The Problem, Mr. CEO, is Your Golf Swing!

Always PC. This applies to you too, Ms. CEO.

Many years ago at a golf clinic, our instructor asked each of us to take a few swings to give him an idea of his challenge. All was going well until one guy demonstrated a golf swing that should have broken his back, neck and a few ribs while executing. We were amazed that the guy could survive it and the pro, after shaking his head said “… I’m not sure I have enough time to fix that swing.” To which the guy responded “… no, you don’t get it. I want you to teach me how to hit the ball with this swing.” The guy hit shanks all weekend and left Sunday muttering and frustrated.

So it is in many CEOs I have met.

Consider this typical performance. The boss blows up. “This place needs to change! Nobody is accountable! Nobody makes decisions! Nobody executes! Meetings are nothing more than wasted time discussing what we already know while learning nothing new.” The boss is not happy– and he correctly notes that the culture is delivering nothing but shanks.

The problem? The boss is looking at the symptoms, but ignoring the cause. The questions he should be asking are – why is nobody accountable, why don’t we make decisions, why is execution inconsistent, why are meetings a waste of time?

The answer, Mr. CEO, is this organization functions this way because every organization reflects its leadership. It cannot perform in a manner, or achieve results different than what you, the boss, expects or tolerates.

So, as I tell my CEO client who demands change – let’s begin with a reality check. There’s the mirror. Take a few practice swings and let’s see what we have. Change is about empowerment, initiative, decision making, trust in subordinates, listening to the input of the organization – and making decisions based on that input, and tolerating mistakes that will be made while the organization learns to “do it differently.”

So, Mr. CEO, if you are serious about change, to get it — are you ready to risk what is really important to you – control? Of course not. You like your golf swing. You just want to hit the golf ball with it, even though the odds of doing so are nil. What you really want, like our golfer, is a different result given your swing. You want change – as long as you retain control.

The reason the organization does not make decisions is because you like to make them. Nobody is accountable because there is nothing to hold them accountable to. Meetings are a waste of time because you dominate the conversation. Your team has learned to just sit there and take it. Voicing any opinion contrary to yours just invites a verbal beating.

Speaking of that team, Mr. CEO, look around the table. All organizations are “bell shaped curves” of capabilities. “As” are men and women of intelligence and character. They get the job done, they lead! They also challenge!

At the other end of the organizational spectrum is the “Cs.” They exist to make the “Bs” look good. They don’t make decisions. After all, decision making is risky and these guys are risk averse. The “Bs?” They just sit there waiting to see what you want – and then pile on their support. They are the “nice shot, boss,” guys who applaud your every shank.

Based on my years of watching this, I can predict what is sitting around the table. The “As” are long gone. Either you ran them out or, more likely, they just quit and moved on to your competitor.

So, Mr. CEO, the problem is you. Until you realize that your golf swing is fundamentally flawed, until you are prepared to fix it – to empower a team that will lead, make decisions and execute, you can rant and rave all you want, but nothing is going to change.

For those who don’t believe they can change, I recommend Flight of the Buffalo – Soaring to Excellence Learning to Let Employees Lead by Ralph Stayer, former CEO of Johnsonville Sausage. It is the story of an intellectually honest CEO with the courage to confront reality. I taught it as a case study in change during my Lake Forest Graduate School of Management teaching days. You can order it through The Lake Forest Book Store. The owner is a friend who needs the business more than does Amazon. You can find the link in this website.

Like that long suffering golf pro, Mr. CEO, we can help you hit the ball, but not until you are willing to fix that swing—just like Ralph did.

As always, we are interested in your feedback. Email me at

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