Leadership: Off the rails

Change-resistant leaders can side-swipe a company. But if they have the courage to innovate, it could just pay off.

Downturns are marked by spending cuts and layoffs, but they’re also great times to jump the competition by offering innovative products. Hewlett-Packard, Revlon and La-Z-Boy — all started during the Great Depression — are proof of that.

Unfortunately, a new study by HR consultant Development Dimensions International shows that 30% of leaders are lacking in change management skills and 41% are resistant to change during stressful situations. Put another way, more than half of the 3,623 execs analyzed might stick with the status quo or be unable to implement the new approaches, systems or services needed to ensure long-term success.

Other derailers include an inability to take operational control, being emotionally unpredictable under pressure and having the wrong temperament to inspire hope in employees. All of these traits are bad enough when times are good but become especially glaring when times are tough. These skills can be taught, points out Bruce Court, business development manager of DDI Canada, but, “if you’re dealing with a CEO who is obsessed with the bottom line and making the numbers, you might want to go out and find a new CEO.”

One way to tell if leaders are hard-wired to be change-resistant is to check their behaviour in group meetings. If they act like know-it-alls, dominate the discussion and prevent other people’s good ideas from surfacing, they become serious barriers to generating effective solutions. “It’s the troops in the trenches that are dealing with the day-to-day issues and the challenges of being in the business environment that are going to have the opportunities and the good ideas,” says Court. Ignore them at your peril.