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What Happens When the Track Outruns Your Horse?

By Stanley H. Davis, Principal

As businesses mature and position for growth, change or succession, the people who had been good leaders may still be good leaders.  But as you look ahead they may no longer be the right leaders.

How do you know?  Consider the Eight Questions whose answers may reveal that your leaders – and your company – are being outpaced by continuing change:

  1. Are business results hitting their potential?
  2. Do current leaders need to be backstopped or excessively supported – by other employees, by consultants or by you? Can you comfortably delegate decision-making to them?
  3. Have you restructured jobs or organizations to accommodate leadership shortcomings?
  4. Are you more involved in their areas of responsibility than you’d like to be?
  5. Are leaders blaming circumstances or others for business missteps?
  6. Is your employee turnover rate too high – or too low; and are you keeping the best people?
  7. Do your leaders know the current and evolving industry landscape, competitors, technologies, and customers? Do they act on that knowledge?
  8. How does your business stack up against your competitors’ results and prospects, and against your own plans?

Finally, if you had to fill any of your company’s leadership positions today, would you hire the current incumbent?

If it’s time, or past time, for a leadership change, you have alternatives.  The best choice for your particular company will hinge on:

  • The time and resources required to transform the leaders you have into the leaders you’ll need;
  • The commitment needed to instead go outside to recruit the right expertise, experience and fit;
  • The capacity of your business to endure, grow and change if these positions were vacated;
  • Your willingness to risk no change at all.

There are hazards inherent in any choice, but in the face of critical needs, doing nothing is the greatest risk.  Remember, in launching any change, acknowledging the need is the most agonizing step. The decision to change-out people is tough, especially when you know the affected people well, or they are long-term and loyal employees.

In assessing the options, there’s a tendency to focus on the potential obstacles. To put these in perspective, consider what will happen to you, to your business, to all employees if you change nothing.

Companies that mature without refreshing themselves can breed a business crisis. One executive in a shrinking industry that’s facing potential extinction recently confided that “Failures of companies in this industry are often due to failure of leadership.  The remaining people don’t want to change and/or they don’t want to manage change.”

But, if the changes you’ve planned or introduced seem to come easily, you may have placated yourself by making a comfortable adjustment rather than addressing the  need for  substantive change.

As for yourself, are you still the best person for your shifting role in a changing business?  You’re one of the leaders.  By yourself or with a trusted advisor, there should be an assessment of your own fit and value in face of your evolving business and markets.

You may have identified specific challenges that are outrunning you or your leaders.  As importantly, you may be getting a message from your gut that something significant is just not right.

In the thick of the race, when the track is outrunning your horses, how will you know when it’s time to consider a change?   You’ll know.

Stanley H. Davis is founding principal of Standish Executive Search, LLC (, the executive search firm advising mid-size and smaller companies positioning   for accelerated growth, change or succession.

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