I was attending a senior Executive team meeting where the topic of the discussion was consolidating the roles and responsibilities of a few key functions in the company in order to drive greater scale, efficiency and cost reduction.
The company was commercially successful. However, it was struggling to keep its historical leading market position in the growing competitive landscape, given its high-cost structure.
There were layoffs a few months earlier and the leader’s projection showed that if they didn’t come up with more efficient and wise ways to do more with less, they would have to do it again.
Needless to say, the stakes were high as the company had to shed some overhead cost and come up with new and more modern and innovative ways of doing what they had done in the same way for many years.
Because of the strategic importance of this decision and the fact that it would affect everyone the CEO wanted his senior leaders to fully align on, and own the way forward, in order to avoid problems in the execution of this drastic change.
The discussion was challenging and awkward. Even though most leaders had clear thoughts and biases about how they wanted the new organizational structure to look, everyone was holding back and conveying their thoughts in a diplomatic and cautious way.
There was a lot of:
“Well, the problem is that each of us has strong exposure and contact with our key customers…” or,
“The problem is that we all do this today, and we all are good at this…” or,
“We need to figure out a way to take the good things from the existing structure without the bad things…” etc.
People kept highlighting the challenges and dilemmas instead of clearly stating their thoughts about how they believed the new structure should look.
The conversations dragged on for hours. It was ineffective and, to be frank, it was painfully exhausting.
Unfortunately, I see this conversational dynamic in key business conversations and meetings all the time – people state the obvious instead of taking a stand about the way forward.
There are no right or wrong answers and solutions to any business challenges, only possibilities/opportunities, and choices. Things change so quickly these days. There are so many examples of events we were certain would happen that ended up not happening and things we never imagined or anticipated that did happen.
The role of any leadership team is to make – sometimes hard – choices and then be responsible for carrying them out. That is what taking a stand is about.
Real leadership requires courage to take a stand.
Most of the time, leaders have good ideas and thoughts about how to drive the change they want. They simply are afraid that if they clearly state their stand about critical and sensitive topics that impact other people around them their boldness may come back to bite them. The key fears seem to include:
- Their idea may not get selected,
- Their ideas may get selected and then fail,
- They may be viewed as ‘forceful’, ‘self-serving’, ‘political’ or having a personal agenda.
- They may be viewed as picking sides or favoring other leaders.
The phrase ‘Career limiting move’ comes to mind…
But, if you want things to move faster, your meetings to be briefer and more productive and your experience of day-to-day business interaction to be much more powerful and satisfying, then be more courageous, clear and assertive about the future you want and stand for.
Just don’t get too attached to your answer, especially if you are part of a team. Someone else’s ideas may be a better fit for what the team needs. Be open to that.
Promote a dialogue where people spend less time on pointing out the problems and dilemmas (which got you into this dialogue in the first place) and spend more time on discussing, taking a stand and making courageous leadership choices regarding solutions and directions that will enable you to create and fulfill your desired future.