Leadership change or culture change. Change at the top might not be the most effective and sustainable solution to a company’s woes.
Change in leadership is a euphemism we seldom use when a company is facing tough financial times. The most common reaction is to appeal to a change at the top, to a change of leadership. And therefore we quickly target few leaders and cathartically blame them for all of our performance woes. We convince ourselves that the solution is to bring in new blood.
Change of leadership – The fastest route.
We look for an exceptional individual who will turn things around. They will drum up business, and dramatically change the company situation for the better. We optimistically idolize the newly hired leader and grant them enormous decision power. Sadly enough, after the honeymoon period, we often realize that this change in leadership does not bring in the expected outcomes. And so we repeat the same cycle over again, looking for the next exceptional visionary. He or she will rescue us all from this grim present and lead us into a brighter and more prosperous future.
A pessimistic approach to change leadership might be healthier.
What if we admit that an array of various forces is causing the company’s troubles? And unfortunately, many might be beyond our control. First of all, how much power do we possess on economic cycles, on new consumption trends? And how much on changes in the social and political environment, or on the entry of a new and powerful competitor? Furthermore, even on a deeper level, how much power do we have to fight human pettiness?
What if we take a pessimistic view on leaders? What if we give in to the theory that every single one of us, however outwardly bright and successful, is somehow flawed? Are we not all a little bit too much short-term oriented, biased, sentimental? Are we not all prone to making wrong decisions based on fear, delusion, adulation or lack of understanding?.
Leadership change or culture change?
What if instead of taking the shortest and easiest route, an abrupt leadership change, we direct our energy somewhere else? For example, why not consider heavily investing in our company culture and values, instead of looking for the new Messiah? Why not focus more on developing and reinforcing social skills in all of our people? Consequently, why not invest more in strong, effective even if slow-moving, independent systems and mechanisms? They might very effectively prevent too much decision power from ever falling into the hands of a single person. As Ryan W. Quinn states in his HBR article, “cultural changes cannot happen without leadership, and efforts to change culture are the crucible in which leadership is developed”
In conclusion, the pessimistic path to change leadership might be less charming than trusting our future to the new awe-inspiringly successful individual. But alas, all human beings, no matter the charm and exterior brightness, from close up, are a little bit of a mess. So, if we aspire to make a real change, we might be much better off by focusing on the whole picture, instead of just taking the easy path of a change in leadership.
Artwork courtesy of FRG Gallery