Most Common Executive Struggles – Part 2

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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Observations from Working with Executive Teams

Over the last couple of years, I have worked with over a dozen executive teams. Through these experiences, I have observed that:

  • All executives are deeply interested in doing a good job in their role
  • Despite executives’ interest in doing a good job, there is great variation how effective they are

Although I didn’t work with him, take John Antioco (former CEO of Blockbuster) for example. He was the one who failed to purchase Netflix and was reluctant to move into the digital space.

If you look up articles about him, you would find that many writers call him “complacent.”

But, it is my guess that Antioco has never thought of himself as complacent. I imagine that he worked just as hard as any other executive.

Last week, I talked about a foundational reason why executives commonly struggle.

This week, I start identifying the most common executive struggles that I have observed working with executive teams.

Most Common Mindset Issue Amongst Executives

When I work with executive teams, I have each executive team take my personal mindset assessment. Then, when I work with the team, I present their collective mindset results.

Of the four sets of mindsets that gets assessed in my assessment, the mindset that every executive team I have worked with has the biggest problem with is a fixed mindset. In fact, across the executive teams, approximately 2/3rds have a fixed mindset and only 1/3rd have a growth mindset.

The prominence of a fixed mindset leads to the first most common executive struggle.

The First Most Common Executive Struggle

When executive teams have a fixed mindset, it is a strong signal that:

Struggle #1: Executives possess a narrow window of tolerance for failure and problems, which stifles creativity, innovation, and agility in the organization

Let’s call it out as it is, executives are very strongly socially and formally incentivized to always look good and not have failure and problems. I think is what leads to executives’ fixed mindset.

This is natural. Very few people like or welcome failure and problems.

But, when there is a fixed mindset and strong aversion to failure and problems at the executive team level, this means that the executive team is inclined to only do the things they know they will be successful at. This means that they will have a tendency to stick with what has worked in the past and they won’t have the courage to explore trying new things and embracing the things that will set them up for success in the future.

If you look at any organization that has gone bankrupt or out of business, this is at the heart of the issue. Kodak is a classic example of this.

Kodak invented the technology for the digital camera, but chose not to invest in that technology because it wasn’t what worked for them in the past, or what was working for them in the present, which was the selling of camera film.

Thus, what I commonly find is that executive teams are working their tails off, but they are struggling to move forward because what has worked in the past is waning in its effectiveness (because of shifting market conditions), and they are unwilling to explore doing things in a different way. They are afraid that if they do things a different way, it may cause problems or lead to failure.

But, in their very desire to avoid failure and problems in the short run, they are dooming themselves to failure and problems in the long run.

A Better Approach

If executive teams ever want to be creative, innovative, and agile, they have got to develop more of a growth mindset, which involves loosening their grip on the need to protect themselves from failure and problems.

They have got to create space for failure and problems to occur. In fact, they have got to celebrate problems and recognize that failure and problems are a necessary and essential part of pushing the boundaries and stepping into the future.

Stated differently, the best executives:

Possess a wide window of tolerance for failure and problems, which allows them to foster an environment of creativity, innovation, and agility in the organization


How to Help Elevate Executives

In order for executives to go from:

  • A narrow window of tolerance for failure and problems to a wide window of tolerance for failure and problems
  • A fixed mindset to a growth mindset

The common horizontal development techniques won’t work. We can’t just download a creativity, innovation, or agility app onto executives. We can’t just give them a “to do” list.

It will require a focus on vertical development. We need to upgrade their operating system. Rather than focus on what they need to DO, we need to focus on what they need to BE.

And, in order to upgrade their operating system, widen their window of tolerance, and upgrade their mindsets, they are going to have to do some deep inner work. They are going to have to awaken to their fears and insecurities around failure and problems, and stretch themselves.

Happy to Help

If you want to assess the degree to which your executive has a fixed mindset and/or have me help your executive team vertically develop, please let me know. You can grab a time on my calendar here.

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