planning
  • Low employee engagement and retention
It’s a frustrating situation for the top as well as for the bottom of the organization. If this sounds familiar, you have just two options. Either you remove/isolate the resistant executives, or you bring them over to your side. It’s a difficult decision, but it can’t be postponed. Any delay erodes your credibility as well as your ability to get better results. I don’t suggest removing them unless they are:
  • Building a toxic environment
  • Getting poor or average results in their role
  • Not coachable
On many occasions though, you should bet on them and invest in their growth. To make this effective, I recommend putting them together in a group for a leadership development initiative but avoid cookie-cutter training programs that don’t have any impact on their behaviors. When I build in-house leadership academies for executives and senior managers, the first step is to run some core competencies assessment for the executive group so you can build a bespoke leadership program that is not fluffy and addresses the right issues. Most of the time, the assessment confirms gaps in the traditional core leadership skills such as communication, influence, leading, and managing teams, however very few programs address other relevant areas that have a big impact on results. Some examples are:
  • Mindset and motivation
  • Performance habits and behaviors
  • Setting and managing expectations
Finally, make sure these are hybrid programs (training, coaching, facilitation) and have results and accountability built in. This approach gets results. Executives and senior managers are the real engines of any organization. If you unlock their potential, they are going to turn your vision into terrific results. This is how company success is built.
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