In a recent blog, I proposed that to stay ahead of external developments and strategic shifts, CEOs and other executives must critically assess and frequently reshape their teams. Reshaping may require terminating or reassigning team members who lack the courage and competencies required to drive necessary change. While this may seem obvious, it is also true that many CEOs and executives are very slow to make decisions and act on this reality. Why is this the case?
One reason is because organizations often confuse leadership approval with leadership effectiveness. Leadership approval has to do with how others “feel” about a leader and is evaluated by such tools as engagement surveys and 360 assessments. Leadership effectiveness, on the other hand, concerns the impact a leader has on the performance of her team. Specifically, effectiveness focuses on goal accomplishment and the climate and culture a leader creates to support goal accomplishment (Kaiser, Hogan & Craig, October 2007).
Leading change requires overcoming organizational inertia, raising uncomfortable realities, making decisions to bring expenses in line with revenues, and raising the bar on expectations for performance. These are typically unpopular decisions, particularly with those negatively impacted by them.
Too often, the Board or the boss of a leader driving change starts to hear grumbling about the changes. HR suggests an engagement survey or 360 assessment to evaluate the leader. The results (not surprisingly since these tools measure approval) are not great, which ironically suggests the changes are having an impact. If HR, the Board or the boss lacks an understanding of this dynamic and undermines the leader, her career is at risk for doing precisely what is required to achieve desired outcomes.
Kaiser, Hogan and Craig express this dilemma succinctly: “Experienced observers suggest that what advances a manager’s career is not necessarily what makes an organization effective (Kaiser, Hogan, & Craig, 2007)”. CEOs often hesitate to make changes for fear that the Board may be concerned about “excessive” turnover on the executive team or that other followers may feel threatened. Having to make the choice between being popular and being effective is one reason why so many leaders are slow to make necessary changes to their leadership teams, even when the need is obvious.
The obvious answer to this dilemma is making sure that leaders driving change receive the organizational support they need. Engagement surveys or other tools that measure approval are not appropriate during times of change. Providing verbal and emotional support privately and publicly for making tough decisions and improved outcomes (financial, productivity, innovation, etc.) is what is called for.
In my next blog, I will address another reason behind leaders being slow to upgrade their teams. Meanwhile, if the above is of interest to you, I welcome the opportunity to discuss further via linked in, email or in person.