Three Signs You Should Make Leadership Team Changes Sooner Rather Than Later

Posted 11.06.2013

A few years ago I wrote a post called Three Reasons You Should Fire the Prima Donna. That one was about why leaders should be decisive in exiting high performing but totally disruptive members of their team. Consider this post the next level up companion to the Prima Donna post.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been in multiple conversations in which experienced senior leaders have discussed their lessons learned along the way. In every case, the leader said their biggest lesson learned was they should have made key changes in their senior leadership team sooner than they did.

That they all had the same big lesson is not that surprising to me. I’ve heard the same lesson dozens of times in 14 years of executive coaching. Heck, I had to learn the same lesson myself when I was an executive.

So why do so many senior leaders have to learn this lesson the hard way? Because firing people is hard. As one of my senior executive colleagues said years ago, “If the prospect of firing people doesn’t keep you up at night, there’s something wrong with you.”

Still, especially if you’re a leader charged with making big changes, there will likely be times when you need to make changes in your leadership team. Here are three signs that tell you when you need to do that sooner rather than later:

Lack of Buy-In: When you’re leading a big change, there will usually be people on your leadership team that are enthusiastic about it and others that want no part of it. They aren’t bad people, it’s just that where you’re going is not what they signed up for. It’s not going to get better for anyone with time. When you recognize the resistance, have an adult to adult conversation about why a change is likely best for all concerned.

Lack of Performance: You likely weren’t named leader of the team because you’re expected to keep things exactly as they are. In all likelihood, you’re expected to raise the performance bar significantly. Some people on your team will do great with that; others won’t. You want to give people a chance to develop but you also have to be realistic about whether they’re going to meet the new performance standards in a reasonable period of time. If they can’t, it’s time to make a change.

Lack of Time: If you find yourself scrambling between strategic and tactical priorities on a regular basis that may be a sign that you need to make some leadership team changes. If that scrambling involves cleaning up after other people’s messes and other forms of remediation, that’s a pretty clear sign that you need to make changes. Like everyone else, you only have so much time in a week. If you find yourself spending a lot of time on things that really shouldn’t be on your plate, you need to make some changes in your leadership team.

What’s your take? Looking back on your own lessons learned, what are the signs that it’s time to make changes in your leadership team?