When leaders need a bulldozer

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: July 14, 2016

Customer leaders have to make things happen for customers. One way of doing that is by building consensus with colleagues. But, sometimes, leader’s life is about ensuring a decision, which has been taken, gets executed (from my cmo.com column).

Not long ago I wrote about how CMOs can lead change. Success ingredients for change are powerful market data, an energising customer story, inspiring others, problem-solving across the company, and so forth.

But customer leader’s life isn’t always about consensus. There comes a point when the decision on a critical project has been made (perhaps, with varying degrees of enthusiasm). That decision needs to be executed now—without excuses. Leadership means sticking to decisions unless there’s a very good reason to change or stop.

Big customer projects throw up all sorts of unforeseen issues, especially people-related ones. These can serve as an excuse to kill the project. Don’t let this happen. When it’s really important, “rent a bulldozer” to get things done.

For really important initiatives, get the support of people who can cut through the red tape. More often than not, those people will be very senior leaders who can bulldoze through obstacles that stand in your way:

  • Set up a “war cabinet.” This is a group of senior leaders (e.g. board members or VPs) who can come together to remove roadblocks. It’s best to get their commitment right with the project go-ahead.
  • Ensure fast response. Don’t always schedule regular meetings (the time in-between can be too long). Instead, get people to commit themselves, or an empowered deputy, to be available within 24 (or, at most, 48) hours, in person or by phone/conference call or email, to keep things moving.
  • Use your bulldozer wisely. If you’re leading these meetings, stay calm, refer to the old plan, raise the issues, and suggest solutions. Look for consensus. But, in the end, always get back to: “This is what we decided.” No one can challenge the initial decision without powerful new evidence that it was wrong.

Successful customer leaders are great consensus-builders. But at times, “renting a bulldozer” comes in handy.