Attending a leadership-development training program or receiving feedback from a survey doesn’t create real, sustainable improvement. Executives face other unique challenges when it comes to change:
- Executive positions are complicated by power and pressures.
- The type of person who seeks and achieves a high-level position is often hard-driving, highly confident, and not reflective or introspective.
These are significant barriers, even though executives may say they’re motivated to change. Change isn’t easy, and for highly successful people, it’s
even harder to see how and why to change. Here are five key potential hurdles to developing executives and convincing them to change their behaviors:
1. Lack of authentic feedback: The more authority you have, the less likely you are to seek and receive authentic feedback. You may present an air of confidence and dominance that discourages meaningful interactions. In addition, you may think others are judging you, prompting you to become cautious about what you say and do. This increases distance in relationships, which minimizes opportunities for useful feedback. Finally, you may have isolated yourself from others by relying on a select group of trusted advisors who protect you from distractions and annoyances.
2. Lack of time or value placed on reflection: Most executives face enormous, continuous and widely varying demands on their time. The likelihood of having time to reflect on behavior is minimal. Furthermore, it’s not in the nature of most hard-driving, results oriented personalities to be introspective.
3. Reluctance to reveal weaknesses to others: This is a major barrier to getting leaders to change. They strive to continually project an aura of confidence and competence. Complicating matters, the organization and your peers may discourage you from appearing vulnerable. Demonstrating your weaknesses to outsiders, they reason, can have a detrimental effect on investors’ confidence.
4. Reluctance to acknowledge weaknesses to oneself: Not only will executives avoid letting others see their vulnerabilities, but they will also steer clear of acknowledging them internally. It can be scary to think you may be wrong. When your behaviors lead to positive business results, you may rationalize weaknesses in interpersonal style. If it’s not broken, you may think, why fix it? But what works for you today may not carry you through tomorrow. Denial works for only so long before complexity, stress and challenges take their toll.
5. Fear of letting go of a previously successful style: If your leadership style has been working just fine for a few years, you may fear that modifying it puts your effectiveness at risk. But in the words of accomplished executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here won’t get you there.”